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Wild Blue Yonder on the Air - Ep. 12 - Drs. Craig Felker and Martin Loicano on NATO training mission in Afghanistan

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Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other US government agency.

Dr. Margaret Sankey:  Welcome to Wild Blue Yonder on the air. This is Air University's podcast. Today we have two guests. We have Dr. Craig Felker and Dr. Martin Loicano, they are the recent authors of an Air University Press book, No Moment of Victory: The NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, 2009 to 2011. Welcome, we're glad to have you with us today. 

Dr.  Martin Locaino: Thank you.

Dr.  Craig Felker: Yeah. It's great to be with you Margaret.

Sankey: To get us started, could you please give us a little bit of background about how you came to write what you really evocatively describe or described as “history in real time”?

Loicano: Maybe we'll run chronologically. I arrived to the Naval or NATO training mission while we or they were first building it. In the most straightforward of ways, I was a historian for the US Army Center of Military History, which is just a national treasure, they do wonderful work there, and one of the other thing or things they like to do is to support every conflict down range with a historian in field. It happened that the NATO training mission had decided they wanted somebody there to do history, so I volunteered to do that, and I arrived while there were not a lot of people there, but I think there's a lot of things we can say. A lot of analysis we can make of most of the leadership, and we certainly do that in our book, but one of the things I think most of the credit of General Caldwell, when he was there, was that he wanted this to happen, he was very insistent that history be documented and he wanted the book to come out of it, it remains to be seen what he'll think of what the final form is, but I think it's clear that his commitment to ensuring that the history of that time was preserved was legitimate, and I think that was one of the things we should put to his credit, in fact, it was so important that after I'd finished my year, they went and got a more talented historian to take my place. Captain Seclker, and maybe he can take it from there.

Felker: Well, I'm not sure more talented is deserved, but I kind of got there in kind of[SMDA2UAA1]  wacky kind of way, one of the other officers that accompanied General Caldwell, to establish the command was a Navy Captain by[CF2]  the name of Mark Hartrat, who was a colleague of mine at the Naval Academy, we were both permanent military professors, senior officers with PhDs teaching in the History Department. He and General Caldwell went back to the time where they both worked for Paul Wolfowitz, and so that's how they became acquainted[CF3] ... General Caldwell pulled Hartrat with him to establish in NTM-A, in about four months into Mark Hartrat's[CF4]  time there, he emailed me and asked if I was interested in coming out there and taking over for Martin and continuing to do the command historian job and is more important now General Caldwell, yeah, he wanted a book out of this. And also, as Martin said, "Whether that the book that is out there is the one he anticipated... " Well, we will see, but I think what we did was a credible, objective, serious and sober analysis of what NATO was doing to build the Afghan army and police forces from the inception of the command or establishment until I was leaving, when it was obvious that the drawdown was not just going to be restricted to the combat troops, but it was going to extend to all commands, and we started seeing the NATO training mission started to draw down.

Sankey: Training missions aren't new by any stretch of the imagination. Your book talks a little bit about the really long-standing historical tradition that Global North countries or the West in General, sends military trainers and advisors out globally, what kind of baggage and assumptions come along with that?

Loicano: Margaret, I think there are profound disconnects between history and reality in this that then forms or inform these decisions. If you really want to get to the root of it, I mean, I think that starting 19th and 20th century, when it was determined that the Europeans came to believe themselves the world's most premier military, despite losing the irony of most of the fact that Chinese technologies enabled 90% of what they were doing, this had to do with just sort of an ignorance of history, and I say that in the sense of... The West, came to China, they came to China at a particular time when China were in a bit a disarray for reasons if its own. But those mis-readings were very profound in terms of their impact on European leaders who, well into the 19th century had already determined that as a result of various perceived inferiority of the militaries of other countries that those nations could not achieve or those states, really not nations but states could not achieve any recognizable level of military confidence unless someone from Europe taught them how...

And I think we have to package that in so many ways and in sort of broader assumptions about human beings in different part of the world and the hierarchies that they developed, I mean, in a certain sense, you could say that the Berlin conference in the 1870s has as much to do with this as anything, but that cemented notions of superiority continued to express themselves, and I think now it's much more implicit. But it's goal, goes back to that basis of centuries of perceived superiority in many, many ways. And I certainly wouldn't argue that the people we worked with operated with these kind of biases in their minds in any present form, I think by now it's just been institutionalized and assumptions have been packaged to such a degree, and the same assumptions are also supported largely by industry. If you look at something like foreign military sales, we have a whole cottage industry of businesses who create things with the aim of selling them to people who couldn't possibly afford or in our view, utilize the capabilities of our most advanced system. So I think there is kind of implicit racism in so many levels about this that we just have to confront it and accept it again, denial.  And there's people who do this, if you look at the consistent record of conflict between Western and non-Western nations, it's not as clear-cut as some people would lead us to believe.

Felker: If I could jump in really quickly, one of the most interesting and un-researched stories of the last 20 years is going to be the role of contractors, and this ties in to exactly what Martin was saying. I read a report while I was in Afghanistan, I spent my day reading all kinds of stuff I read a report that said there were 250,000 contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2011--that is essentially a whole second Army. When you think about that, what were they doing? How were they being paid? How much were they being paid, and then most recently, we heard testimony that the Afghan Air Force was pretty much contractor run and contractor-maintained at the time when we were there, there were contractors working, but the Afghans were also working to maintain their aircraft, they were not sophisticated aircraft, but they work, and then some time after we left, the United States government decided to give the Afghans, UH 60 Black Hawk and C-130 Hercules aircraft, which were far more sophisticated than what the Afghans were used to, and far more difficult and complicated to maintain, which meant far more contractors had to be sent in there, so it plays into Martin's role, this Western arrogance that we know how to get you to that point, but you are going to need us as well as the technology for a long period of time, and as a consequence, I think where a lot of people making a lot of money in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sankey: Afghanistan, of course, is kind of a prisoner of its geography in terms of its history, they've been a buffer state and dealt with more powerful neighbors for now thousands of years, how has that shaped their ideas about central authority and governance and conflict?

Loicano: It is a little bit complicated in a basic sense, in that I think historical memory has a lot to do with the way that Afghans perceive themselves in terms of their relationship with the broader world, not necessarily historical accuracy, but historical memory, in a very profound sense but that loosely written, I think we need to go back to the Mughal dynasty and we need to understand that those were what we now consider Afghans who conquered the Indian subcontinent and large swathes of that region, and I think that that is their baseline assumption. We tend to be fascinated with the defeat of Alexander and the defeat of the Russians, but I think that the Afghans fundamentally those who lead their militaries in particular, really look at the fact that Afghans used to govern much of this part of the world, and they probably regarded that as a true measure of their martial worth, when you look back to the structure of the Mughal it was pretty decentralized, inherently, it had to be.

You weren't going to pick up the phone and call from one end of the deck and all the way back to Kandahar they were used to being respected in a very profound sense by a lot of serious powers, and never really had any particular reason to create a centralized government, because it didn't really generate any tangible benefits for them that they didn't already have... The Mughal principates were never truly centralized, you had a head, but no more than you have now, with Kabul prior to the fall with Ashraf Ghani and before him Hamid Karzai, basically the mayor of Kabulstan, and everything they do in terms of power is negotiated and it is mediated because that's always worked for the Afghans, they haven't had cause and they haven't gained benefits from their forays with the West, we look at things like the Daoud period and his dalliance with International Communism, and it was bad for Afghanistan as the cork was pulled on that jug and caused decades of strife and misery for people, so I think this autonomy that we hear so much of has perpetuated for many, many reasons, but the most profound and the most simple of them is because it's worked for them, the Afghans have been able to accommodate a great deal of cultural and linguistic and ethnic difference simply by giving each other the space to do that and operating with a very little libertarian sense of governance, and they haven't ever seen anything I say that has shown them that that was a bad idea.

I mean, you can say, Oh, well, the Soviets rolled in and they conquered you... Well, that's great, but in the end, the Soviets left and the US conquer... Who And we left? So I think unless there was some sort of clear and compelling set of motivations that has not yet ever come to pass, Afghans have no reason to question their way of doing business, because everybody else just comes to spend a little time and goes.

Felker: Yeah, that's the fascinating thing about... And disturbing saddening aspect of all this, there are historians out there. Social scientists who have written about Afghanistan. Tom Barfield's book on Afghanistan explains everything that Martin just said. Whether policy makers in 2001, 2002 decided to reach out to the academic community or not, who knows? If they had, had they read Tom Barfield's book, I think they would've understand exactly what Martin was explaining. Afghanistan is Afghanistan, and there's friction within the country, but the relationships that developed over hundreds of years, and Afghans were pretty satisfied with the society that they had created, and any change, dramatic change, was not going to end well for them, or anybody, for that matter.

Loicano: I’ve got to dovetail just quickly because Craig brings some very what I hope are useful thoughts, but I have to say them before I forget them. I think that even when you confront good ideas, at least kind of objectively good ideas, like, "Hey, let's better the lives of Afghan women and children, because objectively, their lives are not anywhere near global norms and standards," that idea is going to be viewed as suspect because it came from the outside, it came in a box.

Felker: Yeah.

Loicano: And it got put on their porch, and they didn't order it, and they want to know what's in there. [laughter] To kind of use your modern metaphor. But I think that's an important thing for us to think about. This is no moment of victory, and broadly, this effort in Afghanistan are not right and wrong, black and white stories, and it's not about, for instance, Afghans being able or unable to process technology, or democracy, or anything like that. It's about who best determines what happens in a place. Is it the people who were born and live and die there, and their ancestors and their children, or is it people who come in from somewhere else, with supposedly universal norms and standards that may or may not be in the interests of those people, in their view? I think that's really the most important. What is it that the people in that place, wherever your training mission is, what is it that they really want?

Sankey: Well, and that leads perfectly into my next question, which is, we know a lot about rebel resistance to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. PME spills a lot of ink, and devotes a lot of seminar time to the kind of Bear Went Over the Mountain version of what was happening in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but there's not a lot about Soviet efforts to train Afghans, which is the immediate model that has come before this mission. What are some of the lessons learned from looking at the Soviet attempt to stand up a force in their image?

Loicano:  Everywhere this has ever been done, that's how it's happened. And that, perhaps, is the most pressing and the most immediate lesson about the Soviet effort. They came in and brought in MiG fighters, and brought in Soviet armor, and BTR armored vehicles, and all this other stuff, and the one enduring material legacy has been the AK rifles. The Kalashnikov has endured because it makes sense in this context. It was essentially designed for this context, then it works for this context, and I think that's probably something we should have stared at and thought about. Everything the Soviets did was geared into mirroring their force structure onto Afghans.

And again, when your starting point is the wrong starting point, which is the assumption that there is a universal, operational art that must be replicated in all places by all peoples in order to generate success on the battlefield, and in campaigns, and ultimately, in wars, you're not going to succeed. It not only is indicative of the Soviets failing to learn their own lessons... I mean, if we want to say there has probably to this date never been a greater victory in military history than that of the Soviet Union over the Germans... The scale, the brutality, the endurance of those campaigns, the ability to navigate forces of those size across the space and the conditions that they did to achieve victory. They forgot how they did that, and, to me, I think both the Soviets, and the United States walk away from the Second World War with a profoundly wrong lesson, and that lesson was that the most sophisticated, and the most supposedly superior technology on the battlefield, is the key to victory.

When we look at how both of those nations, or we can call the Soviet Union a nation I guess of sorts, as dictatorships can be, but neither the United States nor the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany, and in our case also, Imperial Japan because we had better technical systems. We defeated them because we had replicable systems, and we had sustainable systems, and we had things like armor that our average tank crews could repair on the battlefield and get back in the fight, and we had systems on the Soviet side. You look at their tanks, they're not even painted. They didn't need to be because your T-34 doesn't need to defeat a King Tiger, 10 T-34s can defeat a King Tiger easily. And that was the kind of lesson that the Soviets and the United States just seem to have profoundly forgotten in the wake of World War II, and we adopted what looked much more like German operational where everything was based around the most sophisticated technologies that could be obtained, however sustainable they were, however expensive, they were however long the lead time of development production was. And so this is all to say that the Soviets attempted to project something that they had never won with on another group of people who had variable to utility for it.

And so it's not surprising that the Najibullah regime, and it's on horses, was not successful, in particular, because the United States at that time, through its sponsorship along with the Saudis and others of the Mujahideen, actually produced a model that was simple, sustainable, effective, suitable for the conditions and the skill level and the talent of the people that were available on the ground, and perhaps one of the most bitter pills we need to be swallowing at this point is to see that much of what the Taliban have done is continue that Mujahideen legacy of asymmetry with sustainability. Simple weapons, part-time soldiers, all of the things that we talk to Mujahideen to do or encouraged the Mujahideen to do on top of what they were already doing. So maybe the most important lesson in talking about the Soviet era is we should be looking at what we our Afghan allies and our other international partners were doing in the 1980's to subvert the Soviet effort, because that's where the lessons probably are.

Felker: Yeah, and then to join in, the Soviets built the Afghan army and police forces to protect the state, to protect the socialist system that the Soviets instigated and basically imposed on the Afghans, and maybe it would have worked had Kabul kept socialism in one city. But the problems began when the great socialist experiment got exported, got pushed out into the countryside, and it was the cultural resistance to Soviet socialism that led to the creation of the Mujahideen. There actually is a good bit of work on the Soviet efforts to build and train the Afghan army and police forces, but it's not easy to find... There is a website called the Afghanistan Analyst network, if you just Google that, I stumbled across it when I was there in 2011.

I mean, a wealth of sources on every aspect, not just military, but social, cultural, economic, political, it is amazing, the amount of material that you can find on that website, I went to it constantly to find contextual sources for what I was seeing in the meetings, what I was seeing going on in the training command, it's out there. But like everything else, if you don't stumble across something or somebody that say, "Hey, go check out this website, you're not going to know it's there, which is kind of a shame because anyone who was interested in Afghanistan in the last... Going back to the Soviet era ought to go to that website and start mining the sources, it is more than worthwhile there's enough sources there to keep you busy for a lifetime Probably 10 lifetimes.

Sankey: Through some of my own work, I've encountered the Afghan resistance, and you're absolutely right, that they were so perfectly suited to be flexible, to run lean, to work with the technology available. The US, of course, had not been able to adapt that kind of thinking and those kind of lessons to Vietnam, and your book highlights that this was the model, that the US most recently had... How did they adapt their thinking to the Mujahideen when they hadn't been able to adapt it in Southeast Asia.

Loicano: Different people, different time, and the benefits of hindsight, probably more than anything else, and if you look at a lot of the people that are behind this not just Charlie Wilson, but there are people who've spent time in Latin America in the '70s and '80s that are a part of this. Planning, triage, but maybe the most important thing is there are no international Forward Command asset. We're not planning their operations, we're not telling them what to do, we're not telling them how to do it, we're equipping and stepping back by and large a strategic concept and to give your partners and allies on the ground the opportunity to have the initiative to give them, the opportunity to make their own decisions about how to proceed is probably the most priceless and the most difficult thing that you have to do as a wealthy major power assisting people in the developing world.

People can't succeed if you get in their way, and to dictate too much to any group of partners or allies is going to guarantee failure and we didn't do that to the degree where it could cause failure with the Mujahideen, a few people in the world, and then the experience of being an American ally suffered from more American advice than the Vietnamese. We can get into that now or we could get into that later per your preference, but it should be, in many ways a high watermark should have taught us a lot more than It did.

Felker: I guess the one thing, just to start off, I mentioned Tom Barfield's book on Afghanistan, the other book that was actually informed the thesis for No Moment of Victory was Michael Latham's Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and Nation Building in the Kennedy Era. I read it while I was doing a readings course in graduate school on 20th Century US Diplomatic History with Michael Hunt. It was like one of 20 books at the time, so it was a really good book, but after I left grad school, I didn't think about it until about four months into my time in Afghanistan, and looked around what was going on, I said, "Wow, this looks like Latham. This could be a case study in Michael Latham's book."

Loicano: That's a great starting point if we're going to talk about Vietnam to talk about the Strategic Hamlet Program, because it has some of the most transferable lessons. I would say that the most obvious thing is we have people see the Strategic Hamlet Program and write about it and think about it, (Francis J.) “Bing” West being the most obvious, it wasn't scalable. It never could be scalable, and I believe it's such a valuable historical parallel because we sent small teams into Vietnamese villages to integrate and assist with local defense. So it's actually a real requirement, it's actually a legitimate need that people in South Vietnam had at that time was self-defense. They weren't unfamiliar with it, but they weren't as familiar with it as they should have been for reasons of the methods of French governance, more than anything else. It was French fear of arming and training too many Vietnamese that had a lot to do with that, but bottom line is, to find, especially in the draft army of the 1960s, and '67, '68 or so tended to be the height of the end of this business, was very few people in the United States military had the skills necessary to walk into a village and act as a cultural diplomat, as well as a military trainer.

It's as simple as this. We all have neighbors. If you go knock on your neighbor's door and let him know or her know that "I'm here to help you fix your house, and we're going to start with what color we should paint it, for instance," you're hard-pressed to ever convince someone that you know better about their stuff than they do. And it's not to say it can't be done. It's to say that it's a pretty rare skill set, even now in our military, composed of volunteers with incredible resumes and incredible educational backgrounds and mind.  The people we talk about it in this book, I think if nothing else, we have to say these are enormously impressive people. They are skilled in ways that very few people broadly-speaking are, but even then, finding people who can walk into somebody else's village and convince those people to allow them to have a kind of implicit and tacit leadership of the safety and security of that village over the leaders of the village, that's asking a lot. And again, it's not that people can't, it's just that very few people have both the martial and the diplomatic and the cultural skills to be able to do that.

You look at Vietnam, and in another sense the Strategic Hamlet, the linguistic background of our people was extremely poorly suited to Southeast Asia, since nearly all Americans in those times were monolingual. Nobody even bothered to learn languages, to speak of. It's better now, and we saw some improvement now, but the bottom line remains that we are not a people who intensely and seriously study other cultures in the world. We tend to be fairly introspective in our intellectual exercises. The Strategic Hamlet is a good symbolic effort in that we could never have enough of it to make it work. We could maybe find a few thousand people who could achieve that level of competence, and all of the different skill sets necessary, and avoid alienating important members of the community, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That's still true. It's extremely hard, because we sent amazing people to Iraq and Afghanistan and they still struggled with it because it's hard to do, and it's not necessarily truly your military members' skill set. We certainly haven't trained them from the go to do these things. So if you use the hammer and a nail analogy, we sent hammers, but we send a box of screws along with it.


Sankey: Well, and it's entirely inappropriate, but I know that I'm going to find myself in a seminar and I'm going to use the Homeowners Association theory of counter-insurgency. "Bob we're here to tell you that you can paint your house one of these two exciting colors."

Felker: Well, when you think about it, Margaret, I'm not sure in retrospect, how valuable the current coin manual is, so why not throw out another manual? The Homeowners Association Guide to Counter-Insurgency Operations. I'd like that.


Sankey: But these decades of fighting, though, mean that when we get to about 2000- 2002, there are a lot of really battle-hardened, experienced combatants in Afghanistan. These are the survivors of all of those operations, so they know a lot, but not in terms of standing up a big complex organizational system. So what does the US and what does our Coalition do in response to those assets?

Loicano:  Misuse them. If we want to make that a really short answer, we misuse them. We attempt to take skilled fighters who can control Mujahideen elements and... Taliban operations if we gave them the opportunity, and try to jam them into a traditional floor structure, again, essentially looking a bit like a World War II army, even though we knew and always should have known that that was never going to be the character of war in Afghanistan, but we continued to stick to what we knew.

And it's kind of funny because so many of the people who had been instrumental on the US side in helping support the Mujahideen are long retired. A few of them were dragged screaming out of retirement, but for the most part, you have people in senior leadership roles in 2000, 2001, 2002 is the First Gulf War. Line up a bunch of tanks and roll over a bunch of half-starved Iraqis who don't want anything to do with it. So it's a very different kind of campaign that is the fundamental world view of the people that we're sending, and still we sent wonderful people, but they're wonderful people who do as they're told.

And at so many levels for me, the breakdown was never at the operator level, the breakdown was any time you put stars on people and went up from there, you had a general officer corps in the middle trying to execute whatever portfolio they were given, and then at the strategic level, I think that pretty much every successive administration that oversaw this war abandoned their duty to deliver and execute a real strategy. It always felt reactionary. It always felt as though it was being cobbled together largely by people with no sense of what they were trying to do in a battle scope. And so sure, we walk into Afghanistan and we bring some people back from Pakistan, even bring some people back from the United States who are ready to, Afghan people that is, who were ready to jump back in and give it another try, but the type of force that was going to be developed had been pre-voted and pre-decided.

Felker: The other simple answer to this is, you reach that aim when the Obama Administration decides to stand up the command is, where do you go? And you look to Leavenworth, and the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. And you've got the Afghan National Security Forces in a box ready to go, and you bring the prior commander of that and some of his closest comrades and battle buddies, and you basically take the Army Training and Doctrine Command, and you apply it to develop the Afghan National Security Forces. Just for a quick example, the Ministerial Development Program, the Afghan Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of the Interior, they were inefficient, corrupt, nepotistic. Afghan, that is what they were. But a 21st century Ministry of Defense or Interior that's responsible for recruiting, training, deploying, supplying its army and police forces can't operate that way. So we imposed this Ministerial Development Program on both of them, and brought in both military senior officer and senior civilian advisors. I don't think there was a single Afghan in either of those Ministries that didn't have a Coalition advisor at the hip. Well, when the Afghans wanted him at the hip.

I think at the senior officer level, you're given a mission and you're told to complete it and that becomes... Your main reference is to be successful. So that was driving a lot of policy was, "We've got to get this done, and we're going to be successful, and we can make it happen." It doesn't mean there weren't a lot of skeptics out there, healthy skeptics, not cynics, but officers more really in the Captain, Major, Lieutenant-Colonel ranks, who were looking around... We weren't the only ones that were kind of looking around and saying, "Hey, what's going on here?" They were doing the same thing, they were sharp officers. There were some Kool-Aid drinkers there, but there were a lot of officers, and enlisted personnel as well, who were also heavily invested in this program that were looking around and saying, "Well, maybe we are applying too much in the way of money, too much in the way of technology, too much in the way of how we do business to get the Afghans to modernize, to become a self-sustaining modern army and police force.

Sankey: I appreciate that you've mentioned the coalition, because we need to bring them into the discussion as well. The US doesn't have the same expectations of government as many of our allies, they function differently and you point out that this really affected the way that the training mission work, because they have their own cultural and legal guardrails. I found it interesting that the German police couldn't be commanded by the military for some extremely good reasons in terms of German history, how did that complicate the mission?

Felker: There were a mishmash of organizations in addition to NTM-A that were involved in ANSF, particularly on the police side, so there was a German Police Training Team which was not answerable to NTM-A, there was the European police training mission to Afghanistan which was not answerable to NTM-A. And then there was NTM-A. So you've got three different organizations essentially doing the training and not all of them agreeing on how that training should be done or where it should be, what should be emphasized. The fundamental problem that General Caldwell has, when it comes to the police mission is call it insurgency, call it a civil war, whatever you want to call it, but the police have to be... They have survive in a combat environment. It's not like a beat cop in New York City that's dangerous, especially nowadays. But in Kandahar or some far away district, it's far more dangerous.

So Caldwell's problem, the tension that exists within NTM-A is, "Hey, we got to get these police, they have to be able to survive in a combat environment. We got to build up the police forces to where we think they need to be. Those police forces need to be comprised of officers and NCOs and patrolmen, and then once we satisfy the 75%, we've gotten the 75% solution, then we try to bring in those aspects of civil policing that the West has been working on for centuries and still haven't gotten it right." But the tension is the Europeans made the European nation states that are participating, NATO, and NATO was about 29% of NTM-A, so far more Americans. But there was a lot of pressure that was brought to bear on General Caldwell to move those police from the combat role, combat/survival role into the civil policing role. The Canadians were extremely enthusiastic about moving, and the Canadians were in charge of police training within NTM-A, and they were trying as well to move the Afghan police training to include more civil policing, but that reflected the...

Basically the thesis of the book, you got an Afghan cop who is barely educated, maybe through a literacy program, is reading at the first grade level. If he's an NCO, he is reading at the third grade level, and teaching an Afghan to read at the third grade level is not the same as educating an Afghan policeman on how he should deal with the citizens in his district, how he should enforce the law and how he should treat his fellow citizens with respect. That was going to be difficult to achieve in a peace-time environment, let alone trying to achieve it in a combat environment.

The last part of this were the caveats that various European nations imposed on the forces that they sent to NTM-A, the Dutch resistance. The Dutch promise trainers, but the caveat was that, well, they're only going to be used to train police for civil police, and that created a problem for General Caldwell.  As Martin wrote in the book, trying to fly the aircraft while he's building it, I mean, he is on a constant, constant search, twisting arms and with NATO, other countries, the United States for more trainers, more trainers, more trainers. Then countries are willing provide trainers, but on the condition that, in the case of the Dutch, General Caldwell, basically said, I need the trainers, so we will accede to the Dutch caveat that the trainers will only be used to instruct in civil policing." The Dutch also wanted to expand the basic patrolman's course from six to eight weeks. This falls off NTM-A time tables, but nevertheless they acceded to that.

So it's all these tensions within NTM-A, between NTM-A and the other European organizations that are dealing with police training. And then we may get to this down the road, but the tensions with the IJC, the ISAF Joint Command, which was the war fighting part of ISAF, you've got two, three stars, so supposedly they're co-equal, there a two, three stars, one's in charge of war fighting, one's in charge of the advising or the development of the ANSF. The problem is it's a resource tension though, right? I mean, the IJC commander,  he needs boots on the ground to do combat operations, counterinsurgency operations, and then there's General Caldwell, who says, "Look, the long pole in the tent for Afghanistan's future is an army and a police force that can sustain themselves in the field." I think he was right, to be honest with you. The problem is whether that was achievable, and unfortunately, we're not going to know that.

Every question now about Afghanistan is counterfactual. We should have done that, or we didn't do that. Well, you don't know. We know what happened. Well, we know some of what happened over the last 20 years, but we're never going to know whether Caldwell's vision, which was generational, by the way. I mean, in his mind, NTM-A was going to be there for a long time, long after the coalition, the war fighters were out or down to a minimum force. He envisioned NTM-A being there for a long, long time. And we will know whether he was right or not, because like I said, in 2014, President Obama gave the word everybody's starting to get out.

Sankey: I appreciate a couple of pieces that you raised in that answer. They tie back to something you highlight that in the guiding documents, A and A1, there's kind of an assumption underlying how you're going to train and build, and it is generational. It talks about nation and loyalty and constitution. And I think we forget that these are things that are really pretty new in the West and in the Global North countries. They didn't spring full formed out of anybody's head. We fought civil wars over them. We're still amending them; we're still actively working them. And I think that's maybe a big piece of this, that unless we acknowledge how hard these things are and have been for our own countries, it's very difficult to export them. Would you agree?

Felker: It's fascinating, Margaret, when you think about it, we're all military historians, we're thinking about this, our current culture of the profession of arms goes back thousands of years. I mean, literally, it goes back to Greece or to Athens. And so it took thousands of years to get the United States Army to where it is today. And I think you're right, I think that, whether it was lost on the minds of policymakers and senior officers within NTM-A, whether they had thought historically, I'm not sure many of them did, because if they had, I think they would have realized that we're trying to cram 2,000 years of Western martial development and professionalism onto an army. And you see the organizations, the infrastructure, and not just the physical infrastructure, but the educational and training infrastructure that we built for them.

They had a West Point, the National Military Academy of Afghanistan. We had envisioned, there was in the works to build them an ISS, kind of like a war college system. The training schools were all basically created through the image of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. They would have gotten it, they would get it, they got some of it and some of it they didn't care to get and I think that's probably the principal problems, what they like they took and what they didn't like about what we were doing, they ignored or they undermined or they used for their own personal profit. But if we use that 2,000 year timeline and say, "Well, the question is, well, how do we expect to apply 2,000 years of developmental history on to an army and police force that don't have that? They're only a little over 250 years old, if you want to call it that. And we only have four years to do it?" That's the problem.

Loicano: I can't but completely agree with all of that. I think there's a little bit more that we should add to that, which is the Greek legacy of the citizen, soldier and Marathon, etcetera, etcetera. Going back, if we believe that that's the right legacy, then we need to at least caveat it with the fact that the Macedonians were defeated by the Afghans. We also need to think that in four to five years was a great number because we never could decide what it was exactly that we were trying to accomplish. And with very few exceptions, Karl Eikenberry being one, senior leaders were not around for long enough to sustain any kind of policy in the military sense.. They're executing a mission based on guidance from the commander in chief and the people around them. But those people never really figured out what it was that they wanted. It continued to morph and change and ebb and flow for various reasons, some domestic, some international, which really precluded there being any kind of a sustained effort even for... I would say, even for four or five years.

It really felt a lot like every election cycle would then drive Afghanistan policy of the United States and its allies in a different direction. We talk about NATO nations and in the time, CC and I were there some of those elections in the European Union then, some nations were obligated to withdraw. And also, in some cases meant some nations were going to increase their effort, based on their own domestic politics. So I think for there to be a coherent vision to impart to the Afghans, the way that our country and our closest allies develop strategy is going to have to change.

Felker: Let me add to that. So Margaret, I've got some of my Afghanistan presentations. A couple that I gave after I got back in 2011, 2012, and Martin has it right, we could rhetorically describe what we wanted, but we relied instead on numbers, which were hard. So the 2014 end state, and this is just often the slide command presentation, this is the 2014 end state, a self-reliant, professionally-led ANSF which generates and sustains enduring police, army, medical infrastructure, and logistics capabilities with accountable and effective Afghan ministries that are responsive and answerable to the Afghan people. There's the rhetoric. But we can't figure out how to get there. So what happens is numbers become the means to get there, 352,000, that's the magic number, divided between the Afghan National Army and the police, that becomes kind of conflated with professionalism because there's no way in a short period of time that we are going to be able to... I don't want to say a indoctrinate, but inculcate a western professional ethos into the Afghan army and police. I think most people into NTM-A knew that.

So instead, we focus on the numbers. We build the up the forces up, we build the training infrastructure, we build all the enabling capability, the schools, at least, all the branch schools. Now getting Afghans through those was another problem altogether, but it's the difference between, the rhetoric, which we can describe what we wanted, we want the end state, and we can describe what we wanted, the Afghan Army and police to be, but we couldn't get there, so instead we focused on the numbers. We hit that magic number, basically, we were there. The problem was that halfway through my year there, as we were getting close to 352, we had a really smart Canadian two star, who was in charge of Army development, gone by the name of Michael De Hussain[CF5] , "Well, as soon as we get the 352, we're going to have to start ramping down because the Afghans can't afford the 352,000 man army and police force." So literally as we were building up, we're looking at having to draw those forces down because they could not sustain them on their own, which was the whole point of NTM-A being there in the first place.

Sankey: I think sometimes military decision-making just by its bureaucracy tends to skew towards wanting those quantifiable metrics. They want to do data-driven decision-making, and you underline the difficulty of that really well. It's much more uncomfortable to deal with the squishy stuff. Did you at any point sort of get a sense of what Afghan recruits for the military or the police wanted out of their service? What sort of motivations did they have? What did they want?

Loicano: We couldn't talk to them directly, when we did, we talked... Even those of us that could speak some of the languages, I got to the point where I can pretty well-understand most things in Dari, we were never really intended to have informal, honest contact with most Afghans, there were always at a minimum, international trainers present, contractors present, but usually also other Afghan leaders present, so, if you were trying to talk to a sergeant, his officers were going to be around. And in the absence of the ability to gain true input, what we did was a lot of dog and pony show, and I think that the Kabul military hospital was the greatest example of that is that you would go out there and General Yapali would run the same dog and pony show on every group of people that went out there.

I went after three or four different times with different groups of people, and he would give the same slide presentations that appealed to our quantitative desires, and throughout the words that we had come to believe at that particular time were important based on the NSS and the things coming out of Washington, and we all know the reality was this man was robbing us blind and abusing people to death. So to say, what were the motivations? What we heard was the dog and pony version of that, when you went out to a can deck, or when you went out to a recruiting center, wherever you went, you continually heard the same things about serving the nation and advancing the Afghan people and all this stuff they told us what we wanted to hear, and if you want any really true, clear example of what was happening, we can look to the end of the effort and see that when the money cut off, the folks left in large numbers. And this is not a surprise in a country where we were giving people a much better income than most people could ever come across, it's not to fight these people, it's to say, if you could make 20 times what you normally could, why wouldn't you, so, you don't really need...a profound motivation, emotionally or intrinsically. It's just I can either make a dollar a day farming in miserable conditions, or I can make considerably more than that, get some free Chinese boots and a gun, and it doesn't even necessarily have to go any further than that. It's just the most simple of motivations.

Felker: That's such a great point. Since you're on the numbers thing, the other number that vexed the command, the entire two years was 2.6%, and that is 2.6% of the Afghan army went AWOL every month. So you're losing almost a third of the army every month, $250 million a year, it was costing, and that tells you that trying to imbue some sense of nation or loyalty to the Afghan constitution or seeing yourself beyond your family tribe, ethnicity, wasn't making it to the Afghan soldiers in the rank and file, the police were a different story.

They were, but a different situation, all together, the beat cops, the Afghan National Police were raised, were trained, and deployed or situated in the districts and the towns where they lived. So I'm making money and I'm not going to work very hard and hopefully nobody's shooting at me, because I got the uniform. The Army was a different animal entire and a third of it dropped its bags and went home and there were no consequences. The Afghan government never really put forth much of an effort. Karzai would issue an amnesty decree, "Hey, come on back and you'll be fine. We won’t jail you." But no one ever came back, and the Afghan government never went after them, and then that number let's say vexed The command for the entire two years that we were there and explaining it. They couldn't explain it. They were throughout, well it's leadership.

That's the problem, but never going into any definition of what those leadership issues were, there were distinct or define incidences where Afghan and senior NCOS and officers would mistreat the troops, would steal from the troops, but how widespread that was across the army? I don't think we knew. It was there. We knew it was there. NTM-A tried to fix it through various means, giving soldiers their pay on debit cards instead of issuing them cash or something like that but still I don't think they could never get their arms around the whole leadership thing. What do you mean by leadership? That failure.

Loicano: That's a great part of this equation, and one of the things that mattered more than anything was the spike of the harvest season to include the opium harvest, because loyalties that you did see where Afghans have loyalties to their families, to their villages, to their extended families to their tribes if they had one, most did, and they would go home and help their family out, and then not as many of them as you would hope for would come back from that. And every year we wondered, "Well, why is it that this particular set of month is such a problem for attrition?" Until somebody finally figured out it cross-hatched with the agricultural season, and they were out there, pulling crops, with the rest of their family. But it's a fascinating thing, and I think that tells us again, there were limits to what we knew.

Sankey: I’m thinking about how the US school system calendar is still set up on an agricultural not just on an agricultural model, but nobody's going to be in school the first day of deer season, that is an impossibility in the South. In your discussions, you show that all of these analyses of the numbers tended to polarize around Afghanization or transition as really the bifurcated options. Can you describe these plans and then what was the space in between?

Felker: There was no space in between, and I don't think... I came up with the term Afghanization to kind of relate it to the Vietnam experience. The difference is transition... NTM-A saw a transition as a long-term effort. Yeah the transition would be the Afghan National Security Forces, would transition to the Security Lead by the end of 2014, that was the objective. But NTM-A was going to be there long after 2014 to help nurture that sustainment, and you saw it in the out year budget. So I mean out year budgets were about $6.8 billion a year, and that was going to be ad infinitum. The Afghan government only pooled in around 400 million a year, and how much of that got stolen or lost or whatever. Who knows? So it was going to be a United States and NATO effort for the foreseeable future, but that's not what General Caldwell saw.

They're going to be responsible for their own security, for Afghanistan security, but NTM-A is going to be there, it's going to be there for a long time. That was transition. Afghanization is the same as Vietnamization, give them weapons, give them uniforms, give bags of money, and we're out of there, and we know how that played out. That was the difference. There was no middle ground. In fact, I don't think... I'm positive that General Caldwell and the command never looked at it from that perspective of Afghanization. They saw NTM-A as it was going to be there for the long haul. It was going to be transition. It was not going to be cutting and running, basically, and that's right. Maybe I didn't explain it as well as I could have in the book, but that was my thinking.

Sankey: The really haunting thing I think for me reading this and having PME students is that we do send excellent people, these are bright, motivated, highly educated people who are deeply invested in what we would think of as kind of the western way.

I mean, they love democracy, and they believe in the US Constitution. And they look at the organization of the military that they volunteered to be in. And they think it's the best way. And they're really genuine and very emphatic about those beliefs. And that's part of why they want to transfer it to other people. And I see this in my seminars, and people are very moved by this and underlying some of their recent very disappointed and disillusioned feelings now and in the last couple of months. But there's also this kind of paradox of what happens when you want something for people that they don't want for themselves. And that kind of specter just kind of hung over your conclusion. And can you speak to that? What does that mean for thinking about our global engagements?

Loicano: I put my Captain America hat on here, because there's a whole lot of what you just said, Margaret, that I definitely agree with, I feel that whatever thoughts and inane celebrities we may have, that the United States is and should continue to be the greatest country in the world. And we have this incredible political inheritance and it's from perhaps unintended, but we still have it and has allowed us to thrive and grow and do so many wonderful things in the world. A really important caveat to that is, and people are welcome to contradict me. And I'm sure they will, and they'll argue at infinity. But we haven't won a conflict for the clear and decisive outcome since 1945. So all of this employment of what is legitimately the finest military that probably the world has ever seen. I mean, the quality from person to person is simply unmatched. I mean, nobody can, you know, do and I'm sure CC has a million anecdotes too. It's like you, you walk into a room, I used to teach NCO courses for NATO, among others, and you'd walk in and there'd be three or four people holding a PhD in physics or something amazing. In a room full of sergeants. This is not the drafty army of the 1930s.

This is a military force that is simply almost unmeasurable in its true capability. But it walks back to this is, how can you use a jackhammer to inculcate democracy? You can't, it's a fundamental message of first we're going to blow up everything you have. And then you're going to accept our method of government. You know, I mean, it's a paradox that can't be dealt with. And I think what it does, and what it has done, is it has allowed poor leaders, starting with 1600, Pennsylvania for generations, to abdicate strategic vision, and the last strategic vision this country had truly was NSC-68 came, you know, out of some fundamental ideas of a middle level diplomats that were developed. But since then, I think our domestic politics have driven our global strategy to such an extent that whenever that strategy breaks down, as it almost constantly does, our reactionary response is to send this military arm of our government, which is the most competent, the most trusted, and the most capable arm of the federal government, I mean, there's no comparison. I mean, for God's sake, go try to get a driver's license, go, you know, try to buy stamps.

And it's not that our federal government necessarily does things poorly. It's just once you've been exposed to the United States military, you see a professionalism and an expertise that sets the high watermark. But no matter how skilled they are, no matter how educated they are, no matter how right, those individuals may be about our political system, that doesn't make the military instrument of power, universally applicable and universally valuable, because it boils down to Ends, Ways and Means and when you don't have that calculus laid out as we did not in Afghanistan, the results are always going to be predictable. And it's always going to be failure. And we just need to be honest with ourselves about things. It's not that we can't win wars. It's that we aren't really fighting wars, we're sending people to do nation building and civic engagement and engineering and so many other things just because of the go getter nature and the talent of these people they managed to halfway do even though they really have no business being so successful, favorite example before I pass to CC, the NCO who helped stand up the Iraqi stock market right after 2003. Right?

Had no business being there doing it, the guy's 25 years old and gets out there and he manages the boat out because that's the kind of people we have. It's not any indictment of our people. And in this case, I don't think we should indict the Afghans there are plenty that did care, there were plenty that did try. You just can't, you know, change people's hearts at the point of a gun. No matter how hard you try.

Felker: Well, I want to add the importance of PME especially at the inner service and senior school level, the academies and you know, we want to we want to start developing critical thinking skills in Midshipmen and cadets. I mean, where you are, in Maxwell and Leavenworth and Carlisle and Newport. I mean, that's where the hard work of developing critical thinking skills happens to officers who have enough education and operational experiences. So you don't have to teach them what war is like they know that. But you as faculty and particularly civilian faculty members are so important to this PME process because you're teaching them for the first time that they can ask questions.

I mean, that's what critical thinking is all about, at least in my opinion, is asking questions, not being a subversive, just, why are we doing things the way we're doing things? And you can ask that question to a senior officer, in a professional manner without him or her lopping your head off. And you're doing that, I would say the other key to that is those officers that demonstrate those really advanced critical thinking skills in the service colleges need to be promoted. They need to be the colonels, and they need to be the generals. I think the promotion we saw was, I'll speak for the Navy promotion system up through O-6 is pretty merit based. I mean, they identify the people, me notwithstanding, I'm talking about myself, but they identify the people that are best going to serve the Navy as an O-6.

But once you get into the flag officer selection process, then it gets really murky and kind of magical and mystical. Every knucklehead that gets promoted to flag in general officer means that there's not a serious, thinker, educated with combat experience or operational experiences, that ought to be there that as a four star, sitting in the room with the President of the United States, when the President says, well, what do we do next? We've driven out the Taliban, Al-Qaeda is gone. What next? He says, well Mr. President maybe we'll just leave the Afghans alone. Let's give them their goals and their guns. And the President is "What if we transform Afghanistan?" Then that's the four that says, "Well, Mr. President, that's one way to do it.”

But let's look at the downsides, the consequences, the bad consequences, how as Martin says, what are the means that we have to do this? What are the skill sets that we have to do this? Can we do this? And in the end, the president can say, "Thank you, General, I don't care, we're going to do it this way." And the generals will do it. It's war, it's a legal war, you don't resign, you don't say no, you go do it. But at least that four star has made it clear to the President that these are the implications if we take the road that you want to take, that may not be the best road to take. That's PME's job. Well it's, you're doing your job, you're educating those officers. It's the service's responsibility to promote those officers into those positions where, they can raise those questions in a respectful and professional and they ought to, I think they're obligated to raise those questions.

And frankly, I think the research, what we did for two years in Afghanistan, it answers some questions over the last few months, questions that I heard General Milly asking, kind of rhetorically to himself during his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. I was listening to him ask these questions and said, "Wait a minute. Has he read the book? Did he get an advanced copy?" I don't think he did. So in a way, I don't want to say we're vindicated. But I think that our research and our analysis and our conclusions and our argument, I think they make sense given what's happened in the last 10 years since we wrote turned the manuscript in, but more importantly, the last four or five months as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

 Sankey: Well, I want to thank the two of you for your time. This has been a fantastic discussion. We've been conversing with Drs. Craig Felker and Martin Loicano. They were Command Historians whose work has come out as No Monument to Victory: The NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, which is brand new from AU Press, and available to download in a link that we'll have for you here in the transcript. So, thank you, gentlemen, for joining us and we appreciate your expertise.

Felker: Well thank you, Margaret. I want to commend Air University Press. They stuck with us. Doc Rock, Rockwell, accepted the manuscript. We went through an exhaustive editorial process, and that was good. But, I had a colleague, a Navy colleague that teaches at another service school, that said... When I told him it was coming out with AUP... He said, "That's a serious press." And he meant that in a good way. And I think it's a testament to Chris Rein and all the editorial staff that they stuck with the book. They helped us turn it into the book that it is, and we're willing to put a book out there that... I wouldn't call it controversial, but it's certainly not one that adheres to a party line. So thank you very much to AUP.

Sankey: We appreciate that. And certainly, I hope that anyone listening who is thinking of doing this kind of scholarship, that you'll consider us and please get in touch because we enjoy and see it part of our mission to support these kinds of analyses and endeavors. So, thank you, gentlemen, and we'll call it a day.

Felker: Thank you, Margaret.

Loicano: Thank you very much, Margaret.

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