ISAF’s new plan for Afghanistan

A change in plan

When the “surge” of US troops to Afghanistan was authorized in 2009, an operational plan was created also. Operations would concentrate first on suppressing the Taliban insurgency in South Afghanistan. In 2010 and 2011, the majority of US “surge” troops would be concentrated there. In 2012, after the insurgency was suppressed in South Afghanistan, some US forces would be shifted to East Afghanistan and counterinsurgency operations would then start there while the US forces remaining in South Afghanistan would ensure the Taliban did not return.

In June 2011, however, President Obama announced that the US “surge” troops would be withdrawn earlier than originally planned. Operations had suppressed the insurgency in South Afghanistan in 2010-2011. But the shift of US forces to East Afghanistan in 2012 would not occur. Instead, the troops would be withdrawn. Now, the original plan for operations in East Afghanistan was no longer possible. A new plan would be needed.

In his testimony to Congress yesterday, General Allen gave some insight into a new East Afghanistan plan. Operations would still be conducted there, but they would be on a smaller scale and they would entail taking higher risk for the rest of the country.

A smaller-scale operation in East Afghanistan (RC-East)

East Afghanistan (RC-East) can be divided into two regions. “Northern” RC-East includes the provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, and Nangarhar. “Southern” RC-East includes the provinces of Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Logar, Wardak, and Ghazni.

Map 2.jpg

Both the northern and southern regions of East Afghanistan have strong Taliban insurgent activity. Both also provide the Taliban with infiltration routes into Afghanistan from their safe havens in Pakistan. The original 2009 plan called for counterinsurgency operations to be conducted in both of these regions. However, the new plan calls for operations only in a portion of “Southern” RC-East, in the provinces of Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, and Paktia (Paktika and Khost are not included). The plan for operations in “Northern” RC-East has been canceled.

A higher risk for the rest of Afghanistan

With the early withdrawal of “surge” troops, fewer remaining US troops overall means that even the smaller operation in “Southern” RC-East will be possible only by taking greater risks in the rest of the country.

With operations canceled in “Northern” RC-East, no additional troops would be sent there. In fact, some US troops would be withdrawn from there and sent to “Southern” RC-East. With troop strength below even the current level, Northern RC-East will be at a higher risk from insurgent infiltration and operations. This region includes the important city of Jalalabad as well as the Khyber Pass, a main transportation route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kunar and Nuristan provinces are already considered havens for the Taliban and allied terror groups, with several districts already under enemy control.

In addition, General Allen testified that he is considering transferring some troops from South Afghanistan to participate in the “Southern” RC-East operation. Troops in South Afghanistan are currently charged with holding the gains made during counterinsurgency operations in 2010 and 2011. While the decision has not been made, it risks losing some of the gains made in South Afghanistan to insurgent re-infiltration.

A heavier role for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)

Why would General Allen accept this higher-risk plan? Partly, General Allen is relying on the Afghan National Security Forces to perform better than expected. In the areas where US Forces are being drawn down, he will be relying more heavily on the ANSF to prevent insurgent reinfiltration. In his testimony he said: “The growth of the [Afghan National Security Forces] has been dramatic,” and noted that the Afghan army is moving to “full partnership with us within this comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign.”

General Allen has taken a further measure to support the ANSF in this increasingly difficult mission. In February, the US Army announced that it would deploy an addition 1,800 army and civilian trainers and advisers to support the ANSF.



  • Bob W. says:

    So, it begs the question, what the heck have the 7 Ground brigades been doing for the past 2.5 years of the surge if the east is in such a sorry state? And if the plan is to essentially reduce focus on N2KL, why has ISAF conducted so many resource-intensive, high risk missions in places like Nuristan over the past 2.5 years?
    The RC East conundrum illustrates one of the critical flaws of the way we operate in Afghanistan: we’ve relied almost exclusively on American military power to carry the day there, instead of compelling the Afghans to take responsibility for their country, and augmenting them where and when necessary. This is essentially an entitlement program of sorts, call it operational welfare or something.
    We’ve also focused on being everywhere the East in some form or fashion, rather than on making critical population and economic centers more stable. So we end up with a bunch of crappy operations in desolate Nuristan and Northern Kunar that achieve few enduring effects, and leave key crossing points from Pakistan wide open, because we’re too busy with the “real fight” with the aforementioned.
    And look where the campaign is at: after spending billions of dollars and countless lives fighting in areas that had limited military value or criticality to the state of Afghanistan, we are essentially abandoning them in the 11th hour and hoping for the best. Great.

  • jean says:

    Two comments
    1) In the mid years of the war 2004-2008, the general theory was that Taliban/AQ infiltrated thru Kunar and Nuristan to Kabul. The geography/terrain never supported the argument; however there were still good reasons to be actively engaged in that area. There are some areas that will never accept Kabul control or influence. They will probably lose what is left of the Peche Valley, the area north of Asadabad, and the east bank of the Kunar that are not close to the bridges. Nuristan is not sustainable, but the local AFG/ANSF have a history of making accommodations with whatever group or country will provide money or help exploite the mineral resources in that area.
    2) If we are pulling back, then we should scale back any large offensive operations in that area. Focus on training the ANSF and force protection. There is no point in clearing operations that will not be sustained by the ANSF ie Waygal, Korengal, Chapa Dara, Shigal etc.

  • usmcwarrior says:

    Every bit of the Op Order was tainted by either an intentional dismissal of the likely influence of religion on all parties in Afghanistan or sheer ignorance of it.
    There was never any real chance of a victory within the scope of COIN doctrine because you cannot parse the “good” from the “bad” in an environment where the “insurgency” is nothing more than a legitimate segment of the general population.
    The only legitimate role for US forces in Afghanistan ended just short of a year after the original incursion. Our mission was simply to punish Al Qaida and the Taliban for hosting and supporting them. That level of fear and force we brought with us, legitimized our purpose and infused a sense of dread in the population and the fighters that gave us an edge.
    Once the mission devolved into a fanciful mission of nation building, we lost the respect (fear) of the people – and the Taliban and then we lost traction. Since then the only true gains have been by the Taliban who can certainly outlast us and right now out fight us because our leadership has determined that the lives of Afghans are more valuable than our Warrior community.
    The many past instances of treachery by our Afghan “partners” and their continued campaign of murder of our forces attests to this. As this mission migrates from a “combat” mission to one of training and admin, it will only get worse.
    Until our leaders and prognosticators get that, we will continue to see this “war” degrade”. Nothing good will come from it and we will leave Afghanistan like it is Saigon 1975 all over again.
    In short: It’s the religion stupid!

  • KaneKaizer says:

    We’ve entered the age where a respected and thoroughly proven top General can hand POTUS a solid battleplan and POTUS still says “No”.

  • HN says:

    Not enough American troops to truly pacify all of RC east. I don’t think the Afghans are ready for that job themselves yet either. Mullah Omar once said “you may have the watches, but we have the time.” and that is certainly playing out here. I completely agree that RC east must be pacified in order to give the Karzai government the chance, but i think that effort is being under-resourced.

  • Villiger says:

    Welcome to the New Age of strategies Made in DC.
    Age=Afghanistan Good Enough

  • JRP says:

    HN’s comment pinpoints the problem here that goes all the way back to the 9/11/2001 attacks. At that time a formal declaration of war should have been proposed to and agreed to by Congress. That should have been promptly followed by reinstatement of the Draft. Serving in the military in time of war should not be a career choice, but an obligation of citizenship. Many of the PTSD situations we are seeing are simply battle fatigue being suffered by a volunteer military undermanned in relationship to the task at hand and condemned to assignment to the front lines for the duration broken up only by occasional timeouts spent back home. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have made it clear that they are looking to hit us with nukes that they intend to acquire by gift, theft or purchase. As Israel is faced with an existential threat from Iran, so are we from Taliban/AQ roaming freely in the Waziristans and just marking time till they can overthrow the Pakistani Government and seize Pakistan’s considerable nuclear arsenal. It boggles the mind to think that an Afghan national army is going to protect our interests after we bug out of the region in 2014. President Bush did a lousy job getting us off focus with the unnecessary Iraq War. President Obama has done much better, but still not enough. We just don’t seem to have the political will power to grab the bull by the horns and eliminate the Taliban/AQ threat by ourselves and regardless of what it takes to do it.

  • blaz102003 says:

    I have to vote with USMCWarrior. This COIN program is not working nor will it work with this culture and this religion. No COIN program will. We got the first 1-3 years correct. After that we started “nation building”.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    Well, this is a good plan under the lousy circumstances we find ourselves in. First off the COIN strategy never should have been abandoned, as Bill Roggio has pointed out.
    Second of all, we are letting the Afghans take to much of a lead role because we are drawing down our troops too fast, which Obama is doing purely to satisfy is far left base..BIG MISTAKE!
    Third We need to keep using drones without any preconditions set forth by the scum Pakis and Night raids needs to continue without any preconditions set forth by the idiot Afghan leaders like that corrupt fool Karzai. I still say we can walk away from this thing with a “mostly victorious outcome” if we are very carefull and leave the proper amount of CIA and Spec Ops forces behind in 2013-2014 and DON’T TIE THIER HANDS!

  • mike merlo says:

    As long as the US continues supplying weapons, training, ‘material’ & combat support the Afghan Defense Establishment & Intelligence Community will fare quite well.

  • Will Fenwick says:

    It would be easy to pacify RC East. Simply relocate all friendly civilians to secure parts of the country, and continuously sweep the region for the enemy. That’s how the British won the Second Boer War. There is no need to worry about fall out from killing civilians if there are none there to kill. At the same time this would remove the taliban support base in the area, hurting them severely in their logistical capabilities. Most successful counterinsurgency campaigns involve forced population relocation, to ignore the option is folly.

  • Keith says:

    Up until recently, I think most Americans had a sense of affiliation with the Afghan people, making the assumption that the Afghans had been unwillingly subjected to the Taliban after the Soviets pulled out. After Karzai came to power, we wanted to think that our two governments were in it together to defeat a common foe.
    This reasoning has hit a wall with Karzai unwilling to recognize that in war some innocents still will die. More and more he sees the ISAF as an enemy of Afghanistan and the impression has become that the Afghan citizens feel likewise.
    This may however, in a Machiavellian way, be a benefit to us. This disassociation by the Afghan people and its effect on our attitude has removed our affinity for Afghans and our sense of obligation to protect them.
    Our obligation is no longer to destroy the Taliban for the sake of the Afghan people but rather to merely tie them up in an endless war with the Afghan government. We’re probably already at the point, with a 300,000-strong Afghan security force sufficient to do just that.
    They don’t have to be the best soldiers, just good enough to keep the Taliban locked forever in a bloody conflict, spending their time and resources accordingly.
    This may sound like a rather grim calculus, but it certainly benefits us by being able to disengage from the war, relatively confident that the Taliban won’t be causing us many problems in the future.
    Yes, they could still harbor al Qaida, but al Qaida will find themselves obligated to fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan splitting their efforts to attack the West. In the meantime, our spy network will continue to grow and our Predators will still be flying overhead.

  • Mr T says:

    The 800 pound Gorilla in the room is still not being addressed and is the whole reason for the war on terror.
    Muslims around the world embracing the idea of the establishment of sharia law worldwide and a global caliphate. And all that goes with that including the annihilation of the jews and violent jihad to attain their goals as required by Islam.
    That subject is somehow rendered taboo. No one is allowed to discuss it becasue the people doing it don’t want it discussed as they will be exposed. Meanwhile it is the actual reason driving all of this terrorism madness.
    When will the world demand an answer? Who will they demand it of? Muslims play the game of not me while entire sects of the religion and in some cases almost entire countries work feverishly toward that end.
    I do not have the answer but I certainly see where the focus should be.

  • DANNY says:

    MR T.
    I hear what your saying. I am surprised Bill let you post that, in those words. I must be too fanatical. I quit posting here cause I didn’t get posted when speaking about ISLAM.

  • It seems USA, NATO and ISAF after 10 years have lost the war in Aghanistan and I cannot understand why it is not admitted. What and where is the problem? That USA, NATO and ISAF are losers? If you cannot win, you are a loser. Basic.

  • Tom Kinton says:

    First, speaking of Afghanistan is like speaking of Africa: it’s all different when your inside it, and all the same when you’re not.
    Second, unless you’ve been inside it, please don’t talk about how night raids need to be stepped up. Which brings us to:
    Third, metrics. The US Army is like the Pac Man game from the Eighties. We reduce problems to manageble things and then we solve them. It’s what we do. The trouble is, we are solving different problem sets each rotation.
    One poster here asked ‘what the heck those brigades have been doing for 2.5 years?’: the answer? re-writing the commander’s estimate of the situation and solving for it each rotation. And harvesting biometrics. And doing night raids. And bagging JPELs (but not very often). And spending CERP money on what amounts to bribery after the locals scream about night raids. In Khost province alone, in 9 months from Oct201-Jul2011 my PRT spent (against my and my CA soldiers’ advice) $49 million US dollars. And the metrics used according to MAAWS-A for sustainability? Still waiting for that chapter, other than ‘obtain GIRoA support’.
    Gents, when Mattis killed EBO we lost the CMO/COIN fight.

  • Villiger says:

    Ironically, these are the people that the US is now desperately trying to negotiate a peace deal with, in looking for a safe and secure exit.
    Obama’s Govt has failed the US by not communicating to its citizens that the alternative to an outright win is an Afghan Govt which includes extremist-barbarian representation. (Obama also singularly failed to build a personal rapport with Karzai in order to drive influence and change.)
    What we are witnessing today is the seeds being sown for AfPakII.
    Pasha has stated: “Of course the Talibs will be a key player in a post-NATO Afghanistan, which we feel is necessary for true peace to take place. But that is just an acknowledgment of a reality than a desire on our part to see Talibs rule Kabul.”
    Read more at entry of March 21.
    All organised religions are false. The difference with Islam is that it is not just false but also inherently aggressive and violent. (Shia/Sunni violence is ample evidence of this.)
    Further, is is the youngest of the major religions of the world so they are expressing their aggression at a time when all other religions have, for the most part, quenched their thirst for violence. Meantime, the mullahs are taking advantage of the disarray and expanding their influence. Pakistan is a stark example given the content of Islamists in Pak’s (Islamic) Army.
    The West as a whole is being outwitted and out- maneuvered and failing to stem the tide.
    Bill is one really, really smart to guy to have chosen the name Long War for his Journal.

  • blert says:

    How can COIN work when the battle is NOT AN INSURGENCY?
    And why do pro-COIN advocates persist in describing the ISI puppet army as native sons?
    Their dress, accent and education all say Pakistan FATA.
    As for the money…
    All of the locals ( Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan ) view infidel money as the perfect hustle. They practice what Elliot Ness would call the Protection Racket. It’s not any more complicated than that.
    By Western norms virtually the entire Afghan economy is a Racket. Coercive power is used pretty much across the board for every transaction. That’s why all of the locals run around like Chicago gangsters — with pistols and automatics to hand at all times.
    It’s a feral ‘culture.’
    The locals look upon us the same way Frank Nitty viewed Elliot Ness in the fictive Untouchables: meddlesome dupes that must be worked around. If you’ll recall from the TV episodes: Nitty never dared go directly at the Feds. Instead, he bumped off every normal citizen — as if that would stump the Law.
    And like the TV show: these players are massively involved in narcotics. If it isn’t hash it’s opium.
    And like the TV show: the peasants producing the goods are coerced. They don’t grow opium poppies because they see a profit angle — they grow them or else! In effect, they are share-croppers. They HAVE to kick in the opium harvest, pick up some chump change, and then they’re allowed to grow food for kith and kin.
    If you’re not aware: the penalty for falling short on the opium crop is your children — daughters as young as two are given up this way every season!
    Not surprisingly, ISAF troops are repulsed at these barbaric arrangements. We’re 15,000 years apart culturally.
    As for Nuristan: it was known as Kafiristan as recently as the 19th Century. Kipling used it as the basis for “The Man who would be King.”
    Nuristan = pure land/ purified land
    Kafiristan = infidel land/ barbarian land
    The real reason that it is being zeroed out is that it is pretty much a helicopters-only logistic zone. Period. Stop. Just too fuel intensive to mess around with. Its lousy trail-network ( forget roads ) also works against the opfor. It’s the tail of Afghanistan — not the nose.
    By comparison, RC-Southeast is THE Taliban conduit. It’s not true that there are gazillion paths across the Durand Line. The opfor is restricted to a handful of sweet spots/ mountain passes for all practical purposes. The killer has always been that these locations are impossible to ‘over watch’ — and a border in the conventional sense can’t be constructed. ( The line runs from peak to peak almost like the opening shots from LoTR: The Two Towers. )
    Hence the fiascos every time the ISAF plays close to the Durand Line: the very highest ground is no-man’s-land!
    Since the Taliban is a manufactured army no different than the Hez they’ve got a patron — Pakistan’s ISI. Keeping the Pashtun in an uproar is regarded by Islamabad as an existential need. Any true peace would have them unified — under Kabul.
    Pakistan would be clipped to the Indus. That’s ALL they think about. Period. Stop.
    Break out a map and see what that would mean.
    We need to entirely abandon COIN. It doesn’t apply at all to a foreign invasion — which is what the Taliban represent.
    The focus should be on sky-warfare, remote sensing and persistent observation. Drones, blimps or dirigibles; we should use them all.
    Then just keep ‘mowing the grass’ for years on end.
    Cut our dependency upon Islamabad — the deep enemy. They will never stop campaigning until they’re utterly destroyed. For they will take it down to the bunker.
    Any notion of grabbing their atomics with commando operations is hopeless. Just the prospect that such a gambit might occur has Islamabad routing atomics through city streets. (!)
    With paranoia that great there can be no resolution.

  • Keith says:

    One point I’d like to add to my prior post is that by leaving Afghanistan to its own devices in holding the Taliban at bay, that frees us to diplomatically put inordinate pressure on Pakistan to go after their own terrorist problem.
    Besides withdrawing billions in aid, we should have no problem getting the rest of the world on board with having Pakistan declared a terrorist sponsoring state–which by anyone’s measure it clearly is.
    Just moving in that direction would put so much economic and political pressure on Pakistan it would leave that country with only the choice between finally dealing with their own terrorists and the ISI or economic catastrophe
    With us in-country, we’re beholden to Pakistan for too many things, including supply and intel. As it stands now, we have zero ability to defeat the Taliban while they are protected by Pakistan.
    Once we’re out we can exercise this kind of hard diplomacy that has been enabled by Pakistanis’ own actions. They have, in effect, set themselves up to become supremely vulnerable to diplomatic and economic pressure and will in future be the ones who will be tasked with defeating the Taliban with their own blood and treasure.
    As for Mr. Bjorkman, its always good to hear from the left-wing brain trust.

  • chicago says:

    Will Fenwick makes a point similar to what I have made on this post in the past. We need to take land necessary to secure a self sufficent base that can deffectively become our 51st state. This will require relocating the population, and exploiting the resources like lithium and agriculture. Let our vets settle and homestead the area and allow immigraton from around the world. You will never change the Afghans – sen dthem on their wat.

  • jp says:

    You slacker, call me…..

  • Witch Doctor says:

    Tom said:
    “First, speaking of Afghanistan is like speaking of Africa: it’s all different when your inside it, and all the same when you’re not.
    Having visited Afghanistan more times than I would like to, I must re-enforce what Tom said. It is a completely different mind set than any westerner could ever understand. Our logic and their logic do not even parallel each other.
    You can not work with these people, you can not reason with them. They understand two things at face value. They can get money and aid from us when they want it by conforming to some ridiculous request which is granted only in order to obtain said aid. They also understand fighting and will do it in a split second. There is a reason all these holy men carry AK’s and RPG rounds.
    We can not help these people, but we can help ourselves and that means winning this war now.
    To hell with a draw down……

  • Drew says:

    @ Anders,
    You are a loser…basic. Didn’t see any Scandinavian
    nations out on patrol. Just saying. Sit the sidelines
    quietly, we’re working here.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @Drew: Don’t waste any time on Bjorkman. From the link on his name he’s a 9/11 “Truther”. They’re lunatics and beyond rational discourse. The epitome of “loser”.

  • noa says:

    KaineKaiser said: We’ve entered the age where a respected and thoroughly proven top General can hand POTUS a solid battleplan and POTUS still says “No”.
    Read about the American Civil War, specifically Lincoln’s relationship with McClellan. We haven’t entered in that age, we’ve always been in it.

  • Charu says:

    Blert; agree completely with you. Abandon COIN because this is an invasion from Pakistan. Keep the Taliban from ever massing troops – like they would need to do to take the prize, Kabul, and keep targeting their small incursions with drone operations.
    When they are frustrated by not getting their grimy hands on Kabul, they will turn their attention on an easier target – Islamabad. And that’s when the fun starts.

  • Christian Delgado says:

    It seems we have lost the momentum. In ever war in the history of the United States there has been a stalemate like this one. In WWII it was the battle of the Bulge, Korea was when the Chinese attacked, Vietnam was the Tet Offensive, and in Iraq was the Insurgency.
    There is no doubt our relations with the Afghan government are at a all time low, not to mention we’re barely on talking terms with our most important ally in the region (Pakistan). It doesn’t help that Karzai publicly blast us for a very low, and what I would consider acceptable collateral damage rate.
    If we shifted troops to RC East, could we have the desired outcome without Pakistan pushing them from the East?


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