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July 15, 2005

No Wonder George W. Bush Likes Tommy Franks

Phil Carter assigns us summer reading:

INTEL DUMP - Relearning old lessons the hard way: In the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly, you can find my review of Sean Naylor's brilliant book "Not a Good Day to Die" -- a chronicle of Operation Anaconda, the largest battle fought thus far by U.S. forces in Afghanistan... a damn good read... this book belongs on your bookshelf.... [T]here are also many lessons to be learned...

In the weeks leading up to Anaconda, intelligence officers thought they had learned everything.... But disturbing rumors persisted that there might be more.... As it turned out, there may have been 10 times as many, and they weren't just in the valley but on the tactically crucial high ground above.... [W]rites Naylor, "[chief planner Maj. Paul Wilie] acknowledged that writing the plan had been such a painful process of compromise and negotiation that nobody could face the prospect of tearing it up... simply because the enemy might not be where they were supposed to be."

Perhaps the biggest problem was the Rube Goldberg command structure created by Gen. Franks. The war was run from Tampa... by video teleconferencing. Decisions were made by committee and on Eastern Standard Time... with an eye towards how the decisions would be briefed to the press at the Pentagon. Naylor quotes a deputy commanding general...

"When SecDef started having a [press] briefing every day, it meant that for hours of that day you could not talk to the CENTCOM staff... to make a decision at CENTCOM because they were tied up prepping themselves for the SecDef's briefing.... They had a morning telephone call... an afternoon telephone call... for a couple of hours before that telephone call, you could not get [Gen. Franks's directors of operations or intelligence].... [I]f the SecDef went to a briefing and we had reported that we had captured 14 Al Qaeda and it really turned out to be 12 or 16... it would be easier to let two go or go back and capture two more rather than to try to change the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] number."

At least some of the failures might have been averted had Franks and his team tapped the right field commander. Naylor clearly thinks that choice should have been someone like Delta Force Lt. Col. Pete Blaber... the Pentagon chose Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory Trebon, who had never before commanded a ground operation, with Navy Lt. Cmdr. Vic Hyder as his deputy.... Hyder went so far as to communicate with his subordinates using a radio frequency he knew Blaber would not be monitoring. Trebon and Hyder were convinced that satellite feeds from Predator drones delivered to Navy and Air Force bases hundreds of miles away would be sufficient to run things. "The battle would," in Naylor's withering words, "be 'controlled' by officers watching video screens on a desert island and 'commanded' by a man who had made his name flying transport aircraft."

Two years after Anaconda, military analysts are still debating why those choppers on Takur Ghar never got close air support, and whether the Air Force provided enough firepower for the conventional infantry that followed the commandos. The Air Force, according to Army Special Forces troops, had promised to "soften" enemy targets with a 55-minute aerial bombardment while Air Force officers at Bagram Air Force base say they were aware of no such plans. Having left their artillery at home, the Army's conventional infantry depended on aircraft for heavy firepower. As often happens in combat, the best-laid plans went awry, leaving hundreds of infantrymen to fight with only the weapons they had carried in on their backs....

I had one of Martin Sheen's monologues as CPT Willard in Apocalypse Now in mind:

Charley didn't get much USO. He was dug in too deep or moving too fast. His idea of great R&R was cold rice and a little rat meat. He had only two ways home: death, or victory.

Likewise, today's adversaries in Afghanistan are skilled and tenacious fighters; they also see death or victory as their only exit strategies.... Al Qaeda's tactical intelligence moves as fast as their social networks and cell phones can move it, and that's pretty damn fast. They don't worry about parochial chains of command or the long-term budgetary impact of giving the mission to a certain unit from a certain branch of service; they just fight...

Posted by DeLong at July 15, 2005 11:14 AM