One of the nice things about this blog is that periodically, smart folks will send me their unpublished material for feedback and private commentary. This comes in a wide variety of formats – manuscripts, articles, book chapters, powerpoint, sometimes an entire book or novel! It is flattering and almost always informative, so I try to help where I can or at least point the sender in the direction of someone more appropriate.
Recently, I was given a peek at a very intriguing paper on “Transition Operations” by Dr Rich Ledet, LTC Jeff Stewart and Mr. Pete Turner, who blogs occasionally at quesopaper. Pete has spent a good chunk of the past ten years in a variety of positions and capacities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he currently is with American troops in a remote rural district and it was he who passed their draft to me. They have taken a fresh look at the subject.
While I can’t give away their “secret sauce” in detail, I particularly liked the fact that while the focus and advice for executing transition operations is aimed at field grade officers and their civilian agency counterparts, their vision is in sync with the ideal of having policy-strategy-operations and tactics as a seamless “whole-of-government” garment. If only we could get our politicians to think in these terms, half the battle would be over.
Their paper is now headed to a professional journal; when it is published ( as I think it will be), I will definitely be linking to it here and hopefully, that will be soon.
My reason for my bringing this up – I have the permission of the authors to do so – is that the trio have put their finger on the major doctrinal problem faced by the United States military in Afghanistan – “transition operations” being a politically charged topic, laden as it is with implied foreign policy decision making by heavyweight policy makers, is treated in very scanty fashion by FM 3-24. Compared to other aspects of COIN, very little guidance is given to the the commander of the battalion or brigade in the effort to coordinate “turnover” of responsibilities and missions to their Afghan Army, police and government allies.
This at a time when the “readiness” of Afghan units and officials to accept these burdens in the midst of a war with the Taliban is questionable, variable, controversial at home and politically extremely sensitive in Afghanistan.
And at a point where, ten years after September 11, the US State Department is no more able in terms of personnel and vision or sufficiently funded by Congress, to step up their game and take the lead role in Afghanistan from the Pentagon than it was on September 10, 2001. SECSTATEs Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton deserve great praise for making State do more with less, but State needs wholesale reform to fit the needs of the 21st century and the money and budgetary flexibility to split foreign policy tasks more equitably with the Defense Department.
State is not going to be playing a major role on the ground in our transition out of Afghanistan, which makes guidance to our majors and colonels – and in turn to their company and platoon leaders stationed there- all the more important.