It’s warm this week in Afghanistan, warmer than average. Usually this time of year the average temp swings between 38 degrees and 18 degrees F — but this week the temps are ten or more degrees higher.
Perhaps that’s why Gen. David Petraeus cracked the whip on special ops folks, who in turn have cranked out “more than 80 raids and other operations” inside a day’s time, according to Politico’s Morning Defense report Wednesday — that’s an insane number of raids for what should be relatively small working groups of individuals.
January is typically the coldest month of the year in Afghanistan according to the data, but the conditions are sure to get worse over the next several weeks assuming the usual annual increase in moisture combined with chilly temperatures during the first quarter each year. Conditions in more mountainous areas are comparable to the Rocky Mountains this time of year, with fewer trees and no ski resort towns; the Haqqani network of terrorists can be expected to move out of eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan, where there may be less hassle and somewhat better weather farther south, at least until April.
Now imagine being dropped into cold, rocky terrain by helicopter repeatedly, again and again this week, to chase the Haqqani terrorist network. In exchange, you get increased injuries and a bunch of surprised and annoyed goat herders and their families instead of terrorists. It’s not at all clear this approach is effective counterinsurgency at work, when combined with the other excesses recently documented as part of Petraeus’ COIN strategy.
What of it, you might be thinking, especially if you’re adamantly against the militarization and occupation of Afghanistan.
For starters, the use of special ops is bizarre. Think of them as a highly specialized machine, intended for use in specific applications. They should be working on tightly defined missions with extremely narrow targets, ones which have been carefully pre-identified with intelligence. They should be going after loose nuclear material, detailed to hostage rescue assignments, or going after high value individuals — not indiscriminately raiding the average Afghan farm to shake out angry locals who may be labeled terrorists. Politico’s report doesn’t indicate a specific target, only a nebulous number of people labeled as Haqqani. Given the amount of training and background invested in these special ops folks, is this really the best use of taxpayer resources?
And then the assignment itself; how is this really going to solve the problem of the Haqqani network when locals may become radicalized and opt to join them because of this treatment? How is this effective COIN? With all the troops we now have in Afghanistan rivaling the number we once had in Iraq, why isn’t Petraeus doing something a little more low key, a little more targeted at building relationships, a little less inflammatory, a little less like overkill?
I’ll bet that’s what those special ops guys are wondering, too, after 80-plus raids in one day.