Afghanistan Update October – More troops, new Afghan strategy, UH-60 helicopters, ICRC cutting back operations, new political group, some commentary, advisors and MATA, RS HQs mission defined, photos of Afghanistan, and more bombing.
Afghanistan is still in the news although the story of America’s longest war is not always on the front page. Football players kneeling, sex perverts in Hollywood, Trump’s relentless tweets, possible conflict on the Korean peninsular, Russia’s cyber activities, and other news stories push the Afghan conflict below the fold or on the back page. However some new developments have transpired over the past few weeks that are important. Some of it is good news while much presented in the media is just more of the same.
Advisors for Afghanistan and the MATA. Members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division attended the Military Advisor Training Academy at Fort Benning, Ga in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. (DVIDS, Oct 10, 2017).
New Afghan Strategy. The public demand for details of the new Afghanistan strategy has diminished. Probably because SECDEF Mattis has managed this story line to the satisfaction of some in the media. His description of the new Afghan war strategy during recent Senate and House testimony (Oct 3) was presented using the acronym R4&S.
Additional Troops. The U.S. has sent (still ongoing) over about 3,000 more troops to beef up the advisory effort. The U.S. is pushing NATO to put in about 1,000 more troops; some NATO and partner nations are stepping up. Many of these advisors (and support personnel) will head out to the regional areas (away from Kabul) with some conducting the Train, Advise, and Assist (TAA) at the tactical level (brigade and battalion). During testimony cited above we heard General Dunford explain how we pulled our advisors off the tactical level units too fast. Hmmm. I believe he was COMISAF during the time of the withdrawal of advisors. In the 2013-2014 time frame I recall him saying something similar to ‘. . . the Afghan kandaks know how to fight; we need advisors at the institutional and ministry level to develop systems and processess. . .’ Of course, political decisions made in the White House drove the whole ‘timeline’-based withdrawal (and not ‘conditions-based’).
ICRC Cutting Back Operations. The International Committee of the Red Cross is drastically reducing its presence in Afghanistan. A series of recent attacks against humanitarian aid workers have hit the NGOs hard. Read “Deadly Attacks Prompt ICRC to Drastically Cut Afghan Operations”, Voice of America, October 9, 2017.
A Better Helicopter. The Afghan Air Force (AAF) continues to receive more aircraft. The Resolute Support HQs in Kabul made much of the official transfer of the first of many (159) UH-60 Blackhawks to the Afghans in a ceremony in Kandahar. Persident Ghani attended as well as several high level military officers. The Afghans are used to the Russian Mi-17; but these are entering the final stages of their life. In addition, the U.S. Congress tied the hands of the Department of Defense – putting immense pressure to ‘buy American’. So the AAF will get the more expensive, harder to maintain, and less suitable UH-60. Watch a 60-second video by Resolute Support HQs celebrating the event. (DVIDS, Oct 9, 2017). Read a news release by the U.S. Air Force about the Blackhawk transfer. (af.mil, Oct 10, 2017).
RS HQs Dep Cdr Designated. LTG Richard Cripwell is the incoming Deputy Commander of the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
Politics. The opposition to the National Unity Government (NUG) of President Ghani and CEO Abdullah seems to be growing. A new political group critical of the NUG has declared itself. It seems to be a ‘pro-Karzai’ group which could be useful in Karzai’s return to politics. One observer of the Afghan scene, Ali Yawar Adili, provides the details on this new opposition group in “Mehwar-e Mardom-e Afghanistan: New opposition group with an ambiguous link to Karzai”, Afghanistan Analysts Network, October 11, 2017.
RS HQs Mission Defined. A researcher with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies outlines the current and future mission of the Resolute Support organization in Afghanistan. (Eurasia Review, Oct 10, 2017).
Afghan Photography. A photographer spent 40 years taking pictures (sometimes in Afghanistan). Check out “See the Beauty and Brutality of Life in Afghanistan”, Vice.com, October 10, 2017.
Air War Expands. The U.S. air campaign in Afghanistan has become bigger over the last several months. Part of the new Afghan strategy announced by SECDEF Jim Mattis was the relaxation of the rules of engagement for the use of U.S. air power.  It is hoped that more air support for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) will translate into driving the Taliban to the negotiating table. 
Some Commentary. Many ‘war experts’ compare Afghanistan’s conflict to the long-running conflict in Vietnam. Many have tried to tie the two together to arrive at some type of ‘lessons learned’ (or not learned) conclusion. In one conflict the U.S. tried to protect its interests abroad by preventing the spread of communism but in the other the U.S. is keen on denying the ability of terrorist groups to mount attacks against the U.S. homeland. M. Ashraf Haidari explores this difference between the two conflicts in “How Afghanistan’s war differs from Vietnam”, Observer Research Foundation, October 7, 2017. 
 See “Mattis Discloses Part of Afghanistan Battle Plan, but It Hasn’t Yet Been Carried Out”, The New York Times, October 6, 2017.
 See “The US Will be Dropping a Lot More Bombs on Afghanistan”, Defense One, October 4, 2017.
 Haidari is the Director-General of Policy & Strategy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. He also served in the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi, India. The Observer Research Foundation is an India-based research institution.