Dr. Todd Greentree – “What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?”


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Released 24 January, 2022. Critics of the Afghan war have claimed it was always unwinnable. This article argues the war was unwinnable the way it was fought and posits an alternative based on the Afghan way of war and the US approach to counterinsurgency in El Salvador during the final decade of the Cold War. Respecting the political and military dictates of strategy could have made America’s longest foreign war unnecessary and is a warning for the wars we will fight in the future. Click here to read the article. Episode Transcript: Stephanie Crider (Host) Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs. Decisive Point welcomes Dr. Todd Greentree, a former US Foreign Service officer who served as a political military officer in five conflicts, including El Salvador and Afghanistan. He's a member of the Changing Character of War Center at Oxford University and teaches in the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico. Greentree is the author of "What Went Wrong in Afghanistan," featured in Parameters winter 2021-2022 issue. Welcome, Todd. I'm so glad you're here. Let's talk about your article. Some people would argue the Afghan war was unwinnable. You assert it was unwinnable the way it was fought. What do you mean by that? Dr. Todd Greentree Thank you, Stephanie. Great to be here. The idea that it was unwinnable the way it was fought is really tied to the purpose, sort of the reason why I was writing it, which is not just about what went wrong in Afghanistan, what lessons can be derived about counterinsurgency. This is really an article about US strategic behavior. Afghanistan was my fifth war. And I like to write what I know. So really, the origin of the article is from my own story. I got the idea that we were maybe not doing this right, sort of when I stepped off the helicopter at Bagram in 2008. My first war had been El Salvador in the early 1980s. And so everything I learned were all from guys who had been in Vietnam. There's more about that in the article. For the next four years, though, I served with people who were…most of the people were from the 9/11 generation, and I was a political adviser to combat units out in the field and was super impressed with the astuteness that everybody was showing. So first, I was in Regional Command East, where General Mark Milley was the deputy commander for operations. But there was a problem with the entire effort in Afghanistan. We were on economy of force. But that economy of force was not being exercised for a strategic purpose, just to minimize the cost, because Iraq had sucked up all the attention and the bulk of the resources. Then I moved to Regional Command South into Taliban home country, and they had been raging there since 2006. It took three years for the US to adapt. I came back to Kandahar in 2010, at the height of the surge, with the 10th Mountain Division. They were in command of Regional Command South. And this was the main effort at the height of the surge. It was a strong coalition team. They knew what to do, how to partner with the Afghan army. They took it seriously. They were serious about aligning political and military strategies, which was my part of this. The overall strategy of the US, by 2009, was coming into focus, we'd had Stan McChrystal’s math, the idea, here's our most experienced Special Operations commander who had come to the realization, as had many of the SOF guys, that attrition generates more insurgents. This led to a shift in the understanding of focus on the population rather than exercising firepower. General Petraeus, following McChrystal with Field Manual 3-24 and counterinsurgency doctrine and all of that. The problem was that when Obama announced the surge, he time-limited at the same time, which was a strategically incorrect thing to do ...

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