Wall Street Journal
  December 19, 2003
  Pg. 14
 
  Think Global, Fight Local
 
  By Robert D. Kaplan
 
  Two years ago this month, fewer than 100 men of the Army's 5th Special
  Forces Group, based out of Fort Campbell, Ky. -- almost all of them
  non-commissioned officers -- essentially took down the Taliban regime on
  their own. Along with a handful of Air Force Special Ops embeds, they
  succeeded where the British and the Soviets before them in Afghanistan
 had failed, because they had been given no specific instructions. The
  bureaucratic layers between the U.S. forces and the secretary of defense
  were severed. They were told merely to link up with the "indigs"
 (indigenous Northern Alliance and friendly Pushtun elements) and make it happen.
 
  The result was that they grew beards and rode horses from one redoubt to
   the next, even as their team sergeants called in air strikes without first
  seeking written approval. Because 5th Group was allowed to operate
  independently of the vertical, Industrial Age hierarchy of the Pentagon,
  and because it combined 19th-century warfare with 21st-century close air
  support (CAS), 5th Group achieved the very post-industrial military
 "transformation" that elites in Washington are incessantly talking about, but
  don't seem to understand -- because real transformation, which involves the
  dilution of central control, would make many of these elites themselves redundant.
 
  But now, military transformation is receding behind us in Afghanistan.
 With   Saddam Hussein in custody, the Pentagon is focusing on the capture of
 Osama bin Laden, who may be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. Yet
success  against bin Laden means going back to what we did right two years ago.
 
  Of the roughly 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, only a fraction of
  them are doing anything directly pivotal to the stabilization of the
  country. The rest are either part of a long support tail or part of
  newly-created layers of command at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul,
  which micro-manage and complicate the work of a relatively small number of
 Army SF troops (Green Berets) located at various "fire bases."
 
  Instead of powering-down to a flattened hierarchy of small, autonomous
  units dispersed over a wide area -- what the 1940 Marine "Small Wars Manual"
  recommends for fighting a guerrilla insurgency -- we have barricaded
  ourselves into a mammoth, Cold War-style base at Bagram that drains
  resources from the fire bases. It is ironic that just as the Pentagon is
  proposing a more light and lethal worldwide basing posture (with many
  smaller footprints rather than a few large ones in Korea and Europe), in
  Afghanistan, whose mountains and tribes make it the most unconventional
  of battlefields, we have reverted to such an antiquated arrangement.
 
  Half of the U.S. soldiery in Afghanistan is garrisoned at Bagram,
 creating  a   footprint so large, so vulnerable, and so beside the point of why we are
  there in the first place, that terms like "Westmorelandization,"
  "Sovietization" and the "self-licking ice cream cone" come to mind when
  describing the place and what it represents. I make these harsh
  statements after a month embedded at various SF fire bases in Afghanistan, speaking
  to dozens of non-commissioned and middle level officers, and drawing upon
  my  own experience of covering the mujahideen insurgency against the Soviets
  in the 1980s.
 
  Because of the present U.S. force structure in Afghanistan -- with its
  emphasis on conventional military and support personnel as opposed to
 small detachments of Green Berets, civil affairs units and other Special Ops
  teams  -- I met no one on the ground doing the fighting who believed that
 merely   increasing the number of troops in the country would accomplish anything
  except make these problems worse.
 
  Surprise searches of suspect mud-walled fortresses and "presence
  patrols"   over the Afghan countryside require the approval of a CON-OP, a written
  "Concept of Operation" proposal. Two years ago -- in the immediate
 aftermath of 9/11, when the emphasis was on results rather than on regulations --
 CON-Ops were de-emphasized. Indeed, again as recommended in the Marine
  "Small Wars Manual," verbal orders had replaced written ones. But now it
 can  take days for commanders in far-flung parts of Afghanistan to get
 CON-Ops  approved; and even then often in diluted, risk-averse form. The result
  is  that suspicious compounds are assaulted hours and days after they should
  have been, so they that they turn up to be "dry holes" rather than "gold
  mines" of weapons and MVTs (middle value targets), the al Qaeda and
 Taliban  sub-commanders who exist between the terrorist leadership and the foot
  soldiers.
 
  The search for HVTs (high value targets) such as bin Laden has not been
  similarly compromised. That is because the various "Delta" and other
 "black"  Special Ops elements hunting down the HVTs have air support at near the
  battalion level. These commandos operate more like 5th Group did in
 2001,  cut loose from Bagram's and the Pentagon's dinosaurian organizational
  structure -- in the manner of the most innovative corporations, which
 are deliberately kept weak at the center.
 
  But even the search for HVTs is hurt by the overly regulated approach of
  hunting down the MVTs and LVTs (Low Value Targets). For it is the hunt
 for MVTs that constitutes the real bread and butter in the War on Terrorism.
  If  the hunt for MVTs remains snarled in bureaucracy, the MVTs will fill the
  positions of any HVTs who happen to be killed or apprehended. More
  importantly, MVTs hold the key to capturing the HVTs. It's the subway
  turnstile phenomenon. When New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani began
  arresting  kids for jumping turnstiles, a percentage of them turned out to be
 wanted for more serious crimes, or they had information on those who were. To
  wit,  it was MVTs who proved crucial in the capture of Saddam. Thus, we need
  to be capturing more MVTs. We can only do that by giving Army SF the same
  autonomy and air support that Delta has.
 
  Demanding more troops without a thorough consideration of these issues
  is irresponsible: It would only encourage a longer support tail and more
  bureaucracy. (A similar caveat applies to calls for more NATO
  stabilization  troops to help provide basic security to the population, an increase
 that  would be appropriate if NATO is prepared to decentralize its forces and
 its command structure in Afghanistan.)
 
  Some in the field recommend scaling back Bagram, and moving some
 functions over the border to Khanabad-Kharshi (K2) in Uzbekistan. As Bagram
 contracts, the number of fire bases should proliferate, even as they become more
  independent. In particular, we need more and smaller Advanced Operating
  Bases in southwestern Afghanistan close to the Iran border. At the
 moment, fewer than 100 Green Berets are covering southern Afghanistan in armed
  convoys: the addition of just another 100 or so of them would have a
  substantial force-multiplier effect.
 
  We also need more Provincial Reconstruction Teams -- mobile civil affairs
  units working the soft, humanitarian side of Unconventional War. As with  the
  Green Berets, the addition of a relatively small number of these personnel
  will have dramatically positive consequences.
 
  Like the Soviets, we face dispersed, small groupings of insurgents  attacking
  us from rear bases over the border in Pakistan. Thus, we have to make the
  Pakistani tribal agencies the next laboratory of Unconventional War. The
  model to be used should be that of the southern Philippines in 2002, when
  the 1st Special Forces Group -- based out of Okinawa, Japan and Fort
 Lewis,  Washington -- flushed Abu Sayyaf insurgents off the island of Basilan
  without firing a shot. The Green Berets built schools, dug wells and
  provided medical assistance to a downtrodden Muslim population, while
 giving   the credit for this humanitarian work to the Philippine Army. In this
way,   the Green Berets severed the link between the insurgents and the
 indigenous inhabitants. We need to do something similar with the Pakistani military
  inside the tribal agencies.
 
  We are fighting a world-wide counterinsurgency, and you don't hunt down
  pockets of insurgents over vast swaths of the earth with large bases,  large
  infantry columns, and central control. Operation Iraqi Freedom only shaped
  the battlefield for the war in Iraq, which is of a small, unconventional
  kind. Because insurgencies vary from country to country, and even within
  countries, it is necessary to divest power from places like Washington and
  Bagram to the edges of the command structure, where non-comms at
Advanced   Operating Bases constitute the sensitive, finger-tip points of defense
  policy -- tailored to the particular situation in their respective  micro-regions. For
  example, while the U.S. seeks to fold the Afghan  Militia  Forces into the newly
 created Afghan National Army, in some provinces  these  same militias are vital
 to the security of our SF fire bases. Therefore, decisions about integrating these
 forces must be left to individual base commanders, who are familiar with local personalities.
 
  The U. S. military is the world's best because its sergeants and warrant
  officers are without equal. It is a matter of better utilizing them.
  Mistakes will occur, like the children killed recently near Gardez, but
  remember that Green Berets have been regularly saving the lives of young
  mine victims in rural Afghanistan.
 
  In El Salvador in the 1980s, 55 SF troops beat back a guerrilla insurgency
  while gradually integrating renegade militias into a newly  professionalized
  national army. They had advantages, though. A force cap kept the number of
  uniformed Americans in the country from mushrooming, and except for some
  basic guidelines they were given relatively limited instructions. So the question is:
  Can we find our way back to 2001 in Afghanistan and to 2002  in
  the Philippines, when the 5th and 1st SF Groups led the way to military
  transformation?
 
  Mr. Kaplan, a correspondent for Atlantic Monthly, is the author of
 "Soldiers of God" (Vintage, 2001).