I admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Michael E. O’Hanlon or Ian Livingston, but they wrote a piece for the New York Times: basically, things in Afghanistan are going just fine (By the way, Stephen Saideman did a short post on this. He raises some interesting questions.):
Here is what we know: Afghans are wealthier, healthier and better educated than ever before. Unquestionably, Afghan security forces are bigger and better. Despite the occasional spectacular attack, Kabul is relatively safe, accounting for less than 1 percent of violent episodes nationwide, thanks largely to the efforts of these troops. The security situation in the more dangerous south is also much improved, after two years of efforts by foreign and Afghan forces. The north and west are at least no longer deteriorating and collectively account for less than 10 percent of violence nationwide.
And now I know all I need to know about O’Hanlon/Livingston.
Oh, for those of you following along? This post is the one I talked about yesterday.
Allow me to retort, and I’m only going to limit myself to one line in that paragraph, as much as it physically pains me to do so.
Unquestionably, Afghan security forces are bigger and better.
That’s a great word: unquestionably. That means you have “facts” that are likely “irrefutable” which is another big word for “we are experts,” and can therefore “do math.”
That last shot across the bow will make sense shortly.
I’m not going to debate the quantity of ANSF. The force is definitely bigger: every year, there are more of them.
And since I’m not entirely happy with making unfounded pronouncements and therefore would never be able to work for the Times, let’s kick it off with a quote from the last 1230 report in October of 2011 :
The overall operational effectiveness of the ANA continues to improve. In August 2011, the total number of reporting ANA units in the field increased to 204, and the number of units achieving an operational effectiveness rating of “Effective with Assistance” or higher was sustained at 147; alternatively, 37 units (18 percent) of fielded ANA units are in the lowest assessment categories, “Developing” or “Established,” due to an inability to perform their mission or the immaturity of a newly-fielded unit. Even the ANA’s highest-rated kandak, 2nd kandak, 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps, which achieved the rating of “Independent,” remains dependent on ISAF for combat support and combat enablers. In locations without a large ISAF footprint, the ANA has exhibited little improvement and there is little reporting on their operational strengths and weaknesses. These units are typically located in the west and far northeast regions.
Usually “independent” means: “not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.” But reading the paragraph above, it means they’re still very dependent for key tasks necessary to conduct operations.
In ISAF Land, the word used to mean what it means to the rest of us as of March 2011, when this is how ISAF defined “independent”:
“Independent” denotes a unit that is capable of the full spectrum of its missions without assistance from Coalition Forces.
Unfortunately, the result of that definition was this pesky problem:
That’s right: after nearly 10 years of ISAF intervention, and nearly two years of concerted effort by NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) personnel, no unit at any level had achieved an “independent rating.”
So they changed the definition.
From page 43 of the 1230 report in October of 2011:
Prior to the spring campaign, IJC reviewed the definition of an Independent unit and concluded that the definition was too restrictive and would be difficult for any ANSF element to attain. As a result, IJC rewrote the definition of an Independent unit to reflect the reality that most ANSF force enablers will likely require long-term coalition assistance.
Which, is how you get this:
Need an “independent” unit? Don’t actually make it independent: just change the meaning of the word.
Now remember that “204″ number previously? That’s counting all units (to include headquarters, etc.) that are considered “effective.”
For purposes of effectiveness, though, your best unit of measurement would be the kandak: this is the equivalent of a battalion, and the unit that’s the best indicator of the effectiveness of a fighting force writ large. This is because a battalion is the smallest military unit that is able to conduct independent military operations. (I know, some militaries are organized differently, but this is generally true.)
So your number of kandaks rated as “effective” would be…important. And if you’re truly getting better, then you would see more kandaks moved into that category.
In this case, what I did was total up all kandaks (not kandak equivalents) that were rated as “Effective with Assistance” and higher.
April 2011: 116
October 2011: 115
Must be one of those public school education “fuzzy math” kind of things, because that seems…lower.
In a reporting period (of about six months) when they fielded an additional five kandaks or “kandak equivalent” unit (the GSU), ANA end strength went from 116 kandak units rated as at least “effective,” to 115 units with that same rating.
When one fields more units of a particular size, yet experiences a net loss in effectiveness in those units, one’s army isn’t really getting “better.”
Favoring quantity over quality, O’Hanlon and Livingston seemed to not have dug too deeply into the numbers supporting the premise that the ANSF is “unquestionably” better. However, I could be completely wrong on this, since the article cites no actual sources for their research. I, on the other hand, just had to go with publicly available reports on NATO progress generated by NATO itself.
In a war that offers relatively few metrics by which to measure success, being run by an organization that shifts those metrics randomly to fit their message, it’s unusual to find solid numbers to demonstrate anything. In this case, it’s simple math.
The interwebs is hard.
I’m off to break the news to my wife: in honor of the genius that walks among us mere mortals, we’re naming our first child “O’Hanlon.” And he shall be great. And able to do the maths.