Monday, July 5, 2010

Unity of Effort

Matt over at Feral Jundi draws attention to yesterday's speech by incoming ISAF commander General David Petraeus (aka Super Dave), in which his main theme was 'unity of effort,' within the ISAF hierarchy, their civilian counterparts and the Afghan government.*

*Good luck with those last two elements. The Afghan government can't even manage unity of effort within itself, much less with ISAF and Western diplomats. And as for the civilian side, Ambassador Eikenberry was quoted as telling General Petraeus that he was "welcome at this (U.S.) Embassy 24/7." Well no shit, Eik. Thanks for the hall pass. Petraeus is the theatre commander in charge of 130,000 coalition troops, 100,000 of those American. Did anyone seriously believe that he might not be "welcome" at his own embassy? Exhibit A for why Eikenberry should spend the rest of his diplomatic career stamping visas in Bangladesh. With a supervisor watching him closely.

Unity of effort is one of the cornerstones of successful COIN theory, the idea being that all elements of the COIN-force have to be working from a common plan with clearly defined goals and joint operations to achieve them. Matt suggests that the 100,000+ contractors currently in Afghanistan should be included under this unity of effort umbrella, and wonders how exactly to make that happen.

Leaving aside the near-certainty that Super Dave and his staff don't spend a lot of time thinking about contractors,* there is a fairly simple way for ISAF to create a more effective working relationship with the contractor community.

*Let's face it: the bigwigs at ISAF don't put a lot of effort into thinking about the contractors working for them. Part of the value of contractors (to ISAF and the U.S. military) is that shit gets done without them having to think about it. Need supplies at that remote COP? Call a contractor. Need some extra perimeter security at a FOB? Call a contractor. Need a suck-truck to empty the septic tanks at Camp Phoenix? Call a contractor. Need anything done that won't be reflected on a promotion board evaluation? Yep, call those contractors and throw some cash at them.

There is a venue for Petraeus to meet personally with movers and shakers of the security community here. The PSCAA (Private Security Companies Association of Afghanistan) is the coordinating and lobbying group for all PSCs interested in working here long-term. (They're supported in their efforts by the Union of Private Security Companies, which is limited to Afghan-owned outfits and whose meetings I've had the unfortunate luck to attend.) Mostly it's a talking-shop and a venue for sharing complaints about the ineptitude of the Afghan government and the Ministry of Interior.* The irregular meetings are not particularly well-attended and usually degenerate into a bitch-fest pretty quickly.

*It's also a handy place to pick up tips on which MoI officials are susceptible to "success-guarantee fees." A wonderful euphemism, don't you think?

However, if General Petraeus (or any senior officer from ISAF) made it known that he would like to address the PSCAA, I'm sure that every country manager from all 52 licensed companies would be there, with most of their operations staff, and all on their best behavior. Spread among those 52 companies, there are hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts supporting ISAF and U.S. Army operations. Even the contracts that aren't written with PSCs directly usually involve a security element at some point.

A couple of hours with General Petraeus would give those country managers a better idea of what ISAF requires by way of support, and hopefully give Super Dave a better appreciation of exactly how integral to his efforts we really are. Even if we disagree on tactics and strategy (which we almost certainly would), there would be value in the discussion.

The ops and intel staffs at ISAF might even benefit, because there'd be a decades of Afghanistan experience among the PSC management in that room. Unlike the ten-months-and-rotate-out planning staff at Camp Phoenix and Bagram, most senior staff for private security companies spend years here, and they learn how to operate in Afghanistan very effectively.

So, Super Dave? Whadda ya' think? Want to come have some chai with your backup?

(Just do me a favor and leave Eik and Holbrooke off the invite list. This isn't a photo op, so they shouldn't mind too much.)


dmouse said...

I'M so in agreement with you.They need to see what the contractors have to say.

mud poisoned said...

Not to mention that face time is good PR that goes towards getting people to work together (or at least moving in the same direction)

Matt said...

Thanks for bringing attention to this. It blows me away that contractors outnumber soldiers in this war, and yet there is no effort to reach out to this group. Especially during important transition periods like this. Petraeus could definitely make it known that he is meeting with the CEO's of the companies working in Afghanistan, and talking about things that would help foster 'unity of effort' in this war. It doesn't take much to get this done, and contractors should be on his list of priorities.