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Daniel Green

In the Warlords’ Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and Their Fight Against the Taliban

Daniel Green
April 4, 2018

Rough transcript:

Robert Reilly:

Our speaker tonight, Dr. Daniel Green, is a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he focuses on counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and stability operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. He’s also a reserve officer with the U.S. Navy. Rather than repeating the introduction for Dr. Green that you all received, I would like to just read you a paragraph from the forward in this book, which will give you some knowledge of him. This book by the way, which still is for sale outside at our special Westminster price, is, as you will see on the jacket, highly endorsed by General John Allen, General David Petraeus, Peter Bergen and others. Also, we’re very happy to have the publisher from the Naval Institute Press, Clare Noble, with us tonight and her husband Jeff is here.

So let me read you just this paragraph from the foreword written by a Green Beret colleague of our speaker tonight. Speaking of Dan Green, he says, “He was in the Pentagon on 9/11 and saw the War on Terror at its very inception but unlike most in Washington, he was determined to get on the ground and do something about it. He went on to serve in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan with a Provincial Reconstruction Team as a State Department civilian in a policy advisory role and the Office of the Secretary of Defense as a naval officer in the coalition headquarters in Kabul in Iraq during the Anbar Awakening and back to Uruzgan as a tribal advisor with Navy SEALs and U.S. Army Green Berets. For his extraordinary service, Dr. Green received the State Department superior honor award and the U.S. Army’s Superior Civilian Honor Award for his work in Afghanistan. He was also personally commended by General Peter Pace when he was chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

He’s also- oh this is your third book?

Dan Green:

Yes, I look forward to meeting this person too.

Robert R. Reilly:

Number three. What I’m going to suggest you [do] is you watch the video and see if [you] can recognize him. So the first book reflecting on his first year of experiences in Afghanistan is called, The Valleys Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Taliban. Then, co-authoring with Brigadier General William Mullen, Fallujah Redux: the Anbar Awakening and the Struggle with Al-Qaeda. Most recently, he contributed a chapter to a book with the less than sanguine title, Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan. He’s here to talk to us tonight about his new book, In the Warlord’s Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and their Fight against the Taliban. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Green.

Dr. Daniel Green:

Thank you very much for coming. I appreciate the introduction. I hope I live up to it. I wrote the book for a variety of reasons. I think I know many of you here have served in Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times or similar you know parts around the world and the benefit of having five tours altogether in Iraq and Afghanistan, starting in ’05-’06 and recently finishing in ’15 and ’16 in Baghdad, Iraq, doing another mobilization, is you start to get a little bit of wisdom about these conflicts and how our government wages these wars. And of course, war is a very personal thing. We all have our individual experiences but I’ve tried to, at least through my own personal experience, aggregate what I’ve seen at the ground level working in OSD policy, working at the State Department. I’m also- I didn’t mention this, but I was a Bush-Cheney political appointee as well for eight years, so I have kind of a political background, an academic background, a naval background, State Department background. My resume looks like I can’t keep a job, but I could assure you it somehow meshes together in a useful, interesting way. Hopefully, you’ll agree with that assessment.

Since I shared a little bit about my background, this particular book that I wrote is sort of a reaction to a lot of how memoirs are typically written about wars, especially irregular wars or small wars. You know, most memoirs are first-person accounts written by junior officers from combat arms whether they’re Navy SEALs, they’re Green Berets, they’re infantry, they’re Marines. It’s typically a book about their first tour. It’s typically about shaping and clearing operations as we would call it, the counterinsurgency language. Typically, if locals are mentioned in these books, they’re usually shooting at you and if they are shooting at you, they’re typically hard-luck cases; a medical emergency of someone, a beloved interpreter, something- someone of that nature, and then you don’t really have a sense of the local history of where the soldier, sailor, airman, marine is serving. You don’t have much of a historical perspective on that area, so you don’t have much of a context other than what you see through you know your rifle scope. And then typically, memoirs sort of disappear after the ’03-’04 level and they reemerge at the general officer level, typically as the general retires and there’re a smattering of memoirs in the middle, usually by staff officers who’ve been wronged in some way. They feel the need… You know, we don’t know anyone like that I’m sure. Those are rather riveting, I would say. So you know, if you’re an American who supports your country and wants your country to do well and win these conflicts, you don’t have any direct exposure or experience to the military or anything, you know, to do with these conflicts. You’re sort of hard-pressed. You get a lot of these really riveting, first-person shooter kind of memoirs but you don’t really have a long-term view on the war. You have journalists that will come in and write up perspectives on the conflict and even movies for example, movies about irregular wars typically are much more political, they’re re much more charged or they’re sort of focusing on a narrow mission that didn’t go well like Lone Survivor or, you know, Chris Kyle’s book about American Sniper, so you don’t really have- It’s hard to sort [of] capture irregular wars in popular culture, so the book I wrote here is an attempt to sort of address some of these shortcomings. I was fortunate enough to serve in a province called Uruzgan twice, almost two years altogether and then my tours were separated by seven years, so I got to see the province initially in 2005-2006 with the State Department and then I went back seven years later with the military. My first tour there in the province was with the State Department. I was a political officer in the province and I was an adviser to a provincial reconstruction team, which I know many of you know what that is but pretty much it’s a civil-military team focused on good governance, reconstruction and development, and works very closely with the local governor and provincial council and tribal leaders of a problem. And then I got a chance to go back seven years later with the Navy as a mobilized reservist and was attached to one of our SEAL team elements and I was there [as] a tribal political adviser for these, you know- for the province and for the tribes and kind of navigating into these relationships. But a lot of my experience is sort of you learn things that should go on each of these tours, so ’05-’06 being a political adviser, my role is to just understand pretty much everything and anything that went on in the province that could impact local politics. But we didn’t really have much of a blueprint for this. There was no off-the-shelf book on all the local tribes and leaders in history was much a blank slate, so I thought that was great because I’m a social scientist so I was unleashed on this unsuspecting population and got to interview all these wonderful Afghan tribal leaders, figure out the names of the tribes. There’s the settlements. What- what did you do during the Mujahideen? What did you do during the Taliban? Really recreate- figure out this wonderful maze, you know, and I know individuals who were doing this all over Afghanistan. So there I get a sensitivity to how important like tribes are, local governance, these kind of micro-histories.

Then, I’ve served in Iraq in ’07 with the Navy. I was attached to another SEAL team and I was their tribal kind of outreach officer for the Fallujah area just before the Anbar Awakening showed up in Fallujah, so through that job I got to see how we worked with tribes and operationalized relationships to provide security, how you could actually have success in counterinsurgency when you saw the city flip from 780 security incidents in March of ’07 to less than 80 in October of ’07. What came together for that to occur. Then, I went back to Afghanistan ’09-201o. I had a three-star command, which is not fun of all generally, especially if you’re a junior officer. Colonels aren’t even treated well there, so I got to see things kind of at the macro level and then I got to go back to Uruzgan in 2012 and then I just recently went back to Iraq in ’15-’16, reinventing the wheel, you know, yet again. I was a tribal outreach officer there, reconnecting with some tribal leaders we’d work with in Anbar and then realizing again we have constant rotations and people don’t remember the lessons we’ve learned.

So this book in particular, it’s about one province but it’s really about special operations forces over the history of the conflict. It’s as much a history or an intellectual history of special operations from 9/11 to about 2016 as much as it is a memoir. And it’s really trying to trace the intellectual development of a series of concepts that have a lot of catchphrases now like ‘persistent presence’, ‘by, with, and through’, a ‘bottom-up approach’. These kinds of things that are, you know, very much known in the counterinsurgency world but in 2010, [the] Special Operations community came up with a program called ‘village stability operations’. It was this bottom-up approach of providing enduring local security that reimagined how soft was going to be used, so instead of helicoptering in or doing a direct action raid on a village and leaving, it said we’re going to have persistent presence. Instead of security being something that was done to the local population, it was something that was done with the local population. Instead of seeing it as purely a kinetic approach, it actually said kinetic was only in the service of local governance, tribal empowerment, and listing locals in their own defense. It was a holistic approach, so it also addressed simultaneously the the governing component, the psychological component, the development component as much as the security component, and it was a dispersed strategy. In a lot of ways it was sort of using the Taliban strategy and structure against it and then subduing- was very affective, very fundamentally sort of change of conflict where it was applied.

Now, of course, the thing about these kinds of programs is they’re very much contrary to how our bureaucracies are organized and designed and in how we incentivize careers, and typically I think as our as Americans we usually get the war right just before we leave, and usually when we start these kind of irregular wars we are the most confident in our abilities but the least wise and usually by the end of it we’re very wise but we’re the least confident. So, this is a very late program, 2010, you know nine years into the war, this program was finally kind of [coming] together and I traced the evolution of thinking over time. So essentially the village stability operations program said, ‘look we can clear villages and valleys with our own forces in perpetuity, the only limit being U.S. appetite to accept casualties’, right? And frankly the wear and tear on our forces and they said, ‘you know, there’s got to be a better way’, and a group of mostly Green Berets and many who contributed to it but I think the core where these Green Beret soldiers, officers who had been in the conflict for multiple, multiple rotations, you know. They had cleared the same villages and valleys, they had seen the Anbar Awakening where tribes had risen up against Al-Qaeda in western Iraq, which sensitized people to tribes and they said there’s got to be a better way of doing this. There’s a limit to kill-capture missions. They’re absolutely essential but there’s a limit. And so they said how can we do this? And so we kind of got to a point where we were not only wiser about the way of waging these kinds of wars but also smarter about Afghan culture. We realized that stability can’t happen in Afghanistan but has to be in the Afghan cultural context. It’s got to be reflective of Afghan culture and so this institutional adaptation to Afghanistan came about in 2010 and essentially it was a- the numbers varied, but about 120 or 130 dispersed sites across the country in rural districts of Afghanistan where Green Beret and Seal elements would live in a village for their whole tour.

They wouldn’t just visit the village. They lived there for the whole period of time and they would analyze the tribal and local dynamics, trying to figure out what, you know, friction there existed between villages or tribes or leaders, you know, was their water dispute, was there a dispute about access to a road, these kinds of things that often drove local conflicts that the Taliban would take advantage of. Once they’d done these assessments, they would start to have outreach meetings with local elders and so they would convene these local shuras and through these engagements you start to empower elders to have some control over their own destiny. And from these engagements you say look we’ve got this great program called village stability operations or Afghan local police. You volunteer your young men from your village. We will vet them. We will train them in your village and they’ll get a small salary from the Afghan government. They’ll get a uniform, AK-47 with some rounds and construction materials to build checkpoints, and they’ll live in your village. You’ll be protecting your people, your families, and that’s all we ask of you. And essentially you’ll be supported by the Afghan National Police in the area. They’ll control your pay, your logistics, your supply and that’s kind of the deal and the Afghan Army will work with you and these villagers loved it, so you’re empowering elders, you’re providing them a paycheck through the Afghan government, you’re giving them the confidence of being sort of- organizing themselves to resist the Taliban and it’s a great way of essentially robbing the Taliban of manpower, so every local villager who joins with you is one less potential Taliban recruit. And with each community, once you recruit enough local villagers, you kind of get this tipping point where the village now is able to protect itself, and it’s amazing when you see it actually happen.

So I talk in the book about a district called Shahidi Hassas that I visited in a ’05-’06. The district had a Forward Operating Base there called Cobra. The commander of that would often called himself Cobra Commander after GI Joe, and essentially the base itself was surrounded by the Taliban insurgency by ’06. The Taliban had largely mined every road going out from the base and there was no way you could really pacify the district. And pretty much the Special Forces team that was there was just there to survive their tour and in ’06 they had a team there that lost I think seven people and had 22 casualties for a team that’s 40 people, you know, so it was a really bad situation. And you could only fly there. You couldn’t really drive to that district. It was just surrounded. Seven years later I got to go back to that district and that particular FOB and we drove there and in the intervening period this program called village stability operations had been applied to the district, so from one base, we now had four bases. From no local recruits, we had recruited 500 or so, 600 Afghan local police from that district, so instead of going out at night, hitting compounds, coming home, we would have shuras during the day and each of these checkpoints we would set up with the locals protected roads, bridges, bazaar shop entrances, things of this nature. And it largely- I wouldn’t- you know, it never defeated the insurgency but it was no longer a mortal threat where the Taliban could potentially overrun your base. It forced the Taliban to focus on individual level attacks because that was all that they could muster. They could do suicide attacks. They could do assassinations. They could do propaganda to use the media against you and- and in, you know, people’s opinions, but we were driving all over this district. I mean I couldn’t believe it. There were part of the district I would never see in my life and we would just drive around it with no problems and there was just this latticework of checkpoints all throughout the area and I talked about a Shura we had with the elders there and the elders were talking about that earlier time [when] we were constantly hitting villages and how this created such mistrust between the people and the government and we were associated with government because of that and how because of this program, because we recognized the elders and we trusted them and empowered them, it completely pacified the area. And so this is an approach that essentially, is very very effective.

We did it in Anbar province, so in Fallujah when I was there we helped pacify the city. We recruited local police from every single district in the city and we had tribal leaders volunteer, young tribal members throughout the rural areas, supporting them the same way we supported Afghan local police, and it completely flipped the security, but the problem with this approach is it’s not particularly compelling from a movie standpoint, you know there’s not- you’re not gonna have- You have American sniper, which everyone’s like ‘that’s really awesome’ but you’re not going to have American-engager, you know? The highest number of key leader engagements, you know, it’s like- it’s not particularly compelling and it’s- it’s a much more humble approach. It’s very much bottom-up. It’s less about what we’re doing to the Afghans than what we can help them do for themselves, and it’s devastatingly effective.

That’s partly why I wrote this book, because this program had a- it still exists. I’m not sure of its status, but it’s sort of this brief moment in time where we had wisdom and the right leaders come together to come up with this program. Bing West, you may know, wrote a book called The Village. Many of the concepts are similar from that book as well. It had combined action, platoons, and Marines embedding in villages, raising local popular forces, but this kind of approach is hard, right? It’s- it’s not- it’s- It’s usually- It’s hard to brief. It’s hard to convey sometimes, to say well, we’ve recruited this number of people, that’s an easy metric to measure, but usually, again, we get this right just before we leave. And this approach well, it worked very much in Afghanistan across the war, not just in Afghanistan, now we’re kind of reverting back to this direct action culture, dropping in ordinance on the enemy, which, again, I’m not against that but you have to do it balanced. It’s got to be a- what’s the end state of that? So essentially the book is a memoir and I visit- we had 17 sites in my tour there. We had three provinces. I visit 15 of them and I kind of show you how some sites are really knocking it out of the park and others are struggling with it. I talk about why this might be the case and I kind of came up with a statistical analysis at the end where I got – this is where the boring part is – I got a regression analysis and did a statistical analysis of these sites to try to figure out why some were successful and others struggled, with hopefully improving how we did this. And so it’s kind of writ[ten] from a first-person account because I think people tend to remember things better from first-person accounts than dry sort of academic studies. And then the sort of final chapter I talk about why are irregular wars are kind of so difficult for us as a country. I kind of focus on five major contributing factors. The first is simply we’re organized to fight big nation state wars, do big nation state diplomacy, big nation state development, intelligence gathering, and all that kind of stuff. That’s great and we need that, but these problem sets had elements of that, but they’re fundamentally different than those sort of factors. A second contributing factor is ‘civil-mil’, civil-military relationships. If you look at like- not a lot of people know this but the National Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 – I know all of you are acquainted with it but let me refresh you here – so that act essentially took the Chiefs of Staffs out of the chain of command and President Eisenhower was an advocate for it. It was seen as an act that solidified civil military control, but what it did is it robbed this, I think, connective tissue between the fielded forces and those in Washington so you don’t have a feedback and leadership loop that you used to have in World War II. I’m a big fan of Mark Perry and I really enjoyed this book the Partners in Command about George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower and you see through their correspondence, how each one kept the other informed, how Eisenhower would suggest a general officer be removed from command and- and Marshall would help with that. Marshall became aware of what’s on the ground through Ike. Ike became aware of DC’s deliberations and you had the institution of the army kind of leading this conflict. I think that has been a significant weakening of our ability to conceive of these plans better, to implement them more faithfully, and to adjust when we have to because what happens I think is you essentially make the Secretary of Defense politically vested in a strategy, whereas if he had a Joint Chiefs of Staff that was a mediating layer that would allow him to sort of change course through accepting the counsel of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now, they’re simply focused on train-and-equip versus running these wars. That’s one factor I point to.

Another aspect of that is the professionalization of our military. It has been very good for us. Obviously, we don’t have to plus up in an emergency like we used to for World War I and World War II and other conflicts, but I think there is a negative aspect of professionalism that we don’t often think about or talk about: the constant need of career rotations has caused us to have a lot of generalists when these kind of wars need experts and people who have specialized knowledge. There’s a careerism mentality that inhibits our ability to adapt to these conflicts. I would also say that the carving out of the Special Forces community from the Army made the army a little bit more conventional in its thinking and less able to adapt to these conflicts. Another aspect of this is complex narratives of victory. You know, you can say in the Gulf War that victory was kicking Iraq out of Kuwait. How do you convey that similar message for Iraq or Afghanistan? It’s much more complex. Another factor is, again, how we remember these wars. We tend to misremember them in literature and popular movies, so that future generations kind of focus on clear and clearing and shaping operations versus holding, building, and transition, you know? It’s hard to write a compelling book about meetings with tribal elders. I think they’re interesting but you know it doesn’t -doesn’t engage the senses of like the regular person in the military, right?

And then I think the last part of this is simply our political system. It’s very much focused on short term things that we fight these long wars with short term strategies. There’s no irregular warfare constituency in Congress. There’s very much one for potential big wars, you know, jobs tied to contracts, things [of] this nature but any sort of other aspects of it have very shallow roots and that’s just that’s true as well in the bureaucracy, so aspects of the bureaucracy that fight these wars well, they tend to be the- the marginal offices that no one- Everyone councils you when you join the agency or wherever you’re going in government, that’s a career dead end-er but those are the offices you need for irregular war, so for example, within USAID you have the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). Those people have been worth their weight in gold in these conflicts. Within the U.S. military, Civil Affairs officers are worth their weight in gold but the movies are always about Green Berets and Seals, you know, so is there just- so these are aspects of it. So, for example, the Human Terrain System that was created to sort of understand these problems. Absolutely essential. Yes, it has challenges like any new program, but those skillsets of understanding populations are absolutely necessary for Somalia, Yemen, Chad, around the world, but now that’s been disestablished, you know. All these little adaptations even like the a-10, which is a crucial weapon of small wars, doesn’t have a huge constituency. It thankfully keeps being defended. There are always efforts to get rid of it, so these are just like- We are just not well designed to do these kinds of conflicts and usually we figure them out towards the end but then, by that point, it’s almost too – it’s been too long. So essentially the book is an effort to sort of capture some lessons that were learned at a brief period of time. Try to talk about- These lessons aren’t just specific to Afghanistan they can be as readily applied in a tailored fashion to other conflicts like Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Iraq and other conflicts, and then try to make sure we don’t mis-remember this conflict, so to that end don’t limit yourself to one purchase. Feel free to buy multiple copies. You know, I mean your country needs you to do that. If you have an old friend, you want to reconnect with it, might be a way to do that, so I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and I look forward to answer any questions you have. Thank you.

Q&A:

Clare Lopez:

I wonder if you could talk just a little bit about from- from your perspective in your experience there in Afghanistan, how the Iran and Hezbollah[‘s] long time, decades-long alliance with and support for the Taliban effected your mission there?

Dan Green:

Well, I mean the Taliban also killed a lot of Iranian diplomats too, so I’m not- It’s an unusual alliance if that’s what you’re saying. I didn’t really see much Iranian activity. I was mostly worried about Pakistani activity in my province. In some of these Shia areas, the Hazara areas in Afghanistan, it was clear that the Iranian government had been reaching out to those communities. Later in the conflict versus- I was in one mosque for example, in a Hazaran area that had a lot of Iranian posters and propaganda in it, so it’s an aspect of it but it wasn’t so much a factor where I was. It was mostly straight-just Sunni insurgency versus Pashtun elders and Pakistani officers showing up, causing problems.

Audience member:

Your book may not be the stuff of American sniper but it sounds like it could be an interesting documentary. Have you thought about that?

Dan Green:

I accept your offer. Yes, thank you. I appreciate it. That would be great but I wonder what, cinematically, how we could convey it. Yep. I think it would be great.

Audience member:

The French in Algeria and the British had similar organization. They were colonial officers.

Dan Green:

Right.

Audience member:

They weren’t State Department. They weren’t military.

Dan Green:

Right.

Audience member:

The military- the [unintelligible] only started their global action program out of necessity. State doesn’t want to do it.

Dan Green:

Right.

Audience member:

Is it time for the United States to organize a different institution, this stabilization and nation-building, doing things that neither one really wants to do?

Dan Green:

Yes, I absolutely agree with you and I’ve written a lot of articles to that end. You have to, in assessing like, the- the bureaucratic politics of it, you’ve got to hitch it to something that will survive and I think- I’m kind of inclined to think there maybe be a political service attached to SOCOM, for instance, that might be able to do that. The State Department actually has a reserve army unit that’s attached to it that might be a possible place to use, you know, but again I think it goes back to there’s very rarely a constituency that supports these kind of things, because by the time we get to the point where you actually have some wisdom about it, people say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to do those irregular things again. They’re too expensive, too hard’, the Vietnam syndrome. But I completely agree with you. We’ve got to adjust. We’ve lost as an American Republic the ability to move beyond the limits of our bureaucracy and adapt. You know, we’ve moved from being a frontier nation to this bureaucratic nation in many ways that have prevented our ability to adapt in these conflicts and I absolutely agree with you.

Audience member:

Thank you very much. I loved everything you said. I loved every lesson learned, etc. What leapt out at me is your comment about a colonial approach, which is not our mandate, not our history to be colonialists. There’s nothing about what you were describing that was a defense of the homeland. It was colonialism. Why are we there?

Dan Green:

Well, I wouldn’t say it’s colonialism. Our country was born out of an insurgency, right? I think it’s a truly American approach to doing this. It’s an empowerment approach. It’s a humbler approach. You know, I’m a big fan of making sure that we don’t have attacks come from Afghanistan again and, you know, I think- I think there’s a unique American way of doing that. There- there are people within the military and State Department who like to do this, who know how to do it, but their careers are not incentivized to do it. You know, I was fortunate. I did a State Department and a military tour and that’s simply by accident. It was by no means designed kind of effect, but I think there are people are willing to do it but they need this bureaucratic off-ramp to get out of this need to constantly move up or constantly rotate and the Afghan hands program was an attempt to do that and I think it’s absolutely a correct idea, but like a lot of these, you know, ideas for Afghanistan adapted to these conflicts did, they had a lot of bureaucratic opponents and there were some challenges with it but to me that’s just an invitation to keep perfecting it, but yeah.

Audience member:

I am not criticizing the approach. I think-

Dan Green:

Yeah.

Audience member:

I think the approach was absolutely wonderful and perfect. I am questioning the mission.

Dan Green:

Sure, you know, I think we had adopted [an] approach that you’re- I think you’re advocating when we pulled out of Afghanistan the first time, you know, after the Soviet Union had withdrawn and eventually, you know, the Communist government had fallen in ’92, so I think there’s a little bit of lessons learned from that, saying we need to have some persistent engagement or persistent presence but I think how we went about it creates the antibodies for the actual way of doing it. You know, once you finally once you finally figure it out and actually burned through these other approaches, which burned all the goodwill and support for the conflict but- We will talk later for sure… Yes, sir?

Audience member:

Have you read the recent book by Max Boot?

Dan Green:

Oh, about Edward Lansdale?

Audience member:

If so, what you’ve written sounds like your philosophy is basically the same.

Dan Green:

I’ve read it. I’ve read Lansdale’s memoir In the Midst of Wars, I have started reading Max Boot’s book about it, and I agree, you know, he’s another example. He’s a bureaucratic outlier, came out of the OSS, joined the agency, became an Air Force officer, and he was always a- on the bureaucratic margins, you know, any- cut his teeth with Magsaysay in the Philippines but he never got the traction that he could because of Westmoreland-

Audience member:

He overcame him too.

Dan Green:

Right, exactly, and I think- I think you’ve got you’ve got to design it in such a way that it it is able to survive political change in political- people getting elected or not elected and recognized it has bureaucratic pure competitors. There’s a way of doing and I think but where I think we’re at that point now in the conflict where we’re just getting rid of all these institutional depth adaptations. Human Terrain Systems been done away with. You know, all these different things like that are being done away with. It’s almost like when they created SOCOM, right? Special operations are always kind of these marginalized by the conventional forces and eventually they decided to institutionalize it in a big push.

Audience member:

I have another question, if I might. You know Afghanistan is a country that can’t really afford… afford itself.

Dan Green:

Right.

Audience member:

Any money it can raise is about as much money as it needs to spend. Now, you said the program is working because the Afghan government was paying the soldiers, paying the police men, training, but you know that the funds came from the United States or the international community in the first place.

Dan Green:

Sure, right.

Audience member:

And it has to be. The only way it can be sustained is outside support. Afghanistan has always been that way.

Dan Green:

Right, exactly, of course I think you need a light, lean, and long approach there. I think a lot of these sort of Ugly American tendencies of how we wage these conflicts started to arrive really large and in charge in ’09-2010 you know, as you may know – they discovered quite a collection of minerals in Afghanistan, the Geological Service. Obviously, there are aspects of that that make it hard to exploit but there’s a potential for them to be more self-sustaining, but I think you have to be there in a way that’s light, lean, and long-term like when we were there at- when I was there ‘o5 we didn’t know we were the poor war. That forced us to be more humble in our approach. It made us rely on indigenous structures and leaders much more readily and I think that’s the right way to do it. I think you can do this but if- you’ve got to be willing to take more risks, you’ve got to organize yourself that- more dispersed manner, and there’s a whole lot of certain institutional things you have to do to make it work, but I think the big thing is dealing with the Pakistan problem. That’s- that’s probably why we’re all talking about it up hear in 2018, I think. Yeah?

Audience member:

When you talk about the Pakistan issue and the problems you had, were those from [the] Pakistani Army or [the] ISI?

Dan Green:

I- I say right in the book, Pakistani intelligence officers, yeah. They’re- I mean, the thing we had the Afghan local police, once they got set up, and they would see someone planting an IED. I talk about in the book how Afghan local police picked up the Pakistani intelligence officers. You know, I talk about them very readily. I mean, there’s no- there’s no, you know, it is what it is. That’s why I draw attention to it, yeah.

Audience member:

So thank you very much, fascinating explanation, I really learned a lot from that. So, looking forward five years, two years, one year whatever. We’re at war with Iran.

Dan Green:

Oh, okay.

Audience member:

Kinetic war, a serious war.

Dan Green:

Alright.

Audience member:

How would you suggest applying what you have learned over lo, these many years to that type of a conflict or that type of war?

Dan Green:

Well, I- At the Institute, I write about Yemen a lot these days, so I’m more familiar with what Iran is doing in Yemen with the Houthis, etc. This approach can be adapted to a situation like that. I think this isn’t a strategy that works better for Iranian proxy wars than it might be for big nation-state wars but I think the bottom-up approach absolutely works, is very devastating, like if you look at Al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula and Yemen, you know, they’ve got a population centric approach now they’re very much rhetorically but also just through some of their actions have local governing programs to try to get these hearts and minds. That’s exactly what this is. This is not just a security program. It was a governing program. There’s a tribal empowerment program. It was just a, you know, it essentially- it’s a People’s War, to use a phrase from the Cold War, and that I think that approach can be very devastating but again it’s all about- it doesn’t have to be the U.S. necessarily as long as the functions are being performed. It could be the UAE for example, who are doing a lot of this in Yemen, but the concepts I think are sound. It’s- it’s kind of- but it’s just- you have to adapt them to each situation.

Audience member:

Like the others I want to thank you for that very clear presentation.

Rough transcript (35:50):

We never learn the lessons right every time there’s the next four we go VIN it actually we screwed up you learn better by then we’re too tired of it the next time around it’s the same thing all over again right and the question is why don’t we learn and you commit an answer which was a very good answer argument on an institutional level or institution screw it all right but I’m not satisfied that’s the main part of the answer i satisfy the best a very useful part right but it seems to me that we have to look also the ideological factors why are we allergic to learning this gentleman’s comment we don’t want to be colonialist I think goes most to that we don’t learn from a business of nation-building pacification throughout history certainly have very much in modern history because our national mythology you say approaches everyone [Music] all the last four presidents have come in promising to be more on home I want us to promise to get it right wanna be either arrogant or humble explain how to get it right right which generally we don’t do until it’s too late I’m wondering would you add some ideological factors to your explanation and how can we don’t think the institution right will solve no I talk a lot so it’s also about how we miss remember these conflicts you know how we chronicle them or mis-chronicle them in books and movies this for example I can think tanks and I work in a think tank is focused on the Middle East has very strong views on certain issues it’s funded by US citizens but I read on Yemen there’s and I’m kinda the redheaded stepchild there they support me completely but but it’s not it’s not a career enhancing move to focus on a country like Yemen it is these days because of Al Qaeda but where is the institution has the Chad expert or the Mali expert or you know these kind of places so we have a bias not just in our government but also in our institutions that inform the government as much as echoes some of its views and challenge them on big nation-states I can have a heck of a great career if I focused on China it’d be great right if I was a Russia expert I probably do okay still you know but but it where’s the institution that has all these small states you know if you’re there a lot of what I call academic nomads there are people in the world who have a great passion for Somalia Yemen these kinds of countries but because of how our academic institutions have changed and become much more focused on on rigor and statistical analysis and things of this nature. These are experts who were often homeless. There’s a scholar who I think very highly of named Steven Day who’s rich luminously about Yemen he’s an adjunct professor at Rollins College and his dissertation was published by Cambridge on Yemen it’s actually a fabulous work but you know he’s at Rollins College as an adjunct there love Steven day yeah but this but he’s not so unique you know and so I wish there was a think tank that had all these small nation states you know of scholars to give them a home to inform policy because how do you fund a think tank you know like academia because of the methodological Revolution is much more rigorous but they’re less relevant and think tanks are more relevant but they’re less rigorous and so there’s got to be some balancing point there but again who’s going to fund a Somalia expert in Chad, expert who was an Afghan expert before 9/11. There are a few but everyone kind of saw them as you know that’s interesting you know something different Egypt for example or the UAE I don’t think the Egyptians were in Afghanistan but the UAE definitely would say I’m not as familiar with that campaign I I strongly suspect they don’t have much of hearts and minds approach but I know UAE has done multiple multiple years in Afghanistan and they’ve actually adopted a lot of these ideas and are using them in Yemen to be honest with you so that’s very encouraging I think or so sore bruised gone we transitioned the province to Afghan control in 2012 and I would say in 2012 it was a wise decision you know most of the Taliban attacks were these individual level attacks it was hard for them to scrape together 30 people to do a you know some sort of operation whereas six years viously you get 250 300 Taliban try to attack a Forward Operating Base the goal over running it as we drew down and we tend to go more force protection conscious the Taliban predictably used internal safe havens in some parts of the country we hadn’t pacified started to you know chip away at logistical support networks or the Afghan army the Afghan army for instance you know they’re not locals so they often aren’t particularly incentivized to protect local communities but Afghan National Police and local police are but you need all three of those institutions working together because they check and balance each other pretty so the Taliban tried to retake a ruse gone we predictably went back you know they try to you know all they plussed up to conventional size so we’re going to smash them back down to insurgency size and that’s kind of where we’re at now I’m not exactly as well-versed on that now I can tell you more about the ISIS campaign now because it’s been my latest tour book is absolutely [Laughter] [Music] [Music] [Music] I was changing my father he’s not but the few names you still here because [Music] [Music] that’s one of the things I try to do in the book was try to talk about the Afghans in a way that or they would make them targets they weren’t intelligence sources that you weren’t shooting at you- you know to really humanize the the Afghans and Uruzgan province to show the histories show that the background show the the stories make the reader understand and sympathize with their challenges show that there are is great variability in the Afghan community there are heroes there are victims there are bad people have nothing to do it probable and just show the complexity of the reality of these tours because I’d have my tour and I come back and the way the war was talked about at home was very different from the way I experienced it which prompted me to wonder why that was the case and then I don’t know the things [Music] [Music] [Music] I’ll put you down for a hundred copies leaders I appreciate that’s very kind so you see the world witnesses thank you so much [Music] sure so when we try to we decided to establish a village stability platform is what we would call it essentially as a thing of it as a place that you could have a civil affairs element psychological element women’s outreach element you’d have civil affairs teams and then you’d have the core of it would be a seal element or a green beret element we would do a clearing operation first so we’ve done we would do all the homework we could about a district to try to understand who are the tribal leaders what are the tribes there had we been there before in some fashion had we had a base set it’ll be closed what have you we would go in clear to the table on with Afghan commandos partnered with Green Berets or seals clear out the villages there so it’d be kinetic activity so at that point you know a hundred percent of our activities kinetic you know violence done to the enemy once we did that we would have immediate meetings with the elders principally with the village elders but we try to bring Afghan officials we say look we’re gonna we’re not leaving we’re gonna create a base we’d like to rent one of your compounds to do this okay great and we have this program called village ability operations we want to work with your tribal your village elders and you help us figure out what young men you think are deserving to defend your village you know on one of our themes was from the village from their perspective and then we start to have this you know a little bit of building trust right so we would have these meetings we’ve now build a base where we move into a compound reinforce it and we would do a foot patrols we would start to meet with the tribal elders at weekly you know for lack of a better phrase village council meetings and then as they got to know us as we as they became aware of the program that’s like recommend their young men to us and then we would vet them that get national police with that then the Ministry of Interior would vet them and we would start training these young men in their home village so it might be ten people initially twenty people and then as you start to train them and they have get their uniform they get their weapon they they get their first paychecks they have gotten like three or four weeks of training and then we’d help them build their first couple through three checkpoints and we would be there as brothers right so the activity went from 100% kinetic to fairly quickly once you start getting locals involved 10% kinetic on your side you know is that tipping point and then you get essentially would have a number of about three hundred per district that was our goal you know and so once we kind of got to that point some villages only needed a hundred and fifty so that would be fine and then once you did that yet all the main roads checked checkpoints a guy could have a bazaar shop and then in the evening he do this checkpoint you know you’d have these rotations and then let’s say you have 300 they’d have an Afghan local police commander and then he would answer to the Afghan National Police who were full-time so the Afghan government controlled Afghan local police pay logistics ammunition you name it and once we did that we started to transition the site to Afghan control so maybe we’d bring in an Afghan commando unit to live in that village to continue that partnership and then we would visit over the course of the months and a lot of what we would do is also make sure the logistical pieces worked that the pay got delivered a lot of what we did was sort of honest broker stuff we work with Afghan army to make sure no he wasn’t insulting you general at the last meeting the tribal you know just kind of stuff that kind of even out people’s personalities and challenges and that’s kind of how we did it and it was very effective because now the Taliban couldn’t effectively intimidate the villagers because now they’re organized and they have guns and they were supported if they’re it’s their brothers and their cousins you know all organized they couldn’t bribe the local officials that well cuz you know we knew that the portion of these salaries would go into the pockets of the elders as well and then once you had security the bazaar shop started to open up more more business start a flow price to start to go down and then essentially had this kind of virtuous or recycled a service sent in this was very effective and we just kept expanding it down oh yeah absolutely I love it I wish I was a few year I will go back you know frankly but I’ve learned I’ve done enough of these tours I want to go back with friends at this stage I’m just tired cuz the other thing too is like you know you on all individual level you feel like you’re learning all the time but I go back to the problem of these institutions you know and you kind of go back there and they look at you like you’re saying things that were common knowledge you know five years ago six years ago ten years ago they look at you like you’re crazy you know it’s just that’s what gets worrying about it to be honest with you this is like my last order act was ’15-’16 and things I was talking about when it came to tribes in Anbar province which I have been working in ’07 because I think the army was in charge in the army well it had forces in Anbar and some of their units did that in general the army as an institution wasn’t as involved in the empar awakening so there are this basic common knowledge of the tribes it was just really bad the willingness to take risk wasn’t there and it was just very so I was like I was running all these papers that were just common knowledge when I was there you know eight years previously but now we’re like in Revelations from 2015 [Music] the cultivation [Music] what we as a rule would not go after poppy farmers because frankly the poppy fields surrounded our bases and if we did that I mean guaranteed would be but we would go after that we there are certain forces within the general effort that would go after the heroin dealers and people like that the smugglers that’s kind of how we would do it there was also some attempts to have agricultural substitution but it was never that I wouldn’t see very serious program and yes there was a lot of money spent on a lot of people doing good things lots of patriotic Americans but I don’t think it was as serious and effort as it could have been and sometimes these poppy fields were in areas that were controlled by the tall blonds so to do the Auntie poppy we really had to do a whole military effort to like pacify the area and clear it and hold it and you know we all hit so much you know main resources and priorities would you know challenge no I think everyone said hey yeah these tribes are really important but and they not read them Marines history well this goes back new documents that are available well I’m a my everyone knew about the Anbar awakening I mean these were these were in detail oh it was very common question when I first got there where are all the files on these things right but true yes so because I was with the Navy I was associate was in the wrong tribe in the military tribe I was in the Navy tribe and I’m a reserve Navy tribe so I see it unless you know you know and yeah exactly you know then I just PhD and they’re like what the heck’s dad and you know so it was kind of odd so that was like working against me and I was a no I’m a no for so these are Colonels you know who are doing by with him through they don’t have you know units to lead so it’s all this energy is inside the wire not outside all right so we got tended to focus on junior officers which we should be loved so I said hey hey there was this Marine Corps thing called the epic cell economic political intelligence cell it focused on the Human Terrain of Anbar province and they hung all of their products on a website before they closed it down in 2810 I think none of them knew about this so I brought it to their attention but then we had a tribal engagement cell at the Embassy which would do tribal engagement in Anbar and across the country there were all military people but wearing civilian clothes but they couldn’t really leave the green zone so the tribal leaders had to come to watch so you had the embassy has some tribal stuff going on so they had tribal reports from 2011 when we drew down in Iraq till today the military side didn’t really have the records but we kind of pockets here and there and then we were doing key leader engagements with Ambar and other tribal leaders when I was there in 1516 so you had to kind of recreate so what I was doing was a one-man fusion cell so like two days or three days a week I’d wear civilian clothes and go to the embassy work there do engagements meet with I met with a lot of you little Fallujah leaders I had worked with before the mayor of Fallujah I knew and he’s like oh my god you’ve gained weight he says but I look the same and I was like thanks mayor if you shift that you know yes mister uh these are freedom pounds [Music] but it it so I take those reports and then I go to the marine website then I would dust off the marine reports that had come out then I would look at you know marine other marine or works that it come out articles and I’ve put this all together in one series of documents so we were looking at the town of heat for example and Anbar province the elbow Nimr tribe so I recreated the whole history of the US experience in that in that city for our leaders to understand you know what we were doing who are we engaging with today who did we use to engage with we were actually engaging a different side of a tribal family but no one knew that I’d point of that out that was useful you know so just but that’s just I mean again I think because I was academic by the Bush-Cheney guy I was in the Navy I was a reservist it was a think tank guy I had a sensitivity to these things but and that’s kind of an unusual you know a quick question regarding a human terrain mapping what in your opinion do you think is gonna take with all our rotations coming in right to give something there for the incoming guy to read the history of what’s there I think if you associate with Special Operations that has enough cachet in this town and in politics and they have a great incentive to understand and know that do they tend to be in these more austere locations that might be a way of doing it so if you gave me like the rounding error of the Defense Department of Defense budget and just gave me that money yeah yeah you mean the whoever that member is like four decimal points after that be enough resources you know to do it you know but you also need to be able to inform the DC policymaking process so you know because I’m at a think-tank I can testify on Capitol Hill I meet with journalists we do roundtables at the Institute so I have some influence so when I write about Al Qaeda or Yemen for example I always put Al Qaeda in the title because no one would read anything about Nana I’ll be like Al Qaeda and midwives you know like you know that’s like you know no one’s gonna read it you know so you’ve got to be like ya scare people to draw the attention and yeah and and so that’s replicated across you know I think the only reason we know about Yemen and Somalia is because Al-Shabaab or Al-Qaeda you know nor even pencil so I think you create that think tank for these academic no man has it kind of may be associated with University so that they have that time to kind of walk the halls of Congress and testify and be available for like NDU or rgw or whatever yeah a you I like GW mostly because they can walk more readily to place this there I’m not I’m not you know a wedded to any one institution I mean I did my PhD like why are you here we know that the Afghans I work with l5 when security was relatively good we hadn’t had a suicide best attack or car bomb attack yet the first one was in Kandahar 205 but my whole tour and oh five at Naru Scott I went all sorts of foot patrols as a State Department person I means all the time downtown they absolutely loved us there they welcomed us there they remember the Mujahideen theory and we supported them they remembered that we had helped bring Karzai back to power because many of the tribal leaders in this province were from his charm or from his tribal confederation so they very much welcomed us yeah but there were other tribes that you know may or may not I’ve been with a table on but we because we empowered some over the others that started Creason ill-will so some of those tribes were huge fans of us but they were open to us but I think this warlord strategy we we adopted where we kind of partnered with them many of these world wars were very zero-sum and how they looked at things if you were against the government for any reason which may be poor governance you’ve been picked on by the woman you were tall blonde and we didn’t have the active curiosity that we would eventually develop about understanding this kind of local stuff and this is probably why I was there was a State Department guy I was just sort of figure out this working there’s all these complexities and try to bring some new ones I interview that Special Forces soldier wants to know fine I said what tribes are these Taliban prisoners are bringing in he says I don’t care I don’t know and I don’t care all I know is there’s a reason I was at your house last night you know hitting it for some reason I was like that’s exactly the wrong approach you know we’re being played and you don’t even know it but because it helps us through our career incentives and other reasons we tend not to be sometimes as curious you know so there’s probably been like 45 units that have rotated through Scott since 9/11 you know multiple nationalities to you know what was the impact of the media that you could observe their oppressive a big effort on our part to help the Afghans create an Afghan national radio break there was a big effort right away to create 24/7 fostered re Voice of America Radio Free broadcasting we did did was there a discernible medium panic where you were operating you know when we first arrived in where is gone there was no radio there were there were no paved roads there was no cell phone coverage which I thought was great with the way so the embassy wanted to get in touch with means I didn’t get you eat I had an email but I couldn’t you can’t call me it was great it’s wonderful but later the war we had universal cell phone coverage every Afghan had any money had iPhone which is interesting a lot of Afghans had solar power chargers on their adobe Hut’s to recharge their phones right so for example when there would be an incident in at Bagram the Koran was burned accidentally or something of that nature we would immediately feel the ripple effect later in the war whereas before we were kind of isolated yes that was a positive and a negative thing right so progress they the erector the last cell phone tower when I was there in 2012 and once that happened whole province was open it’s a cell phone call you know coverage we had a paved road that took a 13 hour drive and made it a three-hour drive that connected the province to Kandahar City which is huge progress but everyone could also check the internet down on their phones so you know it started impact things but the Taliban would threaten people you know don’t watch bad movies on your phones we know what you’re watching it was sometimes threatened that the cell phone towers turn them off but the Afghans are similar to us they like their iPhones like their phones so they would yell at the Taliban for turning off the co2 tower for their phones so so it’s it was a mixed bag was good they helped us get our message out certainly more readily and also gave the Afghan government greater ability to their messaging up which was very effective so you know like anything any technology would make positives and sometimes some downsides. Thank you very much.

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