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5 NatSec Things - 21 Feb 2018

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Today's things: Afghanistan unchanged; Karzai's resurgence; Russia in Syria; ISIS detainees; AFRICOM
 
February 21 · Issue #37 · View online
5 NatSec Things
Today’s things: Afghanistan unchanged; Karzai’s resurgence; Russia in Syria; ISIS detainees; AFRICOM problems; deploy or go home.
Slight change up today with the 5 things: some headings, and also a bonus blurb under Afghanistan. Because sometimes I find things worth putting in here that I don’t have the time to write about, but I do think are interesting enough y'all should give ‘em a read. 

1. Afghanistan: war going just as well as before
DoD's IG: new Trump policy changing nothing in Afghanistan
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is one of those trite things you put up on a cat poster and hang in your cubicle to keep yourself from thinking about the Top Ramen you’re going to be eating alone in your overpriced apartment where you’re pretty sure your cats are just waiting for you to knock yourself unconscious so they can eat your face after you die.
In other words, it’s a dumb thing to put on a poster. It’s an even dumber thing to put on a war. A war that the Pentagon wants everyone to believe we’re winning this year. We’ve turned another corner in America’s longest war, and things are going great.
Except that the DoD’s own Inspector General does not concur with that assessment. Says its too early to tell whether we’re about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That a strategy shift this dramatic probably needs time to show results. 
Spoiler alert: you can’t bomb your way to a win. You can bomb your way into getting your enemy to tap out, which we did, all the way back in 2003. But then we didn’t think about the day after the bombs stopped falling, and so the Taliban, who by then were finished as an organization, got the chance to regroup.
Here’s what hasn’t changed in 2018: Kabul still sucks at controlling the provinces, the Taliban still represent (to some degree) a more reliable system of local governance, so once again the vacuum left behind after the air campaign will get filled back up. With people we’d probably rather not have in charge. 
+Hamid Karzai is Afghanistan's Alex Jones, but smart
2. Russia: also likes to use contractors...in Syria
When Moscow fights a proxy war, it's the contractors that die
Can’t get enough Syrians mad at each other to make the troll farm that is the Internet Research Agency (IRA) a viable alternative? Then, Mr. Putin, give your favorite non-registered private military company a call. That’s 1-800-VAGNER.
Vagner operates how a lot of people think companies like Academi née Blackwater do: way under the radar, with a whole lot of government support. It’s true the US PMCs can seem like a bit of a law unto themselves. And in the past they’ve had an awful propensity to light up traffic circles in Baghdad. 
So we know about the US contractors. We know less about the Russian types. Who are way shadier, and seem to have a lot more going for them in terms of Russian government support. 
Because putting together what amounts to a combined arms assault on US allies that ended poorly thanks to a crap ton of American air power is the kind of thing you see in the movies. The ones with Seagal and Van Damme. What’s happening in Syria is like that: shady Russian mercs doing the bidding of their Russian masters. Only this time it looks like Vagner got a little ahead of itself, and its people paid the price. 
3. What do with a problem like ISIS detainees?
Mattis: Still flipping coins on where to send combatants
“How do you solve a problem like detainees?”
That’s a line from my as-yet-unnamed Sound of Music natsec reboot, where the hills are alive with the sounds of ISIS. 
Mattis has himself a Maria-sized problem, and that’s where they’re going to put those detained fighting the coalition in places we’d totally pacified before getting booted way back in 2011. 
If they end up in Gitmo, they end up in legal limbo. If they end up in their home countries, their time in limbo could be considerably shorter. Since for all its faults, the US (usually) doesn’t hook enemy combatants up to car batteries. 
Then there’s the issue of their home countries not wanting anything to do with them. Because housing and handling enemy combatants isn’t something places like the UK are jumping up and down to do. Since, well, see Gitmo. 
You want ISIS? Gitmo is how you get ISIS. 
Mattis insists that they’ll end up in a system somewhere. That they won’t end up back on the streets of their hometown. Like most things in the war on terror, it’s probably not going to be that simple. 
4. Dead soldiers complicates things for AFRICOM
Niger debacle means the reins are getting tightened in Africa
Hey there, hero, with your AR-15 and your morale patches and your weekend warrior bullshit terrorizing your local park so you can make some damn point about your 2nd Amendment Rights? If you can hit “pause” on your World of Warcraft long enough, while your mom changes the sheets on your futon, give this a read. 
It’s a deep, troubling dive into what went wrong in Niger a while back. 
If you’re not sure how badly things can go in a place where a war isn’t actually happening, and people can still get killed? Give this a read. Because a whole lot of people failed the soldiers that died that day, and the ripples are probably going to affect all of AFRICOM.
One of Trump’s main selling points as to how he does business is letting his generals and commanders on the ground make decisions about what missions to run and how to run them. Most of the time, this approach works just fine, so long as commanders make good decisions based on good information/intel.
That is it works just fine until it doesn’t. And at that point the usual reaction is to hand out permission slips at ever higher levels. Until those in contact with enemy forces end up crippled by the bureaucracy they have to hurdle just to shoot someone in the face. 
Africa’s the center of gravity for the next round of the war on terror. Training and advisory missions for national forces are key to whatever success the US hopes to have on the continent. But ever-expanding missions in places like Niger mean that people are going to die. And the answer to that isn’t to make it harder for the survivors to do their job. 
5. If you can't deploy, you ain't shit
DoD to non-deployables: Time to go home
Quick lesson in misleading headlines and/or article summaries: there’s a difference between readiness and deployability. If I don’t have a current dental exam on record, I’m not ready to deploy. If that time I dropped a Bradley ramp on my foot means I can’t be certified able to do my job in a deployed environment, I’m nondeployable. 
What Mattis and the rest of the Department of Defense are gearing up for is the next war. And based on how many artillery shells the Army is buying, we’re all getting ready to do some big time conventional shit. Or at least be ready to. 
That means that they need to know that everyone that’s in uniform could be sent overseas if it came to that. So the military’s finally going to pink slip those who haven’t been deployable for 12 months or more. Not included: pregnant women, for example. 
What this could be used for? Getting rid of those soldiers who have the PTSDs and have come back from their last deployments a different kind of soldier. The worry is that the pressure to get nondeployable personnel off the books means that those soldiers, who need help the most, won’t get it in the interest of clearing a roster slot for someone who didn’t get their cage rattled by an IED or 12.
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