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Altman: Book sheds light on mission of commandoes in Afghanistan


Published:   |   Updated: October 13, 2013 at 04:30 PM

If you want to get a good sense of the main mission of commandoes in Afghanistan, pick up a copy of Linda Robinson’s recently released “One Hundred Victories: Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare.”

Of course, there was the door kicking, the fast-roping, the deadly battles and the thousands of high-tempo raids, the most famous being the one that got Osama bin Laden.

But the bulk of the special ops effort has been the classic foreign internal defense-type of operations, working with the local population to teach them how to provide their own security. And Robinson, a senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corp. who has also been at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Wilson Center and spends a lot of time in Afghanistan, does a great job of capturing that.

The book chronicles the evolution of the role of commandoes from direct, kinetic action to the creation of the Village Stability Operations/Afghan Local Police program.

“Until 2009, the entire U.S. military effort was overly focused on hunting down individuals considered to be problematic,” Robinson writes. “This was a diversion from doctrine, in which counterguerrilla operations are merely a subset of activity, something to be nested within a wider approach that, depending on the circumstances, is termed ‘counterinsurgency,’ ‘foreign internal defense,’ or ‘stability operations.’ They are all aimed at supporting the indigenous government and enhancing its ability to perform the basic functions of government.”

Robinson takes the reader through several Afghan provinces and districts and villages, and with several Army Special Forces A-Teams and Navy SEAL teams to show the challenges, successes and failures of trying to teach the Afghans to defend themselves. All painted against a backdrop of indifference from the American public and a military running out the clock to meet President Barack Obama’s stated objective of withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

I was drawn to the book because I have written about the Village Stability Operations/Afghan Local Police program, having been introduced to it by Scott Mann, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who was one of the program’s architects, and makes an appearance in the book, along with many others who Tampa folks will recognize. Talking to Mann led me to take a trip to Afghanistan to see the program for myself. So it was fascinating for me to read Robinson’s account that gives both the view from 30,000 feet and from the ground, and shows the “dramatic arc” of what might be the only hope for the future of Afghanistan and a lesson plan for future military endeavors. After all, the essence of the Village Stability Operations/Afghan Local Police program proved especially successful in Colombia and the Philippines.

That arc brings to mind a series of sand castles on the beach, built with great care by someone who will leave them to the course of nature.

If — and that is still a question — the U.S. and Afghanistan reach an agreement on keeping an enduring U.S. military presence there beyond the end of Operation Enduring Freedom, that presence is likely to be largely special operations forces.

But as Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc told me in Kabul, regardless of what happens after 2014, the plan is to roll back those forces and let the Afghans take the lead. So will the sand castles hold?

Stay tuned.

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When I was calling around for reaction to Bill Young’s decision not to seek reelection, the comments were fairly universal. Former four-stars who ran combatant commands, one-stars who ran MacDill, congressional colleagues and those who served with stripes on their sleeves all had pretty much the same things to say about Young and his wife, Miss Bev.

He brought home the bacon and together, they made “Support The Troops” an ethos, not just a T-shirt slogan (even though Beverly Young was famously tossed out of a George W. Bush State of the Union speech for wearing a “Support The Troops” T-shirt.

Almost to a person, the folks I talked to, on their own volition, said that as important as Congressman Young’s role was in helping save MacDill Air Force Base, and bringing tens of millions in defense dollars to the region, the hours the Youngs spent with the wounded were equally important.

William Fallon, the retired Navy admiral who ran U.S. Central Command from May 2006 to March 2007, summed it up nicely.

“Congressman Young was particularly helpful because he was so knowledgeable and influential and he could get stuff done,” said Fallon. “He was in a real position to help. But the most important things he and his wife did was the interest and attention they paid to your young troops, particularly our junior enlisted people. They were very focused on their welfare and during the war, he and his wife were frequent visitors to Walter Reed and other hospitals. They invested a lot of personal time visiting the wounded.”

Having spent many hours talking to the Youngs — mostly Miss Bev — I know this to be true.

And it wasn’t just grandstanding for the press. Most of the conversations were not for the light of day. Just someone with honest concerns expressing them.

Back in the day, I used to cover politics, but now I avoid it because of my beat. And this is no way any endorsement or political statement, just a personal note. Young will be missed. Especially by those who read this column.

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Congrats to a couple of salty old Navy captains.

Bob Silah and Don Dvornik have been named to the inaugural class of the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

The Florida Veterans Foundation, in coordination with the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, are the coordinating entities for the ceremony to honor their contributions, according to a letter notifying them of the honor.

Staples of the Military Officers Association of America’s Tampa chapter and the monthly Operation Helping Hand dinners and everyday organizational outpourings of good deeds, the pair will be honored at a ceremony at the Governor’s mansion on Veterans Day.

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Kelly Kowall, whose son, Army Spc. Corey Kowall, was 20 when he was killed in Afghanistan Sept. 20, 2009, has poured her energy since then into projects helping those who serve.

The latest effort for the Apollo Beach woman is an Ancolote Key cruise for veterans.

The cruise, on the “Magic Dolphin,” leaves 10 a.m., Sun., Oct. 27 from the Ramada Bayside Marina dock located at 5015 U.S. 19 in New Port Richey and returns at 4 p.m. There is a $20 suggested donation to cover the cost of the trip. For more information, contact Kowall at My Warrior’s Place, 727-207-5844.

****

Six troops died last week in Afghanistan

Spc. Angel L. Lopez, 27, of Parma, Ohio, died Oct. 5, in Zabul province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 201st Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Knox, Ky.

Four soldiers died Oct. 6, in Zhari District, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device: 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno, 25, of San Diego, Calif., assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins, 25, of Carlisle, Pa., assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga.; Sgt. Joseph M. Peters, 24, of Springfield, Mo., assigned to the 5th Military Police Battalion, Vicenza, Italy; and Pfc. Cody J. Patterson, 24, of Philomath, Ore., assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Benning, Ga.

Lance Cpl. Jeremiah M. Collins, Jr., 19, of Milwaukee, Wis., died Oct. 5 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. This incident is under investigation.

There have now been 2,273 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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