There is talk in Washington of forming groups to undertake reviews of the Afghan situation and produce a “Lessons Learned” document. From my own experience I can tell you that most lessons learned documents end up in bottom desk drawers never to see the light of day and certainly are never consulted for actual operational input on future operations. The primary reason these documents never get beyond a second echelon of review is that in order to correctly assess what went wrong, blame must be attributed and such blame is not allowed because if blame were assessed then corrective action would be required. Such corrective action might be the need for retirement or dismissal of high level approvers of the plans that were used. It might also find criminal culpability in areas like depraved indifference, criminal negligence and other not so nice areas of failure.
If I thought people every actually learned from a “Lessons Learned” exercise I might be more enthusiastic. Still, not knowing who planned this operation or what approvals were obtained let’s do our own quick lessons learned review, based on what we know.
Don’t announce you plans to the enemy. Lesson learned.
Don’t teach an army to fight with air cover and then deny it that air cover when it does fight. Lesson learned.
Expect panic in the population when you announce your withdrawal and have a plan in place never to leave a man behind. Lesson learned.
Withdraw in the reverse order of your buildup. If combat troops went in first then combat troops should come out last. If civilians were last in, they should be first out. Remove your support troops, civilian supporters and equipment before you draw down your combat capability. Lesson learned.
Expect the withdrawal to be contested and have a plan to thwart such actions on the part of the threatening entity. In other words stand by to bomb the passes from Pakistan into Afghanistan as the Taliban comes out of hiding in Waziristan. Make them earn their progress. It’s called fighting a rearguard action and has been a part of military strategy since before Hannibal had to withdraw from Italy when Carthage was threatened by the Romans. Lesson learned.
Remember what Churchill said: No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy; and what Murphy said: if something can go wrong, it will. Lesson learned.
Don’t elect or appoint people to senior positions who are appeasers or wusses for they will cause the deaths of innocents and try to convince you it’s the cost of doing business. For example if the SecDef and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs approved this plan both should resign now. If they opposed it and were overridden they should have resigned before it was implemented. Their resignations might have resulted in a prior action review and avoided the debacle. Lesson learned
But perhaps the most important lesson is that just as tigers cannot change their stripes or scorpions their nature, neither can politicians change their behavior. This means the behavior you have observed is the behavior you may expect in the future. Lesson learned.
And those, I think, are enough lessons for today though rest assured there are many more to be had from this past six weeks and even more that will come from actions in the next few months.