One of the points that Defense Secretary Bob Gates emphasized — arguably, in fact, the key point — in his Senate testimony last month is the abundant need to put an “Afghan face” on all aspects of the war. Today’s a good day for him, then. Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan defense minister, have worked out a deal to include Afghan officials in planning future counterterrorist operations.
From a just-emailed-out statement:
This step will strengthen the ability of the combined forces to shape and clear areas of terrorist and militant concentration and enable opportunities to assist the [Afghan police] to protect the people and key infrastructure. Removing bomb makers, terrorist networks and foreign militants from the population will enhance security for the Afghan people.
There will be better coordination to minimize risk of civilian casualties and ensure Afghans search Afghan and conduct arrest operations. Maintaining the support of the Afghan people is essential to defeating the terrorists.
The statement doesn’t have any specifics on how this will work in practice. What sort of operational planning will there be? Where will it be? At the brigade level? The company level? There’s a lot to be said for greater harmony in planning, since I saw firsthand in September how disunity during the execution of a more-or-less-unilaterally-designed plan compromises mission success. That’s not a knock on the command of the U.S. cavalry troops that came up with that particular plan: the command was acting very fast on fresh and reliable intelligence and there didn’t appear to be a standing relationship with the Afghan security forces in the area to design joint operations. Perhaps this is what the new McKiernan-Wardak relationship is designed to redress.