Sunday, February 03, 2008

TACF in Helmand

I have seen the way open for hope in Helmand

James Holland

Sunday Telegraph 3 February 2008

A couple of weeks ago I was in Lashkar Gah talking to Brigadier Andrew Mackay, commander of British Forces in Helmand, Afghanistan, listening to him speak about his frustrating experiences, first in Bosnia, then Kosovo and then Iraq. "There was no clear sense of how things might get done," he said. "No clear plan. It was a case of making it up as you go along… It was just chaotic, frankly."

As a historian of the Second World War, I was struck not only by how familiar his criticisms were but also by how often the lessons of history are ignored. There was little clear thinking, for example, about how Italy might be governed during the war. Allied Military Government was a behemoth that had been conceived and prepared a thousand miles away, by people who had mostly never been anywhere near Italy and who knew little about its people, culture or topography.

In consequence, corruption became rampant, food riots erupted, basic infrastructure remained in ruins, disease was rife, and chaos reigned. Norman Lewis, the renowned travel writer, witnessed this first-hand as a field security officer in the bombed city of Benevento. Writing in September 1944, he pointed out that a year after their liberation from Fascism, these southern Italians were as hungry as ever, more disease-ridden, and living in the ruins of a city where law and order had ceased to exist. Few, he reckoned, would see the glorious prize of democracy as one worth winning. "The days of Mussolini," he concluded, "must seem like a lost paradise compared with this." The parallel with post-war Iraq is chilling

Last week's reports that Afghanistan is in danger of slipping into chaos suggests little has changed. But these claims conflicted with much that I saw in Helmand, where Brig Mackay and his staff are spearheading new, and correct, approaches to post-conflict doctrine.

A significant step forward is the adoption of the Tactical Conflict Assessment Framework (TCAF), a tool for measuring the impact of their efforts in the province. One of Mackay's criticisms of earlier reconstruction efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan is that they were based on false assumptions that had little impact on the insurgencies. TCAF, the brainchild of an American academic, Jim Derleth, makes use of the force's greatest asset - its troops - and their ability to get amongst and talk with the local population. Each soldier is given a few carefully worded yet very simple questions to ask any Afghan they meet, the answers to which demonstrate both what locals need and show precisely what the make-up of the local population is in any given area.

Derleth's ideas were coolly received in the US, but for Mackay, TCAF was, with a bit of refining, just the tool he had been looking for. As Lt-Col Richard Wardlaw, commander of 52 Brigade's engineers, told me, "TCAF does more than just enable us to establish what the main problems are that cause instability. If you then keep asking those questions, over time you also get measurement of effect."

TCAF is already proving a success. Results from data gathered in both Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, and in Sangin have demonstrated not only that the tool works but also that earlier assumptions had indeed often been quite wrong. Moreover, results in the two places were very different, showing how wide local differences can be. Reconstruction and development in the two areas is being appropriately adjusted.

TCAF is one initiative, but there are other areas of clearer thinking too. The civilian Provincial Reconstruction Team and their military counterparts are working more closely, while reform and retraining of the Afghan National Police is under way. New approaches are also evident in the way we are dealing with the Taliban. When Musa Qala was captured in December, the Afghan National Army were first into the town, and as much time was spent planning the stabilisation phase as the actual military operation.

Those who cite the failure of the British in 1841-42 and of the Russians in the 1970-80s as proof of the hopelessness of our cause miss a crucial point. Then, Britain and Russia tried to bring Afghanistan under their control. The task now is to help the Afghan government, not run the show ourselves.

More troops and civilian workers are needed, and more investment too - there is a huge mountain still to climb. Yet there is much we are getting right too. We are learning from the mistakes of the past. We now understand what the task ahead is and have the framework to meet that challenge. It is essential, however, that the new doctrine emerging is refined further and that it then endures. The lessons of history must not be forgotten again.

James Holland's new book Italy's Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945 is published in March

A slide show on TACF is on:
http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ietcop/2007_workshop/TCAF%20Counterinsurgency.ppt#256,1,Tactical Conflict Assessment Framework (TCAF)

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