Insurmountable obstacles in Afghanistan

First and foremost, the Afghans have no real technical capabilities to gather and analyze their own nonhuman intelligence. So, naturally, NATO will still need to provide that. This is not unexpected; they’re very advanced, enormously expensive tools to acquire.

Second, the Afghan mission currently enjoys the finest military medical support the world has ever known. Soldiers receive immediate field medicine and can be Medevaced to a top-flight surgical facility within an hour. The Afghans have none of that capability and are not even in the process of developing it. Naturally, that means NATO will need to provide it.

Third, special forces have been crucial to the successes against the Taliban spoken of by Toolan. While the ANA has a fair number of commandos, they’re not yet able to conduct complex operations integrated with conventional forces. It’s another gap that will need to be filled by NATO for the foreseeable future.

The deficit that jumped out at me, as a former field-artillery officer, was “fire support.” Toolan noted that American forces can put artillery on target with amazing accuracy and, well, their Afghan counterparts can’t. This is worrisome. Unlike technical intelligence, medical proficiency and special operations—all skills that take years of expensive training to master—putting rounds down range and on target is pretty basic stuff. The folks at Fort Sill, Oklahoma can take a private right out of basic training and turn him into a fully competent 13-Bravo cannon crewmember in five weeks, four days. To be sure, graduates get additional training and increase their proficiency somewhat under the supervision of squad leaders once they get to their units. But only marginally so. Putting steel on target is a platoon-level task, not a combined-arms operation requiring years and years of experience.