According to the Times:
“A 2008 firefight in eastern Afghanistan has become a template for how not to win there, and helps to explain the strategy of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new commander.”
A new study is being released of the fire-fight. Among other things it says:
“Before the soldiers arrived, commanders negotiated for months with Afghan officials of dubious loyalty over where they could dig in, giving militants plenty of time to prepare for an assault.
Despite the suspicion that the militants were nearby, there were not enough surveillance aircraft over the lonely outpost — a chronic shortage in Afghanistan that frustrated Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the time. Commanders may have been distracted from the risky operation by the bureaucratic complexities of handing over responsibility at the brigade level to replacements — and by their urgent investigation of an episode that had enraged the local population, the killing a week earlier in an airstrike of a local medical clinic’s staff as it fled nearby fighting in two pickup trucks.
Above all, the unit and its commanders had an increasingly tense and untrusting relationship with the Afghan people.”
As far as I see from the story in the Times, the report on the firefight examines the mistakes that were made in implementation of a strategy. There are lots nuances but basically the army unit was meant to set up an outpost and they were not given the intelligence and manpower to do their job effectively. In other words this was a failure of “operations management” or what we might call tactics. We can learn from it in terms to how not to make the same mistake again.
What we cannot learn from it is what our strategy should be in Afghanistan. A strategy here is broader than what we usually mean in game theory. It is a description of an objective function as well as a plan of how to maximize it. (The objective function for Afghanistan is part of a grander objective function for U.S. domestic and foreign policy.) It will suggest questions such as: Should we ensure a stable democracy in Afghanistan? Or should we focus on Al Qaeda? Or have we overreacted to 9/11 overall and we should leave? None of this is answered by the study of the incident in 2008. Hence, we would be wrong to extrapolate from an issue of tactics to an issue of overall strategy. Maybe we decide we do not want outposts at all. Then a counterinsurgency strategy is moot.