When I question and challenge our policy and strategy I acknowledge that our tactical level units have performed admirably, but our policymakers and senior general officers, as well as flag officers, have failed them.
Good tactics never fix bad strategy. I have challenged our policy and strategy while on active duty, so I feel justified in continuing to explain the obvious to many who know and try to educate those that do not. I have published several articles, appeared on both TV and radio news programs, commented in news articles, and corresponded via email with active duty and retired officers, non-commissioned officers, and senior civilians in an attempt to communicate, contribute, and explain what we are doing and what we need to do in the hope that someone in a position to make change will move forward and make it happen.
2018 must be the year of change in our policy, strategy, leadership, and approach or we will never get off this road we have been on for the past 17 plus years. The missteps in Afghanistan and other places have been significant. Our senior civilians, policy makers and senior military leaders at the 4, 3, and 2-star level over three Administrations are responsible for the failures in policy, strategy and operational approach. We ignored the results even though numerous studies told us our approach was wrong. These studies cost millions and were initiated by those responsible for developing policy, strategy, and our operational approach. In the end, because the studies did not totally support command ideas they were discarded and ignored.
Brig. Gen. Donald C. BolducDoD photo
When we did get it just about right we did not stick to what was working. Instead: (1) we wasted opportunity, (2) continued to operate conventionally in an unconventional environment, (3) we failed diplomatically, (4) we leaned on counterterrorism at the expense of other more effective SOF approaches, and (5) we endorsed failed operational constructs and abandoned operational constructs that worked.
Moreover, we thickened the bureaucracy with additional GO level headquarters, created unnecessary tactical units, returned to the comfort zone of kinetic strikes, continued to engage in HVT hunting, body counts, and top-down driven approaches that previously failed not only in Afghanistan, but in Iraq, Syria, Africa, and the Pacific.
Furthermore, we misread the intentions of China, Russia, Iran, Turkey not only in Afghanistan, but in Europe, Iraq, Syria, Africa, and the Pacific. This misreading of the new but historically based geopolitical world and our failure to understand conflict will come at a significant price to us in trade, geography, and the “NEW” Silk Road connectivity.
It is the lack of a consistent comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan and other places that prevents stability and success. Countering these negative trends requires either our complete military withdrawal or a return to the comprehensive strategy approach, continuity of strategy, and better talent management at the senior leadership level. The leaders that led us into the ill-conceived conflicts have since retired. The problem now is that the same leaders when Afghanistan and Iraq began were senior colonels and 1 stars in 2001 and 2003 and are the same leaders that are now 3, and 4 stars, as well as, senior civilians.
How do we expect the same leaders with the same failed ideas, leadership approaches, and group think to change how we do business? To do so would be an admission of their failure and endanger their 0-6, 1 and 2-star protégés they have set up to take their place. There has been ZERO accountability of the senior leadership responsible for the missteps. Contributing further to the problem is poor diplomacy and administration, as well as, poor organization of the political and military effort in Afghanistan, Europe, Iraq, Syria, Africa, and the Pacific.
The whole interagency system is set up incorrectly to deal with today’s challenges and future challenges. A complete overhaul of the NSC, DoD, DoS, and Intelligence agencies is required. The post-World War II and Cold War constructs limit effectiveness. The size of our government limits effectiveness. Our willingness to sacrifice traditional international relationships and build new one’s limits effectiveness.
I have been listening, learning, researching and reading many ideas and concepts and I have concluded that our missteps may only be overcome by a change in our thinking and a view through the lens of Marco Polo’s World. Robert Kaplan, former USNA Visiting Professor, suggests, “The supercontinent is becoming one fluid, comprehensible unit of trade and conflict, as the Westphalian system of states weakens and older, imperial legacies—Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Turkish—become paramount. Every crisis from Central Europe to the ethnic-Han Chinese heartland is now interlinked. There is one singular battle space.”
Our lack of approach in blending the 1st world and 3rd world challenges are reducing American influence worldwide. Failure to develop a coherent approach is creating significant problems for America’s foreign policy. If we fail to see and develop a different approach and do not organize our interagency properly we are going to fall behind in trade, technology, cyber, and geography to the detriment of our economy and influence.
Then-Col. Donald Bolduc, third from left, commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, with U.S. Special Forces personnel, patrols a village on Jan. 16, 2011, in Khas Uruzgan District, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan.U.S. Army
I offer an excerpt below from Kaplan’s book as an example of our misguided policy, strategy, and military-centric approach to foreign policy.
Consider Afghanistan for a moment. The U.S. military can arguably save face in Afghanistan, but it cannot stabilize it. If anyone holds the key to economically and perhaps even politically stabilizing Afghanistan, it is mainly China through resource extraction, and also the Caspian Sea countries through the building of a natural gas transport network south through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, India and Iran work together to counter the influence of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan. If the Indians and the Iranians can build the Char Bahar port and transport project, linking that Iranian port on the Indian Ocean with Central Asia, with a spur line into Afghanistan, it can then compete with the China–Pakistan Silk Road project extending northward from Gwadar. As for the Russians, who have an interest in fighting Islamic extremism in Afghanistan because of Afghanistan’s contiguity with the former Soviet Union, they continue to develop their intelligence contacts with both Pakistan and Iran. Afghanistan provides a signal lesson about the limits of American power, coupled with the continued relevance of geography, which Washington elites fail to respect at their peril. Afghanistan, which has been at war in one form or another for almost four decades, and Pakistan, which has never really been safe from tribal insurgencies and political turmoil for almost seven decades demonstrate that the configuration of the Indian subcontinent into two larger states and several smaller ones may not be the last word in human political organization there. To wit, the political map may evolve over time: Pakistan can partially crumble into a rump Greater Punjab with Baluchistan and Sind gaining more de facto independence, with vast implications for India. And it is the Indian subcontinent that I am talking about: Since parts of Afghanistan were incorporated into various Indian imperial dynasties, governments in New Delhi always have considered Afghanistan in conceptual terms as part of a Greater India, stretching from the Iranian Plateau in the west to the Burmese jungles in the east. Whereas China seeks to expand vertically south to the Indian Ocean, India seeks to expand horizontally along or close to the Indian Ocean, with a special growing influence in the Persian Gulf. Therein lies the contest between these two faded empires.
The bottom line is that despite the dedication and sacrifice of our service members America’s long war in Afghanistan and Iraq and by extension Syria will not end well.
Despite our senior leader’s efforts to portray the war as an American victory, the United States is not going to defeat the Taliban, other groups, and ISIS anytime soon. As we witnessed our relationship between the United States and the other international governments go from bad to worse, we have not set a new course for America to achieve a different outcome. This unfortunate situation is not what most Americans expected following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
After 32 years of active duty service to his country in which he received 2 awards for valor, 5 Bronze Stars, 2 Purple Hearts, led ten deployments, and survived a bomb blast, numerous firefights, and a helicopter crash, General Donald C. Bolduc, former Commander, Special Operations Command Africa, has hung up his fatigues to take on perhaps his most important and challenging mission of advocating for the treatment and shedding the stigma of PTS, TBI, pain management and sleep disorders, both from within the U.S. military as well as for Veterans and the general public.