[NATO] has all but ended combined operations with Afghan army and police forces at the tactical level, requiring general officer approval for exceptions....What that means is that the commander of a Brigade Combat Team -- who is an O-6, a Bird Colonel -- cannot approve a combined operation for any unit under his command.
Three years after doubling down on an unachievable mission, trust between NATO and Afghan forces is at an all-time low. Already this year, there have been thirty-six of these insider attacks, killing fifty-one NATO troops, most of them Americans.
Even before the latest policy announcement, Joint Chiefs chairman Martin Dempsey acknowledged the severity of the problem, declaring, "You can't whitewash it. We can't convince ourselves that we just have to work harder to get through it. Something has to change" and admitting that "It is a very serious threat to the campaign."
Let me put that another way. It's not just that the platoon leader can't approve it. He's a lieutenant. But his boss, the company commander, is a captain who probably has a tour as a platoon leader behind him. He can't approve it either.
But his boss, the battalion commander, is a Lieutenant Colonel. He was probably a company commander two tours ago, but then he pulled at least one tour as a staff officer either at the battalion or the brigade level. If he's the commander now, he was probably the operations officer for a battalion. As the ops officer, he supervised and was personally responsible for the writing of all the written orders that moved troops around the battlefield. That's a serious job. Whoever holds that job -- the battalion ops officer, Major Whoever -- he still can't write an order approving such a mission.
But a guy who was Major Whoever last tour is now is the battalion commander. He was good enough at that job to get picked up for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel with appointment to a command spot. At this level things are getting pretty competitive. He's somebody who was good as a company commander, outstanding as a major, and has now out-competed a bunch of his fellow LTCs -- the ones who lost out are now pulling operations officer gigs at the brigade, or similarly employed elsewhere. This guy was good enough to get command. He can't approve the mission either.
And his boss can't approve the mission. He's a full-bird colonel, who perhaps was a battalion commander on his last tour. Not only that, he was one of the best battalion commanders: one of a few battalion commanders who got picked for further advancement in line combat command. Now he's back, commanding a brigade in the same country where his unit has probably deployed multiple times in a ten year war. He outranks all but a few hundred guys in the entire army. Most of those guys are not in Afghanistan, making him perhaps the highest ranking officer in a hundred miles. He still can't approve any platoon or company in his area of operations taking a walk outside the wire with an Afghan unit.
He has to go to Division for permission. That's the first level at which you'll find an actual General Officer. Probably he has to talk to the Deputy Commanding General, Maneuver, (DCG-M) for whichever division has command of his area. Maybe he has to bring it up with the actual Division Commander, a two-star general.
That guy is going to approve whatever his brigade commander asks him to approve. But only so many missions can get pushed up through this many levels of abstraction. That's significant friction, as Clausewitz would say.
You can't fight a war this way, but apparently the administration has no intention of fighting one. They just don't want to finish losing it until after the election. Our soldiers and Marines, airmen and a few bold sailors are buying them that time. We ought to know for just what they are being asked to barter their blood.