NATO has confirmed to this author that it has 130 Generals and Admirals in Afghanistan. For NATO, that amounts to one General for every 1,000 soldiers, a stunningly high number of senior officers. In contrast, the U.S. military has a total of 650 Generals and Admirals to manage a combat force of 1,420,000. That amounts to one General for every 2,185 soldiers. If NATO were to adopt the American model, it would have no more than 55 Generals in Afghanistan. Even that number is far too high.
Officially, the NATO mission, which operates under the acronym ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), has about 120,000 troops, supported by an additional 20,000 American troops that operate separately. ISAF’s Internet site lists 26 Generals and Admirals in leadership positions; twelve generals in Kabul, an additional six in Regional Commands and eight in Training Command. The balance of 104 Generals and Admirals apparently do not occupy leadership positions or even senior staff positions. It is not clear what they do.
ISAF is roughly comparable in size to that of the highly successful U.S. Third Army during World War II. The Third Army consisted of six Corps, which corresponds to the six Regional ISAF Commands. As of September 1, 1944, Third Army Headquarters consisted of Lt. General George S. Patton, one Major General, one Brigadier General and a number of Colonels. Unlike ISAF which concentrates authority in the Headquarters, General Patton’s larger staffs were at the Corps level, closer to the fighting.
Third Army’s public relations officer for 1943-1944, was Major James T. Quirk. In contrast, ISAF uses a one-star General. General Patton did not need a large public relations staff in order to convince the public that he was making “progress” - the evidence was undeniable. The Third Army’s model is one that ISAF should be copying. The goal should be to empty Kabul of Generals and Admirals, preferably sending most home, with the remainder being forward deployed to the Regional Commands.
General Patton insisted that his staff display “leadership,” a trait which seems to have all but disappeared within the West’s General and Flag ranks. General Patton would never have countenanced the current American consensus-based politician/Generals. Rather than getting out in front of an issue or taking a principled stand on an issue, they prefer to watch and wait until a consensus has been reached. This lack of leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan led to criminal delays in providing quality body armor, up-armored Humvees, MRAPs, advanced MRAPS, advanced mortars and is currently delaying the fielding of a successor to the U.S. M-4 assault rifle. A few Generals, including General David Petraeus, represent exceptions to the consensus management school of generalship. They have succeeded because of their commitment to leadership.
ISAF spokeswoman Navy Lieutenant Nicole R. Schwegman told this author that comparing the current war with other conflicts was “like comparing apples to oranges.” She went on to say that: “Each conflict presents its own set of challenges and thus requires a different approach to using our leadership. . . . Many of our senior level flags are schooled in more than just warfare. Almost all have a broad range of experience in many areas of governance and development and many have also served as mentors to the Afghan Army and Police Force while they are building up their capacity. In short, every flag officer that is here on the ground is helping Afghanistan reach a better and brighter future.”
ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. John L. Dorrian told this author that General Petraeus believes he had the resources “about right” now. He also stated that the “media environment has changed a great deal in complexity and importance since WWII” and, therefore, ISAF devotes more resources to this effort than was done in World War II.
The issues which ISAF does not address are cost/benefit, and necessity. The former requires one to evaluate whether the considerable expenses associated with paying, billeting and providing staff to senior officers is outweighed by any benefits they might provide. Most American Generals and Admirals have a base pay in excess of $165,000.00 a year. This amount does not include other pay supplements they can obtain. They can also earn extra if deployed to an overseas combat zone.
The latter issue concerns whether 130 Generals and Admirals are needed to oversee a force of only 120,000. Behind both questions is the issue of whether the NATO and Pentagon bureaucracies are simply unloading their surplus Generals and Admirals on Afghanistan. Senior officer assignments are traditionally based more on intra-service politics than on the qualifications of the officer for the position. There is no indication that this tradition has changed regarding ISAF assignments.
The evidence is that at least a percentage of these senior officers may be nothing more than unnecessary baggage sitting in Kabul, having meetings with each other, consuming resources and wasting valuable staff time. This author previously reported that on August 29, 2010, in a little noticed event, the Pentagon announced that it had removed Colonel Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., U.S. Army Reserves, from his position at ISAF’s International Joint Command (IJC) in Kabul. Colonel Sellin is a veteran who previously served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was removed after he wrote an article for United Press International in which he described the IJC as staffed with out-of-touch senior officers who spend most of their time in endless conferences with each other. Colonel Sellin’s report and his description of the inner workings of ISAF would be comical if this issue were not so important.
During the Second World War, General Eisenhower had six Generals and Air Marshal’s in his inner circle. This included two of his field commanders. In contrast, NATO’s Training Command, which is critically short of 900 trainers, has no shortage of Generals. It has lots of them. Training Command has at least eight Generals in leadership positions, with an unknown number assigned to supporting roles. These statistics reveal misplaced priorities.
Not to pick only on ISAF and the Pentagon, which are not alone regarding over-staffing and mismanagement of resources. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul admits to having at least six officials holding the rank of “Ambassador” in residence, when it should only have one. Everyone in Washington, D.C. with any political clout seems to be pulling strings for an assignment to the war zone. This author would be far more comfortable if all of these assignments were requested by General Petraeus. The fear is that most are being foisted on him.
In conclusion, it is reasonable for the public to insist that wars be executed in a cost-effective manner and that leadership positions in a war zone be streamlined and filled without regard to politics and inside deals. The ISAF, Pentagon and U.S. Embassy bureaucracies in Afghanistan are detrimentally top-heavy, with the term “bloated” potentially being an accurate description. The Taliban is surging troops, with some estimates placing Taliban field strength as high as 40,000. In contrast, the West is surging Generals, Admirals and Ambassadors. Some adult supervision is needed.
1. This author asked ISAF’s Public Affairs Office how many Afghan Generals there currently are. The reason is that the Afghan National Army (ANA) may be learning too much from ISAF, just like the South Vietnamese Army which disastrously modeled itself on the heavy road-bound American military. The fear is that the ANA may be copying ISAF’s good traits as well as its bad traits, and therefore may be just as bloated with Generals. Lt. Col. Dorrian responded by referring the author to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
2. The 130 Generals and Admirals pertain only to ISAF. This number apparently does not include NATO officers assigned to their embassies in Kabul and does not include other American generals and Admirals assigned to Afghanistan, but outside of ISAF control. This would include Special Operations Command officers and other independent units. It may be that a dozen or so additional Generals are currently in-country.
3. ISAF has a bizarre Regional Command called “Southwest Regional Command.” It is bizarre because it was carved out last June specifically to cater to the U.S. Marines, who insist on fighting on their own, with their own organic resources and support. This Command, headed by a Marine General, was established for political and not operational reasons. It should be abolished, which would permit a reduction in needed General officers. Luckily NATO countries are not following the Marines’ poor example of insisting on their own Regional Command. If they did, it would be chaos.
4. It is not clear why a landlocked country such as Afghanistan has a staff of foreign Navy Admirals helping to oversee its ground war. It would seem logical to send them all home.