Colonel Michael Howard is the Brigade Commander responsible for the turbulent eastern Afghanistan provinces where Indiana’s 119th Agribusiness Development Team – or ADT – operates.
Now posted to Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost Province, Howard is serving his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“The enemy has gotten very very good at causing chaos. He has not gotten very very good at military operations. He cannot take over the government right now. He cannot win in that way,” Howard said. “Some good things have happened too. Violence is up, effective violence really isn’t up. Chaos is up. But a lot of good things are up too. Government, rule of law, police capacity and numbers are going up. Border police capacity and numbers are going up. Army, certainly the gold standard of Afghan national security forces, and getting better. So things are going well.”
But Howard says while the insurgents cannot topple the government, there is another danger.
“If we’re not careful, he can fight us to a stalemate, create enough chaos that the whole world says, ‘Oh my goodness, Afghanistan’s fixing to fall off the edge of the planet,’” Howard said. “That will frighten officials across the world and they’ll say ‘It’s time to pull my equities out of Afghanistan,’ and when that happens, no matter how powerful you are, you lose.”
Howard says while he continues to focus on combat operations and bolstering the Afghan security forces, there remains a greater challenge.
“The stability stuff keeps everybody settled down,” he said. It’s very near-term. It’s inefficient and there’s lots of criticisms of that because it costs a lot. But it keeps things settled down so that long-term developers like the ADT can increase the agribusiness development. I mean, we spent a lot of money on the oil industry in Iraq because it’s an oil-based economy. Well, we got to spend a lot of money in this country on agriculture because it’s an agriculture-based economy.”
Howard says his viewpoints have shifted from his earlier days in what he calls the “pipe-swinging infantryman’s army,” when the military attempted to fight a conventional war in Afghanistan.
Recognizing the civilian resentment caused by heavy-handed combat operations, Howard turned to the principles of counterinsurgency, with its emphasis on long-term development. He says he wasn’t the only one.
“I would say that what we’re doing is mainstream army now. We’re not out there on the fringe doing crazy stuff. The army recognizes that we’re not going to slug our way out of this war. We’re going to out-govern, we’re going to out-develop the enemy. In the meantime, we’re going to smack him down, so he leaves us alone so we can do the important things, like build rule of law, build government, build road structure, build health care systems, build education systems, peacefully transfer power with elected governments,” Howard said.
“So how does this attack the enemy? The long-term development stuff that I am talking about is the stuff that turns young fighters who seek economic opportunities with the Taliban into good citizens. That is what is going to win this war.”
So the Indiana National Guard Agribusiness Development Team continues its year-long tour of duty much as it began, laboring to accomplish a difficult mission in a complicated war.