By Justin Elliott

Meet The Think-Tankers Advising The U.S. Military In Kabul

November 30, 2012 4:28 pm Category: Memo Pad 16 Comments A+ / A-
Meet The Think-Tankers Advising The U.S. Military In Kabul

by Justin Elliott, ProPublica.

Amid the media frenzy over former CIA director David Petraeus’ extramarital affair, we were struck by a quick reference in a Washington Post story about Petraeus’ time running the war in Afghanistan:

Prominent members of conservative, Washington-based defense think tanks were given permanent office space at his headquarters and access to military aircraft to tour the battlefield. They provided advice to field commanders that sometimes conflicted with orders the commanders were getting from their immediate bosses.

So who were these think-tankers and what exactly were they doing?

We spoke to some of them.

The most prominent and frequent traveler appears to have been the American Enterprise Institute’s Fred Kagan. Best known as the intellectual author of the Iraq surge strategy, Kagan said he and his wife, Kimberley Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War, spent a total of about 270 days in Afghanistan while Petraeus was in command from summer 2010 to summer 2011, and about 128 days under Gen. John Allen, who took command after Petraeus and remains in the position.

Like others we spoke with, Kagan said Petraeus and other generals have routinely brought think-tankers to both Iraq and Afghanistan, both to solicit outside advice and to shape the debate back home.

“General Petraeus liked to talk about ‘directed telescopes’ to describe people who go down to lower echelons and see what’s going on and go back and help the commander get a better sense of that,” says Kagan, who added that he has been going on such trips since 2007. The other aim of the trips was for the military to “help inform people who were going to be writing in the national debate to understand what was going on on the ground.”

Responding to the Post‘s characterization about the military resources made available to think tank members during Petraeus’ time in charge in Afghanistan, Kagan said: “Everybody who travels to Afghanistan or any combat zone at the invitation of the military is given access to military aircraft.”

On the issue of providing advice to field commanders that conflicted with advice of their bosses, Kagan said: “We were always very careful to say we are not giving you orders, we’re not passing on orders. We’re not doing anything except giving you our opinion.”

Defense department spokesman Bill Speaks told ProPublica that the Pentagon often reaches out to such outside experts to advise war commanders.

“We do periodically invite those experts involved in relevant research to receive briefings on the status of the campaign,” Speaks said in an email. He said the military does not have a comprehensive list of think tank members who have visited the U.S. headquarters in Kabul.

Indeed, the trips do not appear to have been part of any formal program, and they often differed in length and purpose.

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Meet The Think-Tankers Advising The U.S. Military In Kabul Reviewed by on . by Justin Elliott, ProPublica. Amid the media frenzy over former CIA director David Petraeus' extramarital affair, we were struck by a quick reference in a Wash by Justin Elliott, ProPublica. Amid the media frenzy over former CIA director David Petraeus' extramarital affair, we were struck by a quick reference in a Wash Rating:

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  • nobsartist

    I am so glad that the bush crime family has been able to turn our military into a form of entertainment for the liars that started the to wars that have bankrupted our country.

    I wonder what the in flight service is on those flights. Do they serve steaks and expensiv wine?

    What about the accommodations once they are in the “war zone”? Do they sleep in nice beds and have catered meals? Do they get to wear uniforms with all of those nice flashy medals like petraus does? What about stars? How many stars do they get? When they actually go out into the field, how many Americans does it take to protect them?

    This farce needs to end. The “contractors” that have made TRILLIONS on these two wars that we were lied into pay NO taxes on the massive profits that they have made selling weapons of death and the jackass’s that were duped into supporting it or were part of the lie refuse to make them pay taxes. Meanwhile, the oil companies who have benefited the most are making 20 BILLION EACH per quarter instead of the 1 BILLION per year they were making BEFORE the fake wars started yet they demand that WE pay for the wars by dismantling the safety nets that FDR put in place.

    I am glad that the useless parasite petraus is gone. We should demand to see the budget for the CIA and dismantle the criminal cabal for good.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KOPKDFAUQPIIRAFI3HEXNMSHLQ Ed

    So after the taxpayers spend millions sending these men through West Point,myriad training courses and the National Command and Staff college, they still need outsidwers to tell them how to operate? I knew our military was being destroyed by the idea of “management” but I had no idea how bad things had become. Let’s just close the Pentagon.I am sure some buyer would be glad to convert it to a shopping mall.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/UHE4MJP5FHMFIEAOGEQHETUGDQ Rvn_sgt6768

      This is what happens when we promote ticket punchers instead of commanders honed in battle. Petraeus’s first real combat command was as a two star General at the Division Commander slot. That is starting at the top, too late to learn how war is really waged. He is book smart and combat challenged. Every war is different and every war evolves as you are fighting it. Maybe it would not take us 12 years to learn the current war if we started with people who fought it not who learned it in college.

      • sigrid28

        To second this idea, a series of generals in Afghanistan, sometimes for less than a year, never, I believe, for two years or more, just get up to speed on the scope of the thing before they have to step down.

    • ralphkr

      As I posted before, our officers go to academy to learn how we fought the last war. My uncle was one of the officers in the study jocularly termed “Colonels Revolt”. They had gathered the officers (not just colonels) that they considered would be the best in the future (you know, future Pattons) to predict the future of the US Army. They posited some drastic changes including the fire teams that are currently used as well as making the entire army airborne ready. The part of the report that caused the group to be disbanded (and generated the term Colonels Revolt) was when they analyzed the then current makeup of the army and they stated that if things were left unchanged then the best and ONLY use for the army in an all war would be to direct and aid in the evacuation of civilians. That report certainly did slow down the promotions of the officers involved although my uncle did eventually retire as a colonel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/warren.nicholson.77 Warren Nicholson

    Sounds like Petraeus didn’t like to use his Sgt Major.

    • http://twitter.com/trevino_sr Jose L. Trevino Sr

      Sergeant Majors, Chief Master Sergeants and all other top E-9 NCOs pull no punches.

      Could be why they are not asked to comment.

    • ralphkr

      Well, Warren, it appears that Petraeus prefers to “use” women. At least there are no salacious stories circulating about him “using” men.

  • sleeprn01

    With 2 sons in the military, I find this article particularly disturbing; in fact I’m down right pissed off. “General Petraeus liked to talk about ‘directed telescopes’ to describe people who go down to lower echelons (the grunts) and see what’s going on and go back and help the commander get a better sense of that.” “The Pentagon often reaches out to such ‘outside experts’ to advise war commanders.” What in the hell is going on here; are we having civilians run the war while our military commanders do what? Perhaps I’m miss-informed, but I thought our military commanders went to West Point and the war college to become experts in how to conduct a war. I also thought that “directed telescopes” weren’t needed because in the military there is this thing called “chain of command;” where information flow is suppose to go in both directions, the bottom up and the top down. I just hope that
    neither of my sons need to wait for a civilian “expert” to tell their CO what to do.

    Oh, I misunderstood the commanders role in Afghanistan. My wife just reminded me that a 4 star general can’t be bothered with a war when they have 20,000 e-mails to send to their mistress’.

    I would hope that President Obama is aware of this practice and stops it now, removes General John Allen immediately and replace him with a real commander. Our enlisted service members are putting their lives on the line every day while these assholes are having civilians tell them what they need to do while they run around f**king their mistress’.

    • ralphkr

      You must keep in mind that the military, everywhere, is always fighting the last war they were in. A prime example was the fact that European countries had officers observing our “War of Northern Aggression” and and learned that standing in formation on the battle line was an invitation to slaughter due to the improved accuracy of rifled arms and that it was impossible to take a fortified, well defended position without have a 3 to 6 to one advantage in personnel. Yet, in WW1 they started out by bravely standing up and sending volleys of fire into the advancing foe and they thought that they could dislodge the enemy from entrenchments by attacking with just a few more troops than the number in the defending force just as if rifled arms and machine guns did not exist. Both sides were guilty of this. And then WW2 began with many armies, including ours, still using the horse cavalry even though WW1 showed how vulnerable the horse cavalry was. For instance, the Polish cavalry bravely and foolishly repeatedly charged the German tank forces with disastrous results. Often a civilian can bring some modernization and sense to the military just as many of our WW2 officers were civilians without the tradition bound military academy training.

    • sigrid28

      And please let’s not put General John Allen in charge of NATO forces.

    • http://twitter.com/Stormyleewolf Karen Roberts

      My father was a Lt.Col. in the USAF and he tried to make general but failed. He complained that the generals were ass kissers, and that is how they made their rank. He said they were not experts at all. Because he was more of a expert but they ignored him, because he didn’t go around kissing higher uppers asses. I’m never was sure if my dad was truly serious, but I guess this article makes me wonder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-Glackin/100000892011713 Joseph Glackin

    There was a time when military were supposed to be non-political. Eisenhower reportedly never voted until he ran for President. Now they get coached by political think tanks.
    Not exactly an improvement.

  • onedonewong

    Gee no complaints about ABC,CBS, NBC, PBS MSNBC and CNN flying all over the theater and causing US casualties. But then again these “news organizations” were pro Messiah

  • Mimi2kool

    Good lord, this sounds like just another way to funnel money to people who don’t need it, the high-priced “consultants” who advise the powers that be. Besides, the term “think tanks” implies people who actually can think, and I have not seen evidence of this.

  • Sand_Cat

    If Petraeus can’t run the war without advice, what the hell was he doing in command? No wonder this war is still going nowhere (and our troops are still going back there to be “led” by the same incompetents).

    If they want advice from the men, why don’t they ask (and offer promotions) for good advice? But then, how would these idiots know good advice when they’re given it?

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