The Shrinking “Oil-Spot Strategy”

The greasy stain in Afghanistan is spreading the wrong way

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SIGAR

When push came to shove for the U.S.-led military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, some experts urged the adoption of a so-called “oil-spot strategy” as a way of doing more with less. Instead of placating the entire nation all at once, it called for the establishment of small, secure areas that would gradually grow over time as counter-insurgency successes in the initial zones oozed outward and ultimately connected.

It made sense, at least at first glance. But now, a key monitor of U.S. success in Afghanistan is warning that the opposite is, in fact, happening: more and more of Afghanistan is becoming insecure as the U.S. and its allies leave the country. In other words, the “oil spots” are shrinking, surrounded by growing areas of instability.

Bottom line: the U.S. strategy of securing more of Afghanistan seems to have worked only so long as U.S. troops were on the ground to secure it. The handoff of security to Afghanistan hasn’t taken root, and the nation is becoming less secure as the U.S. pulls out.

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SIGAR

In a recent letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry, released Monday, a top independent Pentagon auditor says that the slice of Afghanistan his overseers can visit is shrinking as concerns for their safety mount.

“U.S. officials have told us that it is often difficult for program and contracting staff to visit reconstruction sites in Afghanistan,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, wrote. “U.S. military officials have told us that they will provide civilian access only to areas within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility. Although exceptions can be made to this general policy, we have been told that requests to visit a reconstruction site outside of these ‘oversight bubbles’ will probably be denied.”

Sopko included maps of Afghanistan showing the shrinking safe zones inside the country. “Although it is difficult to predict the future of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, it is likely that no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to U.S. civilian oversight personnel by the end of the transition,” he said of the 2015 deadline for all U.S. combat troops to withdraw. “We have also been told by State Department officials that this projection may be optimistic, especially if the security situation does not improve.”

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SIGAR

Sopko’s maps are basically an indicator of the extent of security around Afghanistan, drafted by the Army’s Geospatial Center based on data from the Pentagon and State Department. The maps, he added, show “a best-case scenario where weather, terrain, and security conditions pose no serious threat to helicopter medical evacuation missions.” The maps show the area of Afghanistan deemed safe for federal auditors to visit has fallen from 68% in 2009 to an estimated 21% in 2014.

Retired Army lieutenant colonel Andrew Krepinevich popularized the oil-spot notion in a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs, during the darkest days of the U.S.-led alliance in Iraq. “Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort — hence the image of an expanding oil spot,” wrote Krepinevich, who heads the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The concept caught on as a way to wage war with too-few troops. “The oil spot, if you will, is a term in counterinsurgency literature that connotes a peaceful area, secure area,” Army General David Petraeus told NBC in 2010 when he commanded the Afghan effort. “What you’re trying to do is to always extend that, to push that out. Of course, down in Helmand Province what we sought to do was to build an oil spot that would encompass the six central districts of Helmand Province, including Marjah and then others, and then to just keep pushing that out, ultimately to connect it over with the oil spot that is being developed around Kandahar City.”

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SIGAR

Sopko, who said his staff couldn’t visit reconstruction projects costing $72 million in northern Afghanistan earlier this year because of safety concerns, said steps should be taken to ensure access to such sites. The U.S. Agency for International Development may hire monitors to keep an eye on such work, he said, and the State Department is studying the wisdom of occasionally deploying security and medical teams to the edges of “oversight bubbles” as a way of making them bigger, at least temporarily.

“Even if these alternative means are used to oversee reconstruction sites, direct oversight of reconstruction programs in much of Afghanistan will become prohibitively hazardous or impossible as U.S. military units are withdrawn, coalition bases are closed, and civilian reconstruction offices in the field are closed,” Sopko warned.

Since invading Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001 — in retaliation for the safe haven the Taliban government provided Osama bin Laden to plot the 9/11 attacks — the U.S. has spent close to $100 billion on reconstruction efforts inside the country:

– $54.30 billion for security
– $24.70 billion for governance and development
– $6.92 billion for counter-narcotic efforts
– $2.67 billion for humanitarian aid
– $7.99 billion for operations and oversight

The war’s total cost to U.S. taxpayers is approaching $700 billion, and, to U.S. families, 2,191 lives.

MORE: Rich Military, Poor Results

24 comments
Adam_Smith
Adam_Smith

There is nothing wrong with the oil spot strategy so far as it goes. The problem is that it is insanely difficult for a foreign occupier from a radically different culture to overcome a native/nationalist resistance. That we represent arguably superior ideals of democracy and rule of law counts for practically nothing in such a case. The natives aren't that interested. They are accustomed to rule by tribal leaders and certainly won't abandon it under conditions of war or occupation. They may eventually evolve away from it under conditions of peace, if foreigners will allow them to have any.

Channah
Channah

Afghanistan always has been, is, and always will be as it is today.  Sad, but it is all the people know and will ever know.  The sooner we are out, the better.  As in Iraq, it will always be at war among its own people.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"When push came to shove for the U.S.-led military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, some experts urged the adoption of a so-called “oil-spot strategy”...

Experts in what? Certainly not experts in occupying/controlling savage foreign lands who don't want you there. And they had the poster child: Afghanistan.


AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

"Bottom line: the U.S. strategy of securing more of Afghanistan seems to have worked only so long as U.S. troops were on the ground to secure it. The handoff of security to Afghanistan hasn’t taken root, and the nation is becoming less secure as the U.S. pulls out."

Gee, who saw this coming?

When the head guy in charge is more concerned about who is bringing the biggest bag of money all your efforts from then on out are pointless.  When we go he goes too.

drudown
drudown

Give us a break already.

The notion that the United States has some "duty" to enforce a Police Power over Afghanistan or Iraq- much less Syria or Iran- is wholly outside the ambit of Constitutional powers. There is no prudence is fiscal waste when the next GOP "shut down" approaches in weeks, days and hours.

If the GOP Congress REFUSES to actually follow the Constitution and actually RAISE REVENUE for the Common Defense (see, Article I, Section 8), then it is absolutely unacceptable for "domestic services" to be "sacrificed" so that the US Military can play "policeman" in Arab sovereigns where the People realize ZERO discernible return on US Taxpayer investment to date. None of the Bush Administration's promises or predictions regarding Iraq have proved to be true. 

As such, there is nothing more for our Military and US Taxpayers left to do.

"Do your duty and leave the rest to the gods." - Corneille 

DougCheriBledsoe
DougCheriBledsoe

Drones will be doing Afghanistan for decades.

Star Trek, A Taste of Armageddon

AcidRed
AcidRed

Thanks Cheney/Halliburton/Bush. This is what we end up with with a half @$$ed effort of "doing more with less" when it should have ALL been focused here and not Iraq. What do we have now? Iraq is in the toilet, Afghanistan will be completely upon our forces withdrawal, way too many coalition casualties as well as civilian collateral damage, and lets not forget the financial cost to our economy. I guess, just Drone on. Sickening....

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

What amazes me, is that i'm sure you could ask 100 people the war strategy about the war in Afghanastan and the media did such a poor job of ever objectively covering this war is that i bet 97 of the people would have no idea that the oil-spot strategy was the actual strategy and wouldn't even know what it means.  The average person cannot tell you anything about the war but it was to stop terrorism or that the media told them that Dubble-ya was 100% wrong.  Thats all you ever hear.  The first time i have seen Time talk about this strategy of course is when its failing.  What media would realistically want to educate its people about whats going on when its working, only when its failing.  More clicks...duh.  We  have people like the Swamp meister who probably believe that everybody living in Afghanastan has the IQ of a 2 year old and all wear towels on their heads.  Though when you watch and get non-biased news sources through documentaries then you realize that people are intelligent that live there and there are a great majority that do want to help make the country better.  But the US media hasn't figured out a way to sell positive, if they aren't ripping or pointing out the 2% faults that we have here then they won't have a business plan. 

Swamp_Meister
Swamp_Meister

When the US/ISAF/coalition has ( and will have ) casualties, then it will be paying for real estate with blood, over and over again. It is not worth any US/ western/ NGO deaths to try and bring civilization and western ideals to A-stan... they don't want us there, and we should not be there any longer... cut our losses and come home! No more tax dollars for this corrupted land and despicable people.

justice63k
justice63k

The most critical question for Afghanistan's future is whether Hamid Karzai and other Afghan leaders will continue to rent out Afghan lands and people for more ghost money in exchange for the US, et al., using the country and its population as potential targets on the Global War on Terrorism?

Essentially, as Karzai has remarked upon many times, what is at stake for Afghanistan in this most critical question is national sovereignty and the dignity and integrity of Afghans who shall endure the presence of foreign troops on their land.

President Karzai, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

jhoughton1
jhoughton1

The world's greatest military.  What a waste of money.  Not the boots on the ground, but the pointy heads in the Pentagon who strategize these things and the chicken-hawks in D.C. who send our kids on these pointless, expensive missions. In future, let's make sure those who vote for war are the first ones into battle.  And the arms manufacturers who profit from it should all (I'm talking to you, Halliburton) be subject to a "windfall profits" or "war profiteering" tax.  It's been done before.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

***The maps, he added, show “a best-case scenario where weather, terrain, and security conditions pose no serious threat to helicopter medical evacuation missions.” The maps show the area of Afghanistan deemed safe for federal auditors to visit has fallen from 68% in 2009 to an estimated 21% in 2014.***


So when auditors get hurt visiting (by helicopter as the roads are unsafe everywhere) these unsecured blue oil-spot areas then their medical evacuation by helicopter would experience no serious threat, just a normal threat.

I would counsel that the evacuation be done at night. All current resupply (by helicopter, of course) of remote outposts is done at night. Daylight trips are unsafe. The helo pilots sleep all day and are woken at 6 pm for their ops briefings.

MaxWright1
MaxWright1

"The maps show the area of Afghanistan deemed safe for federal auditors to visit has fallen from 68% in 2009 to an estimated 21% in 2014."

First of all, it HAS NOT. Its only October. Notice the sly use of the past tense when talking about 2014?

Secondly, what is the point of this article? That Afghanistan is becoming unsafe as we pull out? Why is that news? Of course that's going to happen. Is the author's point to say, "even after spending 700 billion and 2191 lives, Afghanistan is still a failure."

Um, yeah. we are pulling out long before our efforts would have a lasting impact. I thought we had decided that's what we wanted. Did someone think we could pull out after just a few years and Afghanistan would be safe?

700 billion sounds obscene, and given how our government wastes money, it probably is. Certainly we could have gotten the same failed results for a lot less money.

And, really, 2191 lives in 12 years?? How many people have been killed in Chicago in the past 12 years??

I just have a real probelm with the whole tone of this article. "Oh, they thought they were so smart. But now its not working! and we wasted a bunch of money and people got killed!"

 Yeah, because we left too soon. I thought that's what we wanted. Didn't we elect the guy who wanted to do that?

perhapshey
perhapshey

@shepherdwong translation:当我们在阿富汗和伊朗强制武装影响的时候,一些专家怂恿采取一种叫“石油政策”。。。。

专家在干嘛?当然不包括强占外国领土,那些人不希望你在那。

然后你有这张名片:阿富汗。

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

@AcidRed Germany was in good shape as well when Hitler consolidated all the power and brought the economy back.  Who cares that he wanted to eliminate certain ethinic groups and take over all of Europe.  Would've been better off not worrying about them, o wait, FDR got a monument in the Washington Mall for doing that.  Sometimes you need to flush the toilet to make it a clear looking again

drudown
drudown

@Realworldnonfantasyland 

Are you defending the Bush Administration that failed to establish Martial Law in Iraq after invading, i.e,, leading to wide-scale looting? Dream on.

justice63k
justice63k

@Swamp_Meister How are they despicable?  They are people defending their land from foreign troops.  Wouldn't you if you were in the same situation?  Not one Afghan was involved in the 9-11 attacks.  Also, if you don't want the US to  be there and, as you say, they don't want the US to be in their country, then you and they share the same point of view, no?

jpcali
jpcali

@Realworldnonfantasyland I think what AcidRed is saying is that your toilet has backed up and is spilling on your floor. To use your Hitler comparison is like comparing apples and toilets.

drudown
drudown

@justice63k @Swamp_Meister 

It isn't our DUTY to pay Afghani War Lords to feign loyalty, much less use such dwindling US TAXPAYER funds to "arm and train" some puppet Afghani "Security Force". Either find us the express language in the Constitution so stating or start googling "Doctrine of Enumerated Powers" and get back to us.

drudown
drudown

@justice63k @drudown 

What does the cited DOD regulation have to do with our government of Limited Powers (see, US Constitution) having a Fiduciary Duty and Duty of Loyalty to use US Taxpayer dollars to improve the lives of US citizens instead of, say, improving the lives of the Afghani or Iraqi people? Do tell.

justice63k
justice63k

@drudown US military strategy, under MAAWS - money as a weapons system -  is the DoD regulation (FM 240, counterinsurgency doctrine?), presumably legal under the US Constitution since it hasn't been challenged, is what likely authorized the use of our tax dollars to bribe Afghan warlords to stop fighting each other and to help the US fight AQ and Taliban.  Which then led to us to start paying the salaries of 350,000 ANSF, Afghanistan National Security Forces, soldiers and police for the past several years, and we are expected to foot these salaries for years to come, or else AQ will return, as they like to say. But we missed our chance back in the late '80s and early '90s, and really are left with no other option than to rent out their country as the battle space on GWOT. Karzai and his cronies want more ghost money, and will relish at letting foreign troops run around capturing and killing whoever they believe are a threat to them in the heat of the moment, and that could be just about anybody.