By Kirk White
This summer I completed a second one year tour of duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as an Indiana Army National Guard officer. During my first tour, 2004-05, I was chief of an embedded training team advising a battalion of the new Afghan National Army. As we departed in 2005, there was a sense of great accomplishment, anticipation and hope in Afghanistan. President Karzai had just been elected in the first free election in the country’s history, dates were set for parliamentary elections and though combat continued with insurgents in the east and south, the north and west were relatively secure and stable. During this past year I commanded a provisional task force responsible for base operations and force protection at two large U.S. Kabul bases. After returning, I am most often asked, “how have conditions changed since your first tour,” and “when will we be done in Afghanistan?” It is easier to answer the former than the latter. Following nine years in Afghanistan our soldiers, military and country have taken some significant lessons in leadership that are transferrable to any organization and should not be lost as we move forward. Over the next few days I will blog about my “Top 3” leadership lessons.
First, know the final goal, or in the army we call it the ‘end state’
Success will not be achieved unless the team is clear on the desired outcome. In Afghanistan there is a big difference between denying insurgents the ability to use the country as a platform for attacks verses full spectrum nation building. The complexity in counterinsurgency is that the two are often connected so that one depends on the other. Additionally, the Afghanistan team is made of over 40 nation partners who have different views of the end state which are often influenced by historic perspective and limited by national caveats. For the coalition, our definition of the end state has changed over time. We are seeing a higher level of success because we have a better idea of the final goals.