He observed the following:
There were about 100 attendees at the conference with a pretty even mix of military and civilian personnel (both contractors and what appeared to be a smattering of reps from other departments). While primarily American there were other nations represented, particularly Canadian, British and Australian. There were no representatives from Afghanistan which was disappointing but apparently logistics got in the way of that.
Most of the military attendees were field grade officers (between major and colonel) with a few scattered captains and senior enlisted (SFC and MSGs) thrown in.
On an interesting note I don't recall hearing the terms 'War on terror', 'long war' or anything similar over the three days. The conflict in Afghanistan was (rightly, I think) divorced from some greater project.
While, current U.S. policy states that we'll begin withdrawing our forces in 2011 there was a universal recognition that any real effort to apply COIN in Afghanistan would take a very long time. While the subject wasn't addressed (except for one question at the final Q&A roundtable) my impression was that all of the speakers (British, Canadian and U.S.) were operating under the assumption that forces would be in place well beyond 2011. I heard no discussion about how to conduct any sort of hand off to the Afghans within 18 months, alterations to COIN theory or doctrine or trains of thought about alternate ways militaries could support/conduct COIN without significant numbers of forces on the ground. I would interpret that to mean that the military has been given the word (explicitly or implicitly) that that 2011 deadline is NOT set in stone. I would, in fact, go further and predict that barring some unforeseen change in the operating environment we will almost definitely have a significant presence in Afghanistan for some time.
With respect to that last paragraph, are you much surprised? Didn’t think so. Beyond the reality of continuing occupation, the fact that it isn’t surprising is perhaps the other point of the story.
Somehow we have become habituated to war since we've been at it 9 years and counting (in our current iteration). Rather than the use of military force being an exceptional condition, only invoked and perpetuated in the gravest of situations, it’s sort of become part of the background noise.
Move along people, there's nothing for you to see here, just an endless war with a blank check, no success criteria, and no discernable exit strategy. In the meanwhile, service men and women keep coming home in boxes.
See also my post on Congressman Grayson's attempt to rein in defense spending, via The War is Making You Poor Act.