Afghanistan – Will we pay the price for COIN there?

"… let's examine the hard side, which is the terrain of Special Operations forces. They have two distinct faces. One is the "black" SOF that attacks high-value Taliban targets. These are stealthy and superkinetic operations, using the latest technology to hunt enemy fighters and then capture or kill them. The mission, basically, is to make it very dangerous to be a Taliban operative — and thereby shift the balance of intimidation in this war. The SOF warriors are also targeting the networks that produce the roadside bombs killing coalition troops.

There's a softer side of SOF, too, in the so-called "A-teams" (short for "Operational Detachment Alpha"), which are fighting what they call "unconventional war." They are sent into towns and villages to work with the Afghan army and police — and, under a new program, to assist tribal leaders whose power and authority have been sapped by the Taliban. These are creative operations, employing some of America's best soldiers. They reflect a growing understanding of what counterinsurgency experts call the "human terrain map."

"It's like all the instruments in an orchestra," says a U.S. military commander of the different parts of the battle plan. "You have to know how to play them together."

As Obama has deliberated Afghanistan strategy, the debate has tended to polarize between "CI" and "CT" advocates. But this is a false argument. What the United States actually has in Afghanistan is a mixture. Obama must now decide whether to provide the resources — and take the risks — to test whether this combined strategy can succeed."  Ignatius


David Ignatius is an interestng man.  I sat on a panel discussion with him and some other people long ago when I still worked for the government.  He said at the beginning that it was unfair that I be there since I had access to classified information and therefore knew the truth.  I  thought that was an odd attitude for a journalist.  He seems to have overcome that handicap and to be well and thoroughly briefed wherever he goes.

In this editorial he passes on to us the results of his latest "ration" of information in Afghanistan.  He lays out some of the elements of the over all COIN effort that is being created.  Some of it is SOF in both aspects.  It is striking that Ignatius is just now learning what "unconventional warfare" means in the Special Forces context.

Ignatius poses the question that his briefers want asked.  That question is whether or not Obama will give them the forces and other resources they want to execute this strategy that they and their civilian advisers have devised and which they are pressing on the Commander in Chief.

They have missed the real issue in the present dispute. 

That issue is not if Obama can be manipulated into doing what they want.  The real issue is whether or not the American electorate can be persuaded to support the effort that they want for very long. 

I would say that they can not be so persuaded, and therefore a more modest effort should be designed.

The advocates of the "go big or go home" strategy probably think that their information operations will deal with that problem.

I doubt it.  pl


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18 Responses to Afghanistan – Will we pay the price for COIN there?

  1. J says:

    What needs to be addressed regarding those ‘advocates’ of the go big or go home strategy is ‘why’ they are soooo itent regarding their ‘stuff’.
    Could their ‘why’ = BIG$$$ in their personal pockets, referring to the civilian side of it, while the soldier who obeys their orders and trods the Afghan dust doesn’t get any additional perks for all their blood/sweat/tears investment, while certain generals set themselves up for future board room slots on those businesses involved in the big government contracts related to such strategy/policy.

  2. JohnH says:

    Count me among the unpersuaded. It’s really too bad Fellini is no longer around to do a movie about America’s involvement in Afghanistan.
    The US appoints Karzai as their puppet. Then Karzai gets mysteriously gets deemed unacceptable. So the US insists on conducting an election in the midst of a hot war, ostensibly to promote “democracy,” as if that were possible! But most likely the election was intended simply to replace Karzai with someone more pliable. Instead of cooperating, Karzai goes rogue and pulls out a stunning, fraudulent election victory. Machinations begin, wands are waved, and Karzai’s stunning victory magically evaporates, barely failing to meet the 50% threshold for victory. (Ohioans understand perfectly how this works.) But then America’s great brown hope, the shining alternative, Abdullah, turns rogue, pulls out of the election, leaving the US with Karzai, who is by now clearly illegitimate. Worse yet, in the wand waving process he was made to lose face.
    Obviously this is the moment to send in 40,000 more troops to solidify Afghanistan’s still born democracy and restore the government’s legitimacy!
    What a hoot! (Unless you happen to be in Afghanistan or care about how your hard earned tax dollars are spent.)

  3. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    1. RANDoids have been at work on Capitol Hill with an Afghan policy presentation in the Russell Senate Office Building. The advocates of escalation appear to have convinced themsleves that the American people can be convinced. On the other hand, they may well be so cynical that they don’t care as escalation will occur anyways. Congress is presently in the pocket of the war party factions in both the Republican and Democratic parties so this is good enough for the time being to get the escalation desired by the hawks.
    2. Johnson’s decision to escalate resulted in over two decades of “stagflation” for those who may remember.
    3. Seems to me, our rivals-enemies-competitors have already been taking measures to position themselves in the emerging multipolar situation of diminishing US power. They (EU, Russia, China, Japan) would seem to plan to be able to come out relatively stronger viz. the US as the US does the Athens to Syracuse thing egged on by decadent elites and corrupt Alcibiades types. Notice the recent China-Russia multibillion dollar deals backed with a clever use of US debt obligations held by them?
    4. Whether we “do” COIN or CT this is an expensive operation in terms of blood and treasure.
    Look around the United States…would money we are borrowing from China, Saudi and others AT INTEREST for wars be better spent on CIVILIAN projects here, jobs here at home?
    Would cutting defense budgets significantly, reallocating budget, and reducing taxes help us rebuild our national economy to position ourselves for the future geoeconomic competition in decades ahead?
    Seems to me our present rivals-enemies-competitors gain geoeconomic advantage from our present and growing quagmire the Middle East/Central/South Asia.
    It’s not about justice nor is it about “full spectrum domination.” It’s about national advantage over the long term, IMO.

  4. Interesting post because in my view the decision by Obama Administration now long over. It was announced when Rahm Emanuel stated on the record that the Administration will wait for the outcome of Afghanistan Elections. This will never have an outcome in my judgement so now just the question of troop drawdown or redeployment. My thought was all US forces in AFGHANISTAN should be deployed on AF-PAK border because key issue is preventing that border being used to help destabilize Pakistan. By the way how is the demonstration invasion of Tribal Areas going? Any ethnic fallout?

  5. par4 says:

    ‘Unfair because you knew the truth’, says volumes about the modern American journalist. No wonder so much of the country is confused.

  6. Brad Ruble says:

    If the basic premise of an argument is false the whole argument is false. I still don’t know why we’re there. It still doesn’t make any sense.
    I’m sure these smart guys are condescending enough to ask people, both American and Afghan, what they think, but do they ever consider any answer they don’t like?
    What these people seem to be saying is their actions create reality and they have the power to make it so.
    They seem to be trying to make the people who live in Afghanistan into something they want instead of finding out what it is the people who live there want and then using that as a starting point.
    Isn’t this supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people? Do these smart guys ever consider the notion that if the American people don’t support it, it might not be such a good idea?

  7. John Badalian says:

    Colonel Patrick – Do you think – in President Obama’s daydreams or nightmares – that he fears that General McCrystal and/or Petreaus could well be his Republican opponent (s) in 2012? How much, if any, does this impact Obama’s decision-making?
    Thank you ! JB

  8. Richard Armstrong says:

    I do not, nor have I ever pretended to have any expertise or experience in fighting a guerilla war.
    What I do have is a vivid memory of Vietnam (where my father had two UH-1s shot out from under him) and of the Soviet’s years in Afghanistan.
    Neither effort worked out very well for the occupiers.
    Afghanistan is not a country in the usual sense. Rather it is a geolgraphic area where multiple diverse peoples occupy regions they consider to be their homes.
    We would be wise to recall Kipling’s advise to the British soldier.
    “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.”

  9. Patrick Lang says:

    I think that is too soon. 2016 would be more like it if their wars go well for them. pl

  10. Richard Armstrong says:

    Apologies to all for a second comment.
    Try this little thought experiment…
    If Al Qaeda (sp?) was no longer a force of any substance in Afghanistan would the United States invade that country just to engage the “Taliban”.
    “Taliban” being the media’s shorthand to describe any tribesman that fights the invaders (the United States and NATO).
    Would we?
    I think not.
    We didn’t do a darned thing when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan as it just wasn’t any of our business.
    So what if Afghanistan becomes a “failed state”. A “failed state” is not necessary for terrorist to use to plan attacks on the United States. Unless you consider Kansas to be a “failed state”.
    As an Oklahoman I recall that 168 Oklahomans (some that I personally knew) were killed by a terrorist that planned and began the execution of his terrorist act from the “failed state” of Kansas.
    Windows in my building were shattered by the blast and our parking garage was designated as a temporary morgue.
    Because a “terrorist” used a “failed state” to plan and execute his act.
    Perhaps the United States should have invaded Kansas.
    Side note: None of the survivors of the Murrah building attack ever asked for nor received any “compensation” from the Federal Government for their losses.
    I guess that Okies are made of sterner stuff than the folks in New York.
    The following picture shows where my Credit Union used to stand.

  11. VietnamVet says:

    You must have a pipeline into the White House. The Afghanistan War will continue with the minimum force necessary to prevent a collapse; once again, Special Forces will continue to try to keep it all hung together, with too few men.
    Denial is a powerful human condition. Myself, I keep denying I am a Senior Citizen. Denial is the official motto of the Washington government and media. Judy Woodruff and Nina Totenburg attacked Mathew Hoh’s position on the Afghanistan War for his immaturity and being no more than the Xerox guy at the Kabul embassy, a 36 year old ex-Marine Captain with Iraq combat service!
    The United States was blessed with leaders during and after WWII who vowed never to repeat the mistakes of that WWI, George C Marshall and Dwight D Eisenhower. They made Americans the good guys. The leaders who saw Vietnam service fell flat on their faces, throwing out the Powell Doctrine to service the Military Industrial Complex [except in the 21st century the industry is being outsourced out of the USA].
    Now is the time to discuss and decide how to deal with radical Islam emerging out of the Hindu Kush Mountains into Pakistan, Russia and China. But, the US politicians need the slush money being dispensed by war profiteers to continue the war. Instead of drone attacks and free fire zones, quarantine and withdrawal of foreign troops is the only realistic option.
    Today’s Washington Post has articles on the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nowhere do the articles mention that the cause and driving force of the uprising was the Germans determination to end the Russian occupation. Are the Afghans less than the Germans or will they resist the foreign occupation until the last Christian soldiers leave their land?

  12. N. M. Salamon says:

    with the present finacial, unemployment and underemployment scene, methinks that the warmongers are reaching the point of totally PI**Sing of the population at large. This nonsense of blowing money on wars and DoD might indeed start a popular movement to fight all appropriation for such causes, and devote the funds to the homeland. Such an occurance has greater propability if the public option turns out to be nothing of substance!
    With Mr Obama’s popularity falling all he needs is a continuous failure to take the side of the downtrodded after the overwhelming help offered to the bastards at wall street. I would not like to have his shoes then!

  13. Jackie says:

    Thanks for the Kipling verse. As enlightening now as then. Personally, I think we should get the heck out of there.
    As a Kansan, I don’t remember living in a “failed state” in 1994-95 when the Murrah Building bombing was being plotted. I don’t recall the plotter being from around this part of the U.S., but I think I get your point.
    As to the Buddahs of Bamiyan, I remember being beside myself in February-March of 2001 because nothing was being done to stop the destruction.

  14. ked says:

    I don’t recall instances (in experience or review of our history) where we avoided the objective examination of US National Security assumptions & biases as we have witnessed since the Iraq invasion. In decision-making, it has become our standard operating procedure (& here I thought that education went down the tubes only in recent decades…).
    There are many factors that conspire to ruin a civilization (usually, a number play at once). Consistant & prolonged denial of reality as it stares us squarely in the face must be one of the most salient. Are the players in DC agreed that there is no point in speaking “truth to people”?
    We seem mired between stupidity & cupidity.

  15. par4 says:

    Col. and JB this country usually elects successful Generals that have won decisively in battle. These quagmires haven’t provide that. Of course I might be discounting the power of the modern spin machine too much.

  16. TO JB and par4! Petreaus may will be the VP on Republican ticket. Only question is whether the Republicans will be using their “Who lost China?” refrain for a new location. And of course now that with the exception of Carter who won because Ford pardoned Nixon before rather than after the election, and Clinton who won twice because of Perot over Republicans, and guess what we now pretty well know that black turnout at 90% of the 16 % of black voters who turned out voted for OBAMA while according to WAPO 57% of whites voted for McCain. That history probably reinforces ifs don’t count but looking at China since the Nixon-Kissinger opening in 1972, the total deference to Chinese desires and interest and willingness to play into Chinese strategy long and short term means that history will document that China was allowed largely by the Republicans to become the leader of the E.Asian condominium as I label it and will be in a positon by 2050 to assert themselves anywhere they want and veto other nations actions. And by the way the next MOON landing will be by the Chinese before 2020 and surprise surpise US will not be back anytime soon as we relied on a space shuttle and space station that concentrated on near earth orbit. Personally I expect perhaps not in my lifetime since almost the biblical three score and 10 to see it but occupation of the MOON by Chinese and further exploration will occur this century. As someone quipped about the future of microbiology–today it consists of old Jewish men transmitting everything they know to young ethnic Chinese women. This is not sexist is politically correct because in fact it is reality. Just check undergrad, graduate and doctoral degrees in microbiology. Hey the Chinese “get it” and guess what “we don’t.” Sorry to be so cynical at such a young age.

  17. Mike says:

    I would argue that a/the central problem facing U.S. planners at this time is that we are as a nation fundamentally ambivalent about how we regard the Afghan Taliban’s status as an enemy of our country. As long as we are are not clearly convinced of that status (as we were of that of Nazis, Japanese soldiers, Viet Cong, Chinese communists in Korea, and now Al Qaeda), we will not have the will to defeat them, and as such we will certainly leave them intact as a force in Afghan politics, however long we stay ther.

  18. Muzaffar says:

    You may like your readers to read this article written by someone who knows
    the area, born and lived there. He was the Chief Secretary of NWFP at one time.

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