The whole issue of counterinsurgency as a doctrine and method is alive and well after the successful application of the resurrected doctrine in Iraq. This is an old, old doctrine in the US Army. It was thoroughly worked out in the 20th Century and successfully applied in many places by the US as it had been by the British and Frinch as well. This idea will be anathema to many, but classic counterinsurgency doctrine has always been a "winner." Logical thinkers should come to grips with the idea that France won in Algeria and America won in Vietnam employing this doctrine only to have public opinion at home and resulting political decision turn away from the fruits of victory. "Stab in the back?" "Nous sommes trahis? No, but the truth is that these counterinsurgency campaigns were won and then the results were negated by poliitcal action at home. Do I feel bad about that? Yes. The sacrifice of my comrades cries out to me, but democracy decides. We must accept that.
Most of the "scholarship" about Vietnam is drivel. If you want to fight me over what you think happened there, I am waiting.
President Obama seems inclined to follow a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan with its concomittant "investments" in a large "shield" of coalition conventional combat forces behind which a massive "nation building" investment and advisory activity on the model of CORDS takes place.
General McKiernan, an honest and disinterested man, said yesterday that reinforcements sent to Afhanistan should be expected to be there for at least five years. Given the relative absence of educated human resources, physical infrastructure and institutional sophistication in Afghanistan I think that "five years" is a serious unerestimate.
It also appears that Pakistan would serve as the "sanctuary" for the varied Islamist forces that would face us in the long COIN war in Afghanistan. Are we seeking to replicate Vietnam?
The United States is a poor country now, We did that to ourselves. Who can say what kind of economic condition we will see in a few years down the road? We would need a larger ground force to fight and sustain a COIN war on the roof of the world. How much farther should we push the endurance of the brave and selfless people who carry the real burden of all wars, the soldiers and their families?
Do we want to fight a COIN war in Afghanistan, or do we want to forget about the welfare of the Afghans and turn to the methods of using one group of potential enemies against another to protect ourselves?
I heve been involved in both. I wrote the "post' below in 2005.
I wrote the post quoted below on 26 August, 2005. At that time there had begun to be talk around Washington in neocon circles of reviving the 20th Century French inspired counterinsurgency doctrine known as the "Oil Spot Method." This method, worked out in the "school of hard knocks" in Indochina and Algeria essentially holds that it is control of the population that is the right goal in a revolutionary war situation and that combat operations are merely a "means" to that "end." In pursuit of that goal the development of the civil communities in the country and their self-perceived welfare has first priority. This is not to say that police and combat action will be especially benign during his process. In extremis, the theory would hold that negative methods of control will suffice if positive ones are not possible. The awfulness of what happened in the Casbah of algiers in the mid-50s is an example.
We attempted to apply that doctrine in the 20th Century with success in some places and failure in others. Vietnam was the most spectacular failure at the national level.
Nevertheless, it should be said that our local attempts at the application of this method from 1967 on in Vietnam met with a good deal of success.
Yesterday, Condoleeza Rice appeared before the Congress to announce that we will adopt the strategy of putting civil/military teams of advisers in the field in Iraq. They will be called "Province Reconstruction Teams." I presume that this is CORDS come again. CORDS worked in that it took control of much of the countryside away from the GUERRILLAS (as opposed to the North Vietnamese Army). I was in a position to see the system as a whole across the country. It was impressive, but it was massive, and it was designed to "work" over a long period of application. This will be interesting.
("Counterinsurgency=Political Warfare+Civic Action+Counterguerrilla operations." Roger Trinquier and Bernard Fall)
"Brooks on Vietnam and Iraq
This evening David Brooks of the New York Times offered the opinion that in Vietnam our Army "At last" got it right at the end of the war and began to concentrate on what the French used to call the "oil spot" technique (tache de huile) in which one secures inhabited villages, towns, etc. and gradually expands the area of control into the spaces between until the oil spots meet and, voila! No more guerrilas. The French fastened on this method through the efforts of some very bright and creative French officers, most notably, Colonel Roger Trinquier as expressed in his masterpiece, "Modern War" (La Guerre Moderne) which was required reading in 1964 at the "US Army Special Warfare School's" "Counterinsurgency Staff Officer" course.
This theory worked quite well for the French in Indochina and Algeria. They essentially defeated the guerrillas in both countries, but lost the wars anyway. In Vietnam they lost to the main field forces of the Viet Minh who were a real army with regiments, divisions, uniforms, artillery, tanks ,etc. The French chose to fight their war in Indochina "on a shoestring" and in the big battles, like Dien Bien Phu, they were often badly outnumbered and outgunned. In Algeria, the French Army eventually pacified most of the country, but after a quiet couple of years, DeGaulle was elected and made the wise political decision to leave Algeria. He felt that the time had passed for such things as "Algerie Francaise." He was right.
Why do I know so much about the "oil spot" method? I know because it also worked for us in Vietnam. I worked there in the application of this method. I am not sure what year Brooks thinks was "at the end of the war," but from 1967 on the US was busy trying to apply this method under the control of the major part of the US Mission called "Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support" (CORDS). This organization united; USAID, military training groups at all levels, Agricultural, Educational, Civil Police, Medical, etc. into one effort with a consolidated national, regional, provincial, and district planning and operations policy. I worked at the District and Provincial levels. This project continued until US forces completed their withdrawal process under Nixon's Vietnamization Policy" in early 1973. I was on one of the last planes to leave. By that time most of the heavily inhabited areas of the country were under government control. How it is that Brooks thinks that we adopted this kind of strategy late in the war is a mystery to me.
Like the French the US faced the main battle forces of the Viet Minh as well as local force guerrillas, and the shadow government that CORDS struggled with for control of the people. After gaining control of Tonkin in 1954-55 the Vietnamese communists had renamed themselves as a national army and so we knew them as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). It was the same army. The divisions and regiments which had fought the French at Na San in 1953 and Dien Bien Phu in 1954 fought us in our war. I remember talking to PWs captured by us who had actually been in the same units at DBP.
We brought our main forces into the country in the mid 60s to meet the very real threat to our early pacification programs posed by the introduction of the NVA regular army into South Vietnam. As a result our regular forces fought the NVA's regular forces all over the country out in the woods where the civilian population was pretty thinly scattered. In 1965-1967 it was "force on force" in the "Iron Triangle," "The Ashau Valley, "The Michelin Rubber Plantation" and similar places. From 1967 on the job of "heavy" US forces was to fight the NVA in SUPPORT OF the strategy that Brooks thinks was adopted "at the end of the war." People like me who were located in Vietnamese towns and villages out in the country depended for our lives on the shield provided by US Regular units who would come to our rescue if the NVA attacked in strength. That happened a lot because they were not happy with what we were doing.
Unfortunately for the NVA we (and the South Vietnamese) were neither outnumbered nor outgunned. Throughout the period under discussion we had something over half a million men in country and the South Vietnamese had about 350,000 troops in units that varied greatly in quality. As a result, the enemy found themselves in a losing situation in which they could rarely win engagements against our side if our main forces were engaged. The only situations in whch they could prevail were fights against isolated units and in particular against small groups of CORDS advisers and their Vietnamese allies in the border regions. How did we lose the war in the end? We lost in the same way that the French lost in Algeria. People at home got tired of the whole thing and pulled the financial and military support plugs. After a couple of years of "peace" under the armistice of 1972, the North Vietnamese government decided to test the system. They attacked and captured a provincial capital on the Cambodian border (Phuoc Binh). It fell and the reaction of the US media and Congress was to immediately declare that under no circumstances would ANY assistance be given to the South Vietnamese. Collapse then followed. There were NO American forces or advisers in the country then. There had not been for a long time.
Is this Vietnam example applicable in some way to Iraq? Not really, not at present strengths in Iraq. In Iraq we do not have the forces to go out and provide the needed protection for isolated coalition "development" teams all over the country. Neither do we have the policy generated structure to provide integrated teams of experts to occupy a large number of towns on a permanent basis. If we want to do that we will have to organize such an effort and put it in in place. It will be a major additional commitment. At the same time we will have to remember that these scattered groups will be very vulnerable and will need the the prospect of reinforcement by US Army or Marine units within a couple of hours. All this implies a very different deployment, a different commitment, and a lot more troops.
Can we pacify the country that way? Yes, we can if we are willing to pay the price in assets and invlovement over four or five years. The answer is also dependent on whether the various Iraqi groups do not start "competing" to see who can ask us to leave first.
In the meantime, David Brooks needs to do some more reading
– The vietnamese doesn’t have al qaeda (ie. the vietnamnese learns how to fight and develop tactics durig battle) In Iraq, at least in some area Al qaeda operative learns a great deal from afghanistan experiance and they implement it in Iraq. Notice Fallujah/Ramadi spreading pattern, attack timings, the use of populace movement to destabilise neighboring cities, use of religious centers, etc.
– in vietnam we can destroys village or clear jungles and nobody would notice. In Iraq desert landscape and current sattelite technology however, such bombing will raise serious international questions.
– Also, unlike vietnam where villages can sustain itself via farming. In Iraq series of major cities will collapse if we detroy one city in the middle. So if we destroy/isolate a city, the neighboring cities food/gas/civilian supplies will be affected. Instant insurgency potentials.
– Also, unlike vietnam, where we are initially are welcome and have relatively large population support. In Iraq we have no population support left. Saddam already running anti US propaganda years before this invasion. (proof: how quickly we form green zone type of bunker)
more musing and arm chair general.
If we look at these two charts, I have to conclude we don’t control the war rythm. (ie. somebody else is dictating the overall pace of attacks. It’s April-november-ish pattern)
Hadn’t gone through Rice’s comments yet before i saw this. Googled Province Reconstruction Teams, found this AID explanation of what they are from Afghanistan. http://www.usaid.gov/locations/asia_near_east/afghanistan/PRT_7-18-05_alj.pdf
Does indeed sound like CORDs: “… their goal is to strengthen the reach and enhance the legitmacy of the government through improved security and facilitation of reconstruction and development efforts.”
Arm chair general moment again. And I think this is are ideas that people better watch out when we start talking about attacking Iran.
I was wondering: What does it take to choke strait of Hormuz? Can the iranian do it on the cheap and make it so effective that we simply has no way of defeating them quickly enough.
1. unmodified jet ski has range about 100 miles. and the strait of hormuz is only 40miles across. Do the math what this $8000 a pop critter can do (what we gonna do? launch antiship missiles against a guy zipping around on jet ski?)
2. with cheap floating aluminium thanks, The iranian can flood the entire strait with light infantry on jet skis equipped with various weapons designed for land battle on water. (we are toast. we don’t know how to protect our ship against anti tank weapons) With refueling pods jet skis practically rules the strait.
3. Banana float towed by jetskis can be deadly. (or aluminium floats or oil steels drum) Fill these things with high explosive, electronics and decoys and we got poors man surface mine (and how much does it cost to make several hundred thousands of these puppies? chump change)
4. So then come the question what the Iranian will do to plug the Hormuz strait to stop aircrat carrier and submarines? (sink in old oil rigs and parks several old LNG tankers)
….Hey, my back envelop calculation says, I can stop the entire US navy from protecting the strait of Hormuz for … $ 150-250 millions plus about 10,000 men. Who needs world class navy if you can have a band of half runk tourists with rocket launchers?
One word: Yikes.
Great Blog, Col. Lang!
I visited today via Wolcott, but have watched you many times on the Newshour.
fabulous topics; you’re so bookmarked!
Pat, enjoy your posts. Regarding the ‘criminalization of politics,’ I think you’ll concur with our recent post about that.
Different mechanism at work in Iraq vs. Vietnam. These groups aren’t trying to demonstrate that they can govern. They are fracturing the country to force dissolution. Additionally, systems sabotage will make it easy to disrupt any attempt at returning pacified sections of Iraq to “normal” life.
~~~Clearing the Strait of Hormuz is the kind of thing the US is good at. It is counterinsurgency that we don’t fo well. pl
Posted by: | 20 October 2005 at 10:36 AM ~~~
yeah somebody points that out to me in other board. (was arguing with a friend)
The Shipboard Deployable Surface Target (SDST) — also known as “Roboski” — provides an enhanced gunfire training capability against highly maneuverable, high speed surface targets. As such, Roboski offers an inexpensive, expendable target for Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection small arms training and supports 76mm, 5-inch/54caliber, and Phalanx CIWS training. SDST’s are presently maintained by the Fleet Composite Squadron Six (VC-6), COMFIFTHFLT, COMSEVENTHFLT, and the Southern California Offshore Range Extension (SCORE) in support of COMTHIRDFLT. SDST was used for gunfire training in the Arabian Gauntlet exercise.
I assume the term “assets” includes the lives of U.S. soldiers.
The American people were Big Lied into this war. Once that fact hits home, as hit home it soon will, they will not stand for a long haul commitment to test anyone’s theory of waging war. And if those who contend otherwise say different, then I’d counter by challenging them to reinstitute a draft. That’d clear things up in a big hurry.
On August 26, 2005, on the “Political Wrap” section of The Newshour With Jim Lehrer
New York Times columnist David Brooks said the following incredible things:
“[President George W. Bush has] got to address the issue about winability. And he’s got to show what we learned in Vietnam, which was how to fight an insurgency. At the end of Vietnam, we actually got reasonably good at it using a strategy we haven’t even tried here.”
and . . .
“So I hope the president would take a look at what [Senator Chuck] Hagel said and say, okay, in Vietnam they learned how to fight an insurgency, let’s learn from our experience, which we haven’t done at all.”
Now, I have no idea whatsoever where David Brooks gets his information about Vietnam. When I left the southern part of that temporarily divided, devastated, corrupt sewer (if not whorehouse) of a “country” in January of 1972, I knew of no “successes” or “learning” such as David Brooks seems to have invented out of his own fantastic imagination. I do realize that Brooks has to “justify” the current American quagmire in Iraq out of abject loyalty to George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and the neoconservative cabal of Likudnik fellow travelers who lied and schemed our country into yet another unmitigated disaster for oil, Israel, and domestic political aggrandizement. Still, to try and do the “justifying” by recreating the Vietnam War as some sort of misunderstood “success,” simply beggars the imagination. David Brooks doesn’t know doodley-squat about either Vietnam or Iraq — and his stupid comments reveal a depth of intellectual innocence almost beyond sounding.
Before shipping out in July of 1970 to do my own little bit of “Vietnamizing” of some Vietnamese, I attended eight months of intensive language training at DLIWC (Monterey) and then endured eleven weeks of Counter Insurgency School at Coronado Island, San Diego. So, I learned to tell North Vietnamese dialect from South Vietnamese dialect from Hue dialect, and so forth. I read Bernard Fall about the French in Indochina; studied the geography, flora, fauna, and history of Southeast Asia, and so forth. I learned a lot of stuff before I went to Vietnam and found that almost none of it had prepared me for what I soon discovered:
A great many people had lied to me about a great many really important things.
I basically served six months at the Naval Training Center at Cam Ranh Bay (where I seldom saw any Vietnamese trainees) and then a year at an isolated forward river support and supply base two kilometers from the southern tip of the country. I hardly ever saw any Vietnamese trainees there, either. I did see a lot of “controlled” countryside defoliated and depopulated by the South Vietnamese government and its American military patron. In travelling through the main cities of the Mekong Delta, I saw “controlled” populations of refugees driven off their land by the spraying and bombing so that they could only live squalid impoverished lives in stinking refugee slums on the outskirts of the towns. Some “control.”
In any event, the National Liberation Front forces just filtered into the local slums along with the “controlled” refugees. Then they organized, planned, and blew up most of the important towns whenever they found it convenient to do so: like during the Tet Offensive of 1968 or after the final American withdrawal in 1975.
I also learned that the South Vietnamese government distrusted its own army and navy to such an extent that the various, musical-chairs cliques in Saigon kept rotating their transplanted North Vietnamese Catholic officers around and among their South Vietnamese Buddhist conscripts so as to keep everyone so confused and weakened that no military worth a damn could unite and overthrow the government in a coup. A tried and true strategy to Divide and Conquer — themselves. The same dynamic applies in Iraq today, I believe. The “Iraqi government” (i.e., the bunker-dwelling Shiite-Kurdish Alliance) and its American military patron have no desire whatsoever to reconstitute the Iraqi “Army” because if it did, that “Army” would simply overthrow the government and sieze power in a coup. Hence the Dividing and Conquering of the Iraqis themselves — with the cynical and complete connivance of Iraq’s American military patron. Some “standing up.”
America — and especially its bureaucratic military — never learned how to “successfully” do “counter insurgency” because America has never even learned how to master its own military bureaucracy. Parkinson’s Law states that work — if not America’s way of war — expands to fill the time alloted for its completion. Thus, our military keeps talking about decades of “necessary” war. No timeline, no termination. Just war expanding to fill the endless time allowed for it to never complete. The Peter Principle states that in a hierarchy everyone sooner or later rises to his level of incompetence. So an endless war offers all the time needed for the incompetents to regenerate their numbers. Both these implacable — and fatally debilitating — laws of bureaucratic bungling apply in spades to the bloated, inept American military leadership of thirty years ago and today. We have in Iraq what we had in Vietnam because we have the same type of people (OK, the “Best and Brightest” then and the “Worst and Dullest” now) who tried in Vietnam what we’ve tried again in Iraq: namely, the needless and the impossible with the insufficient for the unconcerned. Or, as one of our Vietnam War slogans had it back then:
“We are the unwilling led by the unqualified to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful.”
David Brooks apparently considers the tragic farce in Vietnam some kind of “successful” “learning” that America might just apply to Iraq. America learned nothing from the failed American War on Vietnam, as the currently failed American War on Iraq conclusively demonstrates; and if David Brooks has his way, America won’t learn the necessary lessons from its failed War on Iraq, either. The perpetuation of needless imperial war simply has too many invested American constituents, both civilian and military, and they have plenty of people like David Brooks to shill for their interests.
If we didn’t learn all this the last time around, what makes anyone think we’ll do any better this time? Bah! Humbug!
Micheal Murry – WOW!
For Curious, I think you overestimate the ease at which SOH could be closed and underestimate the ability of our ships to protect themselves and fight (even unconventionally) in the Arabian/Persina Gulf. Despite the best efforts of many in 1980-88 War, the oil kept flowing. Closing SOH is tough. Closing it in a covert way probably tougher.
As an addendum to my comments on the August 26, 2005 edition of The Newshour’s “Political Wrap” segment in which I criticized David Brook’s reactionary revisionism vis-a-vis the American War on Vietnam, I’d like to mention, as well, some remarks made by Thomas Oliphant on the most recent October 21, 2005 version of that same regular program feature.
Oliphant (substituting for the absent Mark Shields) listened to Brooks’ usual equivocating about the “process” and the “progress” in Iraq and then said, summarily:
“[But] what keeps happening is the violence and the deaths, the uncertainty about what the cost is, and there is an element … that is important to bring up here. And that is [the Bush Administration’s War on Iraq] comes with an open-ended commitment. And it’s not clear to me politically that this country can sustain an open-ended commitment at this level of violence and cost.”
My even shorter summary: America can’t afford its War on Iraq.
In support of Oliphant’s trenchant comments, Jim Lehrer referred to similar views expressed by Zbigniew Brzezinski (National Security Adviser to President Carter) on a previous Newshour segment two days earlier entitled: “THE FUTURE OF U.S. POLICY IN IRAQ” (October 19, 2005).
Brzezinski essentially debunked the idea that America can speak of “progress” in Iraq “only in the sense that they’re doing what we want them to do.” Most importantly, Brzezinski spoke a truth almost never encountered in American discussions of Iraq:
“This is a very serious nation with a sense of pride. This is not a colony anymore.”
America tried and failed to intervene in the Chinese Civil War of 1945-1949 because America considered the Chinese in need of American instruction as to how that ancient people should govern themselves. “In the end,” wrote historian Barbara Tuchman, “China went her own way as if the Americans had never come.”
America tried to intervene in the Vietnamese anti-colonial War of Independence (taking over from the French in 1954) and in the end, nearly twenty years later, Vietnam went her own way as if the Americans had never come.
Brzezinski and Oliphant have made the proper points. (1) The Iraqi people don’t need America’s confused and destructive instruction on how to govern themselves any more than the Chinese or Vietnamese did; and (2) America cannot afford the bloody, brutal costs of its puerile and pathological attempt to teach one of the world’s great grandmothers how to suck eggs.
Michael Murry says: “My even shorter summary: America can’t afford its War on Iraq.”
America also can’t afford it’s war in Afganistan.
America also can’t afford a new war in Iran.
America also can’t afford the high costs of the D.H.S.
America also can’t afford the cost of it’s huge military.
America must get back to basics. That would be educating it’s citizens and fostering the conditions that let them find constuctive employment.
Excuse me….could someone cast some light?
1. what precisely is the US mission in Afghanistan?
2. what vital (repeat vital) US (repeat US) national interests are at stake in Afghanistan?
3. please answer 1 and 2 coherently.
I do not see what vital national interests the US has in flea-bitten primative tribals in the “top of the world.” Nor do I see what vital national interests are at stake in Kabul and the Valley, for that matter.
Social engineering Afghanistan via COIN…uhm…please explain the US mission and the reason (vital national interest) for the mission.
Fall…good reading. I will leaf through this evening my copy of A. M. Savani (chef de Bataillon), Visage et Images du Sud Viet-Nam (Saigon: Impr. Francaise d’outre mer, 1955). “La lutte armee a pris fin. Mais si le canon s’est tu, si la menace de destruction, de misere et de mort ne pese plus sur la riziere feconde et sure les villages de paillotes tapis a l’ombre des bosquets, le visage et les images que cet ouvrage presente n’ont pas change….”
History? Which military history? I suggest a close examination of the Sikh-Afghan Wars as relevant to the matter at hand…Maharaja Ranjit Singh and all that.
Two questions for anyone who cares to answer.
1) Why did South Vietnam loose the war? Even without American forces they had plenty of equipment and training. And yet they collapsed right away. What did North Vietnam have that the south did not?
2) Assuming antiwar protesting had died off and the U.S. chose to continue fighting, how many more years would have been required to win and at what cost to the U.S. and to the Vietnamese?
The United States is a poor country now,
End of discussion.
It would behoove Obama to consider the benefits of COIN in Mexico before considering what may or m,ay not be feasible in Afghanistan.
The Afghan economy’s dependence upon opium distinguishes its situation from that of Vietnam.
As several generations of experience have demonstrated the United States is incapable of adopting a rational policy towards drugs and demonstrably is more prone to engage in bellicose posturing than in pragmatic action with respect to drugs and to those who use or deal in them.
Therefore, the United States in Afghanistan cannot be compared to France in Algeria or the United States in Vietnam.
Well, my first reaction is that you have, once again, cut to the chase, and posed the most axiomatic question for policymakers, in the midst of an Afghan rethink: Do we go the Vietnam route, knowing that we have a badly hollowed-out, but exceptionally motivated Army and Marine Corp; we do not have a draft; we do not have a viable economy; we do not have the mood of the American people for war, as evidenced by the GOP route in the 2008 elections; we do not have language-trained troops or the standup capacity to quickly train the volume of troops required.
I, for one, say that we must get off the slippery slope of a new Vietnam style counterinsurgency war, and look at viable alternatives. I believe the multiple review processes now underway at the Pentagon, at CENTCOM and at the White House all argue for an alternative. I hope that the blog will serve as a source of richly needed debate and input into the decision-making process–before it is too late. Timing of your clarion call could not have been more appropriate.
Well never was I in RVN or Iraq or Afghanistan. But did live most of my adult life in DC area. The basic problem as I see it over the next 5-10 years is how does the United States govern itself and then what influence does it have over a world collapsing into the disorder brought about by the “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street. I think it is time for basics.Internationally there is an extremely confined set of options for the US for the next decade. Unless the BRIC countries together with S. Africa can help pull the load for international stability there is a liklihood that most of the crippled but still functioning international organizations and even trade relationships will break down into the various nation states trying to protect themselves internationally and internally from this crisis. It is becoming clearer every day that the OBAMA administration does not have any kind of coherent international foreign policy or economic strategy. Okay so what happens? The essential corruption and weakness and ignorance of both houses of Congress is daily on display. Almost nothing is being done to reinforce the US sinews that still are strong, and instead pie-in-the-sky remedies are flocking to the fore. MY guess is all of the above will only be even more crystal clear by the end of 2009 or middle of 2010. I think Malcom Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” is increasing in evidence. PL agree that from one point of view COIN and US strategy/tactics in RVN were effective. But sanctuaries and determination of opponents finally wore down the US will. Why, on the street most people in US felt that 12 years of effort was enough to convince everyone else in the world that at least for that period of time you did not want to tangle with the US. Also, I think in Iraq it is not the surge but the internal realization of the Iraqi peoples and various religions that the one thing you need to know is milk the US for what it can so as to be on top when the US inevitably pulls out. Afghanistan is NOT a nation-state. Nor is Pakistan in many ways. Britain is about to adopt a new internal policy that Mullah’s arguing that Islam and democracy are antithetical will get a radically new approach by the government. I think the treatment of women under Islam is shameful and yet I think that the circumstances of the advancement of women in the US towards equality may be a key to our understanding or misunderstanding the rest of the world. Perhaps it is time that we call it as we see it. Religions that fail to renounce hate and violence are not really religions. Bankers that are fundamentally mired in a corrupt system don’t really deserve anything from the government. International organizations that are failed or almost failed need reform. Remember I am a fuzzy headed liberal but time to speak the truth about some issues. Since your post was about military policy–time to speak the truth there also. The military is mired in rank and perks and needs to be reoriented to pull the weight of the huge investment of the US in its military structure and support system. Let’s start with one small step–Any US government official or employee (military or civilian) cannot receive reimbursement for attending conferences where the conference sponsors are making money off the conference. These activities are nothing more than two-way indoctrination for attendees. If a government/military official is speaking on the record on a policy basis then that affair should be completely open to the press and the public for NO fee. The inside the beltway culture has to be changed. Daschle did not get it and now despite what is being said health care reform is dead in the first (maybe last) OBAMA administration. What the Republicans seem to get that the DEMS don’t is that the devil is in the details. OBAMA lack of experience and indecisiness is really beginning to tell. Example a month has gone by and no decision on FEMA in or out of DHS and no FEMA Administrator nominee. Why is this a tell-tale because even though not geared to do so, FEMA is at least a rung in the DOMESTIC CRISIS MANAGEMENT ladder. It also looks like the White House Personnel Office (as was Clinton’s during the first year-1993) totally in disarray. It is now all about which factions are going to control which policies in the Obama administration. Dealing with Afghanistan is very serious business. No signs yet that Obama is a serious person on the tough issues. The jump from street organizer to President may just be too far to avoid broken bones.
Well, Pat, I guess there is not much goodwill when it comes to the differentiation between tactics well employed and strategy poorly conceived. I have as much respect for you and others like Smedley Butler who organized on COIN principles throughout the years during foreign missions (including my late father who was an Army officer in the Philippines between 1944 and 1946)…
… but the central reality is that counterinsurgency and insurgency are really just two sides of the same “coin”: the human inclination toward cooperation for all the concrete reasons connected with culture and tradition, not abstractions like “democracy”, no matter how greatly we might value them as part of our political traditions and culture at home.
Now, I actually decided to contribute to this discussion after reading Lind this morning:
Two recent elections point to a grimmer reality. The first was in Iraq, for provincial councils. In Iraq as in most of the world, the question is neither whether elections were held nor who won. The question on which social order depends is who accepts the results of an election. If elections are to substitute for war, not only the winners but also the losers must accept their outcome. Losers must give up power, patronage — one of the very few local sources of money (often lots of it) — and possibly physical security as well, hoping for better luck next time, if there is a next time.
I suspect the odds of that happening in Iraq are small. The Washington Post recently quoted one U.S. officer who served as an adviser to Iraqi army units saying of Iraqi commanders, “When you got to know them and they’d be honest with you, every single one of them thought that the whole notion of democracy and representative government in Iraq was absolutely ludicrous.”
That quote was in a piece by Tom Ricks, the Post’s long-time defense correspondent, in the Sunday February 15 “Outlook” section. Rick’s goes on to say,
I don’t think the Iraq war is over yet, and I worry that there is more to come than any of us suspect…
Many of those closest to the situation in Iraq expect a full-blown civil war to break out there in the coming years. “I don’t think the Iraqi civil war has been fought yet,” one colonel told me.
So, I thank you and your comrades, Pat, for your service on the front lines over the years even if I still disagree with your suggestion that the larger mission was ‘winnable’ in any definitive sense… just as we must acknowledge the efforts, however ephemeral and imperfect, of those professionals who are on the ‘real’ front lines of the misnamed GWOT…
I too served in Vietnam in the closing years, and other places. The Colonel’s observations on Vietnam and COIN strategy are correct in my opinion.
Sarting with the Revolutionary war the American people’s patience for concluding a war has traditionaly only been 4 to 5 years MAX. Bush has used all of that time and political capital and in Iraq.
Politically, time is up. Rightly or wrongly if Obama tries a long term COIN operation in Afganistan. It will be a diaster. Let’s hope he gets wiser advice than did Bush.
‘Logical thinkers should come to grips with the idea that France won in Algeria and America won in Vietnam employing this doctrine only to have public opinion at home and resulting political decision turn away from the fruits of victory.’
I will be honest and say that this seems to me like the opinion of a military technician (or artist if you prefer) defending his technique (or art).
Yes, fair enough, the technique is a well-developed one which the US Army knows how to employ. But to say that it lead to victory in Algeria or Vietnam requires defining ‘winning’ as meaning something other than ‘achieving our war aims’. Which to a non-specialist like me seems (ahem) counter-intuitive.
Wars are always fought in a specific political setting. I don’t see how saying that the US could have won in Vietnam because the technique was right but there wasn’t the political will is different from saying that the Germans could have won in WWII if only their industrial policies had been different, or the English Channel had been narrower.
Geez Pat, get over it. When Ike sided with DeGaulle and stiffed Minh, ignoring the promises made for his efforts against the Japanese, we were toast in that part of the world. Remember SEATO and the prop aircraft, the On-Mark USAF B-26’s and how that didn’t work, nor did the Thuds up the same valley years later. We were not on the same side as the people who lived there. I had the short hair and your attitude until dawn, late April, 1971, on final approach to DaNang, viewing the fuel dump fires on the east side of the field; Charlie’s calling card and the reason I had to wait so long to land. And that Navy pilot had been in prison for seven years; I figured that was long enough. We supported the wrong guys.
We were way wrong to go into Iraq but it was a civilized country with a problem that could have been solved without a war. Afghanistan is not a civilized country and we have no business being there at all! I recall a friend, years ago, a MATS pilot explaining why the Afghans eat with only one hand (the other is the toilet paper) and now think of all those land mines that never get mentioned.
Wasn’t it Will Rogers that said something about “if you start a war 5000 miles from home you’re just looking for trouble.” Generals like war, but privates fight them, and civilians wind up paying for them forever.
But it all takes money, and we don’t have that anymore. To me the enemy is the Pentagon, and Ike covered that subject long ago. Unfortunately no one listened, and now I fear we have lost our way, probably forever.
You seem to have missed the point that this “artist” agrees that mere “victory” in a COIN war does not equal national triumph.
How did you miss that? pl
Maybe you should “get over” the kind of cultural bigotry that makes you want to write about how Afghans wipe their butts.
The “Pentagon is the enemy?”
Very clever. A profound thought. pl
My only beef is with al-Quaeda and not with the Taliban. Bush neglected the war on al-Quaeda and unfortunately chose to go after Saddam. He has now driven Iraq into the hands of the Mullahs in Qom. By taking his eye off the ball, Bush has been the midwife to the rebirth of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
My belief is that a counter-insurgency against the Taliban in Afghanistan would only be winnable if there were no Taliban in Pakistan. As long as they have that safe haven, then they cannot be eradicated. IF you give them a safe haven like we gave the North Vietnamese then you can never root them out. Air strikes will not do it, RPV Predator strikes will not do it, leaving it to the Pakistanis won’t do it. And our treasury cannot afford to put several American infantry divisions in the NWFP, the FATA, and Baluchistan.
I say give long-lasting support to the Northern Alliance and any other anit-Taliban groups. Also flood the tribal areas in Pakistan with HUMINT dollars to root out al-Quaeda. But why mess with the Taliban – let them bring their people back to the stone age as far as I am concerned. I personally find all religious fundamentalism distasteful, regardless of whether it is in the name of Mohamed, or Jesus, or Moses, or Shiva. As long as they do not ally themselves with al-Quaeda, let them beat their women and keep them ignorant and let them impose death penalties on beardless men and on music sellers. We do not need to be the policemen to the world. We cannot afford it. Bush has already shifted our tax burden to our children, if we pursue this course then our grandchildren and great grandchildren will be paying for it in 2050 and later.
This is essentially the problem with guerrilla wars in general, isn’t it?
With smart application of sufficient force, the “conventional army” can generally win counterinsurgency campaigns, but, in most cases, the value of military victory is outweighed by the costs (political and otherwise) and the lack of tangible benefits other than that of “victory.” So, guerrilas almost always (with a number of telling exceptions) wind up “winning” not because they “won,” but because their adversaries have run out of reasons to justify continued fighting, despite strings of military victories.
Mr Kiracofe says:
“1. what precisely is the US mission in Afghanistan?
2. what vital (repeat vital) US (repeat US) national interests are at stake in Afghanistan?”
Sometimes my girlfriend will ask me that question and sometimes I ask her, we’ve been asking each other for 7 years or so now.
Mr Kirkman says:
” Generals like war, but privates fight them, and civilians wind up paying for them forever.”
I don’t agree. My own take is that high up civilians like and start wars, Generals tell them what’s feasible and what isn’t – said civilians tell Generals what to do anyways, Privates on up to Generals fight the wars, and WE ALL pay for them in one way or another except the military folks just pay lots more.
“No country poses a greater potential threat to US national security than does Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake.” – Andrew Bacevich, retired Army colonel and professor of international relations.
And again, what is our strategy, President Obama?
If, as General McKiernan states, this is a 5 year commitment then it is time to put up or shut up. As the neocons, couch commandos and other pledge of allegiance patriots like to remind us, ‘freedom isn’t free’. It is time for all of us to agree with them and demand that President Obama pass a ‘War on Terror’ tax. Just a modest 20% of the gross income for all inside the beltway millionaire columnists (like Brooks), TV and radio commentators, corpoarte lobbyists and Wall Street traders. Obama can add a nice touch by signing this bill in Arlington National Cemetery and issuing his signing statement (with something nice and biblical, like Luke 12:48) in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
A question: Isn’t our bottom line strategy in the Afghan war to deny that territory and/or any parts of the population to be utilized for purposes of plotting and acting against the US and others? If so, what is the least costly and most efficient way to do this?
Please advise. I make no claim to being either a participant expert or policy expert. Yet it seems to me that the complexity of the problem is getting in the way of defining the core need and a coherent plan to obtain it, give “the best laid plans of men” problem.
I would agree that the COIN agenda was successful in both Vietnam and Iraq (or Algeria) only in so much as they, at best, represent a method of putting a whole people under military “lock down” – that temporarily stills the water the insurgent fishes swim in. If that water is not distilled through adequate, culture sensitive political reforms and compromise, then it remains a stagnant, if not a festering cesspool – so that when the lock down is removed, the original irritation is reopened with a vengeance. Given the failure rate of such interventions, they should not be undertaken unless they are willing to commit the lives, and treasure necessary to keep a population in lock down for an indefinite period of time. But more importantly, they should never be attempted unless an equal commitment toward long term political/cultural accommodation and resolution is also undertaken. If these neo-colonial expeditions were simply military operations, then we have been going to war armed with real weapons, and fake ammunition. Because as long as we continue to assume that the peoples of other cultures will automatically adopt our values over their own, we will continue to use one arm to cut off the other.
I think the economic situation in the USA will dictate our eventual plans for our adventures in Afghanistan. We do not have the time, political will nor a well rested military force to take on a prolonged COIN operation that will bring a solution to the problem that many cannot define.
My suggestion is to take 20% of the expected 5+ years COIN op cost and give it to our intel groups and let them define the outcome, then give them free rein. That means our troops can pull out leaving only those needed for logistical and operational purposes.
Maybe with a little creativity the Taliban can be turned to the task of eliminating Al Qaeda and its leaders.
Radical yes, but out of the box thinking is needed in these difficult times.
I will leave the military aspects to you (though I shudder when I consider the logistical challenges in that landlocked nation).
As you say, the military is subordinate to the political anyway. In Afghanistan, one of the over-arching political objectives was to demonstrate to the world that NATO could mount major expeditions outside its territory.
Bush poisoned this at the start with his detain-and-torture policy which hampered cooperation with the limp-wristed Old Europeans who thought human rights mattered.
Then, as the situation evolved into more of a fight, the restrictions on combat imposed by national governments became more of a problem.
The question now is: What combat forces are available to defend Kabul when the snows melt?
The credibility of the USA has been greatly tarnished. Now, the credibility (both political and military) of our chief alliance is on the line.
wow has it been 4 yrs? and so little has changed.
the biggest strategic changes are Iraq counter insurgency method and Iran has enough low enriched uranium (show more than enough capability to create nuke)
otherwise….nooooothiiiing has changed. gawww…
my over caffeinated brain opinion:
– why are we in afghanistan? The most honest answer: we have unfinished business with alqaeda.
– unfortunately, we are confusing taliban, afganistan, and muddle through with pakistan, fata, Iran, Russia, -stans, etc. very stupid. (some of these are no doubt because pentagon state dept, and politicos are penetrated by Israel to make sure US is eliminating israel’s rivals) anyway.
1. Al Qaeda. This is who we are at war with. Find out who, how they operate, how they function. (isn’t this an old problem by now?) hunt them down every single one of them. The primary people at least. Even if it takes the next 1000 years. This has to be done. They blow us up, we kill them all.
– Taliban. Simplistically, taliban is a social system, a movement. It is the social foundation of al qaeda. It is true that there are key people in it, but the key point is the “social system”. Unlike Al qaeda with definite group of people we want. (bad metaphor ahead) Think eradicating taliban like eradicating bad “teen fad”, shooting teenagers would hardly stop a fad, one has to observe how the ‘fad functions culturally (the idea, the dissemination, why the idea is widely accepted), then one can maybe stop it. (this may even involve taking out key people, or closing down some school section and banning certain things.) but the big point, talibanism is a “cultural system”. Shooting bunch of peasants and bombing village won’t do much.
The problem of Al qaeda unfortunately will require:
– dealing with FATA (which is where talibanism thrive)
-dealing with Pakistan. (Fata, ISI, Pakistan slow economic and social implosion)
-creating functioning afghanistan government. (or else the vacuum will be filled with al qaeda version 2.0)
– dealing with all afghanistan neighbors. Iran-Russia-Pakistan-China. I think afghanistan-Pakistan stability are on everybody’s interest. More so than US. (refugees, opium, civil war, constant geopolitical instability)
-Specifically Iran. (nuclear Iran, Israel) Nuclear Iran is not our business. It’s their and Israel problem. If both want to blow each other up. who gives a shit. Realistically, neither Israel nor Iran will give up their nuke, and it just not making any sense from their point of view to give it up.
US primary concern is creating stability and viable state in Iraq and afghanistan. Therefore we should make a pragmatic deal with Iran. (We stop talking about nuke, unless you proliferate, you help us clean up afghanistan and Iraq mess) In general, we are not going to jump in bad, make grand bargain, or other dreamy proposals. But we simply won’t kill each other, leave everybody be, and stabilizes Iraq/afghanistan. We’ll talk more afterward (hey this mess will be long enough to make everybody sick)
Israel-Iran conflict. None of our business after Iraq/afghanistan are taken care off.
– how to hunt al qaeda?
– how to separate alqaeda/taliban?
– how to destroy taliban as social system?
– how to deal with fata? (pakistan social and economic problem?)
– how to create viable afghan government? (the entire thing, since everything has been destroyed from 40 yrs of civil war)
– how do you develop afghanistan?
– what policy should be created to tie diplomacy, trade, aids, military operation, etc. (and explaining to the nation, and let the rest of the world understand and play part too.)
.. and who is going to pay for all these?
why using too much herbicide is bad idea. (to eradicate opium, which pays for taliban operation/weapons)
A reliable genetic transformation protocol via somatic embryogenesis has been developed for the production of fertile, herbicide-resistant opium poppy plants. Transformation was mediated by Agrobacterium tumefaciens using the pCAMBIA3301 vector, which harbors the phosphinothricin acetyltransferase (pat) gene driven by a tandem repeat of the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter and the β-glucuronidase (gus) structural gene driven by a single copy of the CaMV 35S promoter between left- and right-border sequences. Co-cultivation of explants and A. tumefaciens was performed in the presence of 50 μM ATP and 50 μM MgCl2. Root explants pre-cultured on callus induction medium were used for transformation. Herbicide-resistant, proliferating callus was obtained from explants on a medium containing both 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 6-benzyladenine (BA). Globular embryogenic callus, induced by removal of the BA from the medium, was placed on a hormone-free medium to form somatic embryos, which were converted to plantlets under specific culture conditions. Plantlets with roots were transferred to soil, allowed to mature and set seed. Both pat and gus gene transcripts, and PAT and GUS enzyme activities were detected in the transgenic lines tested. Histochemical localization of GUS activity in T1 opium poppy plants revealed transgene expression in most tissues of all plant organs. The protocol required 8-12 months to establish transgenic T1 seed stocks and was developed using a commercial opium poppy cultivar that produces high levels of pharmaceutical alkaloids.
Yes, if the US puts in about 200,000 combat troops into the Pashtun area, it can conduct a successful COIN operation. Provided, of course, it can also afford the five years and half-trillion dollars that will be needed for this success to be achieved. Then, when it hands over the country to the Afghan government, the Taliban will come back. South Vietnam lasted about a couple of years after the US pullout. Najibullah, the successor left behind by the Soviets, lasted about three years. Karzai or his successor would do well to last a couple of years. (Note: the Taliban will take over the Pashtun area, not the whole of the country – at least initially).
Then – Surprise! Surprise! – the USA will discover that the Taliban has no intention – never had – of waging jihad against the US or the West. Their jihad was (is) to recover their lands from a foreign occupier and its proxies. But, while all the US’s efforts and attention had been focussed on Afghanistan, jihad central will have established itself in Pakistan – not the tribal borderlands but the country’s heartland. No COIN solution there.
It is truly depressing to see the new administration blundering down this path. But what can you expect when policy in that area is to be fashioned and executed by someone who considers the people who did 9/11 and Mumbai and Swat as one lot! (Richard Holbrooke on PBS – Feb 18). Ably seconded by a political general like Petraeus, keen to win fresh laurels in Afghanistan before his supposed success in Iraq fizzles out. Supported by a chorus of NATO chickenhawks who probably couldn’t find Afghanistan on the map.
Maybe we should let the Afghans work it out for themselves, and not again let the honor of the Americans who serve be abased by the dishonor of those who send them.
Today gold topped 1000 dollars an ounce. Citibank and Bank of America shares dropped thirty percent. Steve Clemons tells us that he pulled his FDIC insured deposits from Bank of America. No point in risking getting tied up in a nationalization of a bank. Paul Volker says the world economy is falling faster than in the Great Depression.
That’s today. That COIN ‘worked’ in Vietnam or Algeria is perhaps not the main issue before us. My own feeling is that Vietnam was the Great Misdirection. From which we have never recovered. Or been permitted to recover.
In any case, we are in very very deep trouble, and worrying much about Afghanistan might not be in our best interests.
Perhaps we should come home.
Not to be repetitive, but Afghanistan?
The kool-aid pourers gave us delusions of the threat of radical Islam, while capitalism unleashed was giving us this:
Never fear, Volker tells us that “capitalism will survive”:
Whether most of the readers of this blog will, in anything like the way they had in mind, remains to be seen.
I will try again.
This “Dolchstoss-Legende” stuff about Vietnam can only be explained by US inside politics – not by facts on the ground in Vietnam. The US never “won” in Vietnam. This is Wikipedia’s summing up of the end-game:
“The communist leaders had expected that the ceasefire terms would favor their side. But Saigon, bolstered by a surge of U.S. aid received just before the ceasefire went into effect, began to roll back the Vietcong. The communists responded with a new strategy hammered out in a series of meetings in Hanoi in March 1973, according to the memoirs of Trần Văn Trà. As the Vietcong’s top commander, Trà participated in several of these meetings. With U.S. bombings suspended, work on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and other logistical structures could proceed unimpeded. Logistics would be upgraded until the North was in a position to launch a massive invasion of the South, projected for the 1975-76 dry season. Trà calculated that this date would be the Hanoi’s last opportunity to strike before Saigon’s army could be fully trained. A three-thousand-mile long oil pipeline would be built from North Vietnam to Vietcong headquarters in Loc Ninh, about 75 miles (121 km) northwest of Saigon.”
You do not “win”, when you negotiate a ceasefire to withdraw and the enemy to regroup.
Frankly, I would compare the situation the US is in now comparable to the situation the USSR was in under Gorbatchev. And it is sublime irony that, again, the turning point will be Afghanistan.
I suspect it will soon be apparent that the initial question should be: ‘Can we, from an financial perspective, fight a COIN War (or any other kind, as well)in Afghanistan?’ Depending on the answer we could move on to the “should we”. I suspect the answer to the first question will be ‘no, we can’t afford it’. To do otherwise will distract us, and hinder us, from dealing with the coming financial crisis and the coming environmental crisis.
No, we should not fight a COIN campaign based on my limited understanding of the subject. COIN implies a Top-Down strategy against a rebellion. We should use some tools from COIN, but there is no central government to support from what I can tell.
What we have in Afghanistan is a free-for-all at the bottom with Kabul playing the role as a singular city-state. So we must use a Bottom-Up strategy where we turn sets of villages against the Taliban and work our way up to regions, then call it quits and leave. Don’t even try to unite the regions in Kabul.
There, I solved the world’s problems before breakfast.
Mexico WHICH IS ON OUR BORDER is in a free fall and increased violence is spreading and will spread and spill into the US at an accelerating pace.
Frankly, I should think sentient beings (there may be some left) in the US have had enough of the fairy tales about Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The OBVIOUS reason we are out in Central Asia etc. is owing to the US foreign policy establishment’s love affair with our very own Polish Geopolitician: Zbig Brzezinski. Just read the neo-Mackinder drivel in his “The Grand Chessboard” (New York: Basic Books, 1997) and ask yourself whether or not the main lines of policy here were that of Clinton-Bush. Obama too? On vera.
Why not let Pakistan and Afghanistan both become part of Wahhabi-land with the Saudis picking up the tab? Deobandi-Wahhabis can run Pakistan and the Taliban-Wahhabis can run Afghanistan. Plenty of opium to eat for all. Anyone not agreeing can get slaughtered…a population control measure for the wogs and all that.
On Mexico, note the Joint Staff report at:
Military strategy should support one’s political strategy.
AQ’s political strategy involves inflaming the world’s one billion Muslims against the United States. AQ’s military strategy supports that objective, so far, successfully.
The problem is that US military strategy (occupation of Muslim lands by force, missile strikes in Pakistan, support for Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza) also supports AQ’s political strategy.
Which begs the question of what is the US political strategy? Either there isn’t one or it cannot be stated explicitly.
” In pursuit of that goal the development of the civil communities in the country and their self-perceived welfare has first priority. ”
I also served in Vietnam -two tours, one as an advisor. I also taught at the JFK Center at Bragg. What no one has mentioned about our failure in Vietnam was that we supported an unsupportable corrupt South Vietnamese government. COIN doctrine then as now requires a viable and a legitimate government worthy of the support of the people.
To early to tell if Iraq was really a success or a bigger mistake than removing Mohammed Mosaddeq in Iran.
Right now it looks like a success, but so did Operation Ajax.
Always remember, Generals always prepare for the last war, remember Hader v Von Mannstein.
The extent of my total sum of knowledge of the events in Algeria comes from watching The Battle of Algeria on TCM, but when I read what you write, it seems to me that this short-changes the planning, strategy and foresight of the insurgents, and places excess blame on politicians by treating them as if they are acting in a void of public opinion.
It is my understanding that the ultimate strategic goal by the Algerian insurgents was never in any way to physically defeat the French, but rather from the beginning to attrit public support in France métropolitaine. I certainly feel silly and inadequate trying in any respect to contradict you with regards to Vietnam, but I would ask you if you really think it would have been possible for the politicians to have acted any other way without being removed from office?
If you achieve a victory by accident, is that less of a victory? I don’t know if the insurgents in Vietnam realized they could win by waging a PR campaign, but in fact it seems to me that this is what they did. Is that really so different than some of the basic ‘hearts and minds’ tenants of COIN? And would you describe a victory achieved mostly through ‘hearts and minds’ as anything but a genuine victory?
Perhaps this is just meaningless semantics, but it does seem important to me.
“The question’s a good one, but the answer, it seems to me, can only be approached by answering the fundamental question of the strategic objective in Afghanistan. I see two logical candidates for a statement of the objective. One would read something like this, The United States will, using all appropriate resources, establish a viable government in the contiguous territory of Afghanistan. The other is, The United States, using necessary and appropriate means, will prevent Al Quaeda and associated organizations from establishing bases of operations in Afghanistan.
If the first statement defines our objective. then a counter-insugency campaign makes sense and, indeed, may be the only way achieve it. However, is that what we really want, or need, to do. The question is not only one of the required resources of men, money, and political will. Afghanistan isn’t Algeria nor is it Viet Nam in the sense of having a history, traditions, and institutions of central authority. In fact, quite the opposite.
If the objective is defined as in the second statement , would it not be achievable without a campaign of pacification? The COIN effort would not be required, since we wouldn’t be attempting to control the country, indeed there wouldn’t be insurgents as far as the United States is concerned. Afghanistan would continue to be fractured along tribal and geographic lines. The denial of bases would be accomplished by good intelligence (we must have assets and contacts in abundance), alliances, bribes, and, when necessary, targeted operations.
Final thought, if we’re not shrewd about this chapter in “the great game” , I foresee 20 or 30 battalions of soldiers and marines plus civic action teams, advisors, allied forces, DoD contractors, and all the “ash and trash” that accompanies American armies at war humping around Afghanistan for years to come.
I’m on a borrowed computer, which woudn’t send this via the SST website e-mail function, so I hope this works.
Unconquerable by Western democracies.
A authoritarian US, with a suitably rabid – as opposed to cowed – population at WWII-scale full bore might be able to raze the country in a few years, but that’s it.
Nothing but trouble ever coming outta there and both sides of the Durrand Line for the U.S. now, Best leave them to have at each other as they will.
Curious is absolutely right that the “enemy’ is dictating the timing and pace of combat, and it seems to me that unless Pakistan is disappeared, that will remain so indefinitely, literally ad infintum. What if they all just stayed home for one year, sat our counterinsurgency out? Its like the opium crop, huge stockpiles were amassed and withheld from the market several years running for both market/price control and general rainy day purposes.
I’ll leave the problem of securing Pakistan’s nukes to wiser counsel than I.
Do real practicable security at home, as opposed to porky security theatre, stop unnecessarily pissing clever determined people off, defeat your current owners, that’d be useful, less futile, work.
Not to worry though. you’ll always have the War on Drugs! I was going to say until the Latinos ruled, but I suppose they’ll like the current more profitable and militarized state of affairs that currently obtains, and it’d be racist too. Works just fine for the white man for now, though.
I always thought the objective in afghanistan is very clear and non negotiable. Prevent al qaeda version 2.0 to emerge. The big question is how to go about doing it, because it turns out to be far more complex than chasing bunch of terrorists in the mountain.
The big question is what do we want in Pakistan!
We are in schizophrenic mode. And the incoherency simply destroys everything. We are running in circile.
Pakistan-FATA is what drives afghanistan problem. There are about 6 million peoples in fata area, right next to fundamentalists going over drive supported by wacky pakistan politics.
The situation in Pakistan is not sustainable. They cannot keep pulling “death by thousand cuts” strategy employed during soviet era against India and trying to create buffer/friendly regime in Afghanistan.
THAT is the big question we have to answer: WHAT DO WE WANT in Pakistan?
Unless there is change in Pakistan policy, fixing afghanistan will be nearly impossible and very expensive. (look at the map folks, Aghanistan is practically split in 2. west of mountain, persian speaking and relatively calm. central/eastern part are in turmoil, pasthun speaking.) WHY IS THAT?
Creating stable and viable afghanistan central government will never happen as long as Pakistan-Fata is supporting talibanism strategy. It’s that simple.
I mean, this is everything: the cultural drive, the inteligence support, the money flow, the opium trade, weapon manufacturing, flow of refugees and people,lawlessness,…
The Pakistan problem is serious. Observe how everybody next to pakistan is panicking (Iran, India, China) They all hedging bets, doing all sort of plans anticipating pakistan imploding. (logistic/trade route, alliance, etc)
talibanism is Pakistan creation. You can’t change a thing in afghanistan as long as Pakistan going full force with that strategy. And this strategy will lead to continuous long term instability in afghanistan and ultimately destruction of pakistan.
Pakistan has to understand, the strategy and path they are heading is going to destroy everything. They are not in control of their strategy anymore.
Col Lang – While I cannot address your express topic, I can relate a story about my late husband (US Marine).
In December, 2002, we were watching the evening news and Bush’s decisions. He began passionately talking about his experiences in Korea, and how politicians won’t let the generals do their job. He brought up examples from Vietnam, and the more we talked, the angrier he became.
Unfortunately, he got so upset that he suffered a major heart attack, mid-conversation, and could not be revived.
He was much older than I (Korea is only in text books for me) but his upset opened my eyes as to how our military is often compromised by politicians who care only about their continued careers.
I suspect most in the military share his feelings.
Do you think Dr. Najibulah could have survived if he had political support? Say, hupothetically speaking, from Iran, US, India, and China?
Would (Could) Mr. Karazi survive with political support from US, China, Russia, India, and Iran?
Iran, unlike Israel, does not posesses nuclear weapons. You are, perhaps negligently, conflating two distinct situations. Your statements only further obfuscates the reality of the situation.
The fact remains that US & EU have severly damaged, over the last 30 years, two major international instruments of disarmaments: The Chemical Weapons Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And their collective response to any criticism is this: “We will bomb you.”.
Perhaps with a lot of effort and money they can reverse the damage that their instrumentalist abuses of these andother treaties have caused – but I am not optimistic.
The NWFP has been militarized over last 25 years. There are a lot of men over there who know of no other way of life except war.
Without the demilitarization of NWFP there will be war on both sides of the border for a generation; in my opinion.
John Howley wrote:
“…hampered cooperation with the limp-wristed Old Europeans who thought human rights mattered.” times have certainly changed when the principles upon which this nation was founded, – here are a couple: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,… That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,…” are no longer respected by many who share your view that only ‘limp wristed Old Europeans think human rights matter.
I believe the Europeans also remember the other fact that Thomas Paine wrote two hundred years ago – that an army of principles can go where an army of soldiers can not. Politicians who have never served seem neither to understand nor respect that principle.
Al Queda is the most recognized ‘brand’ name on earth now thanks not to Osama Bin Laden’s leadership but to the incompetence of the neo-cons and the leadership of George W. Bush which took America into Iraq.
FB Ali’s points should be taken to heart. John Howley’s question – what is our political strategy – is exactly what the administration needs to explain in clear language, I certainly haven’t heard it yet.
Corruption, guns, drugs, ineffective government and misused military training. Same stories everywhere.
with bad economy hitting everywhere, unemployment, corruption, etc are going to explode
About 6,600 Mexicans were killed in fighting involving drug gangs last year, and alarms are going off in this country. The U.S. Joint Forces Command, former drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey, former CIA director Michael V. Hayden, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and any number of analysts have speculated that Mexico is crumbling under pressure from drug gangs.
But “failed state” is the sort of shorthand that Washington has a way of turning into its own reality, the facts be damned. The Mexican government isn’t on the verge of losing physical control of its territory, stopping public services or collapsing. But it is under tremendous pressure and has only nominal control in some places, including border cities such as Tijuana, near San Diego, and Juarez, which sits cheek-by-jowl with El Paso. Army troops patrol the streets, but the police, courts, journalists and citizenry are cowed by the less-visible but more-ruthless drug cartels.
Most news footage of Afghanistan shows collapsed buildings, barren deserts, and dusty wastelands. But Afghanistan also has a long agricultural history of growing wheat, corn, almonds, and fresh vegetables. Much of what grows well in California grows well in Afghanistan, and many of these crops � including melons, apples, pistachios, peaches, and over 60 varieties of almonds � actually originated there. Before war broke out in the late 70s, Afghanistan was agriculturally self sufficient, and was known for its excellent fruit, especially table grapes.
For the past 20 years, Afghanistan hasn’t produced much of anything in the way of agriculture. Civil war and rule by the Taliban destroyed much of the country�s farming industry. Unexploded land mines make it difficult to reclaim farmland, irrigation systems have been destroyed, and much of the country�s agricultural knowledge died with the farmers and researchers who perished in war. The experts from UCD are working with the people of Afghanistan to rebuild that country’s agriculture by training people in basic farming techniques and introducing new technology in irrigation, production, and marketing of crops.
Did you ever read historian Gabriel Kolko’s book on Vietnam, and if so, did you like it? He writes from the perspective of the Vietnamese.
Book: “Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience”
Very important comments above; these should be and are hopefully read by people in the US government. However, I consider past several and the current government to be progressively disfunctional – because of lack of national coherence and common will , too many interest groups pulling on the fabric of our society – this is the slow unraveling of the great American Democratic Experiment. Please, tell me it is not so.
Re the NPT: What would be required to reverse the current degenerative dynamics would be a change in thinking on the part of the Western powers — an adequate appreciation that fairness is relevant to international relations, as well as power.
Some evidence given to a House of Commons Select Committee by Michael MccGwire — the most intellectually significant post-war British intelligence analyst, as well as one of the few in this country who still thinks seriously about strategy — is to the point:
‘At the time of the Treaty’s inception in 1968 and for the next 25 years, the NPT was immensely important and unexpectedly successful. This was largely due to the nature of the Cold War world with its two camps, client states and the superpowers’ common interest. The Treaty was, however, inherently discriminatory, and would remain effective only as long as the non-nuclear states believed it was, on balance, fair and that it served their long-term interests. Fairness is important because its correlate—resentment—is a powerful and destructive motivator.
‘Come the end of the Cold War, the nuclear-weapon states sought the indefinite extension of the NPT. There was significant opposition to this proposal from the non-nuclear states, but, in return for a range of inducements, the indefinite extension was agreed at the 1995 Treaty Review Conference. This was subject to a pledge by the nuclear-weapon states that the five-yearly Conferences would provide an engine for progress towards the goal of nuclear elimination, as set out in Article 6 of the Treaty.
‘That promise was explicitly reaffirmed in the final statement of the 2000 Review Conference but, by then, the nuclear-weapons states were already walking back on their earlier promises. In 2001, the incoming Bush administration made clear its disdain for these and other arms control negotiations, and the 2005 Review Conference could not even agree a final statement.
‘Meanwhile, the tacit pledge that the nuclear states would avoid the resort to nuclear weapons has been replaced by the increasing normalisation of such weapons. Washington talks about using them in response to biological and chemical attack and is developing small warheads that can be used more readily (“useable nukes”). Britain and France talk in general terms of “sub-strategic” systems. In other words, having achieved the indefinite extension of the NPT, the nuclear-weapon states are not observing their side of the bargain, and America (which determines the nuclear “weather”) has explicitly woven the nuclear option into its operational doctrine.
‘These double standards contribute to the post 9/11 image of the “West against the Rest”, and a cynical view is that the NPT (and the associated Nuclear Weapon Free Zones) is now a convenient instrument of US foreign policy. It ensures that US conventional forces will not be deterred or hampered by the threat of a nuclear response, and can be used to justify punitive action against any “rogue state” that might be seeking such a capability.
‘This perception conflates dissatisfaction over the implementation of the NPT with the wider dissatisfactions arising from the rich/poor and North/South divides, from the socio-economic circumstances that have nourished fundamentalism, and from the polarising effect of Bush’s “war on terrorism”, with its simplistic slogan that “you are either with us or against us”. These different dissatisfactions each have their own fault lines, but in all cases the NATO nuclear states find themselves on one side and the “dissatisfied” on the other, and the NPT is increasingly seen as part of a larger Western conspiracy. It is failing the crucial test of being seen as “fair”.
‘More importantly, increasing numbers of states are beginning to question whether the treaty still serves their long-term interests; the post-Gulf War dictum—that if you take on America, you need a nuclear capability—was seemingly borne out in 2003, when the US attacked Iraq, but not North Korea.’
America’s most successful colonial war, led by veterans of the Indian Wars, pacified the Philippines, unlike Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Even so, during the Great Depression the Philippines was promised its independence in 1946 because the cost of managing the colony in corruption and treasury was too great.
Our battalion pacified our valley in Vietnam. We could drive safely anywhere during the day. But, as soon as the last American troops the Communists regained control in the 1972 offensive. America never had a chance in Vietnam once we were tagged as colonial occupiers. The war was simply unsustainable. Besides the money spent on fighting a war on the other side of the world, there were huge costs for those who served. Although only one soldier was killed in a fire fight, no one in my company stayed out in the field the whole year. Most were medevaced out, sick or wounded, never to return. The Draft assured endless supply of bodies.
Each generation has to learn the same lessons all over again. Colonial Wars fought on the cheap cost too much in lives and money and are never resolved until the occupier departs. Pakistan is failing; pushed by the Predator bombing campaign. Human beings innately resist a foreign attacker.
With Bank of America and Citibank, the two largest banks, both are about to go belly up. America doesn’t have the treasury to continue fighting two religious colonial wars.
Hillary Clinton in Beijing:
“I appreciate greatly the Chinese government’s continuing confidence in United States treasuries. I think that’s a well-grounded confidence.”
In regards to Afghanistan, the best choice for US & EU is to treat Afghanistan as a Muslim issue and withdraw.
US & EU cannot usefully puruse an imperial polciy in Central Asia – Russia, China, and Iran are opposed to their presence and their aims. Moreover, they are an alien people with an alien value system among Muslim populations that are still living in a largely pre-capitalist economy.
The Muslim states always bitch & moan about the superpowers and assorted more powerful states messing up their polities.
This is a perfect opportunity for these states to put their money where their mouths are and try to resolve the Afghan problem. Fundamentally, only Muslims will have any traction with the Muslim population of Afghanistan.
Let Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Turkey deal with the Afghan problem. US, EU, China, Russia, and India can provide political or financial support but they do not need to be directly involved in Afghanistan.
Thank you for your fine points.
In addition to those points, there is also an apparent attempt to restrict the rights of states – under NPT – to fissile material production and re-processing. Without it, in my opinion, NAM states will leave NPT. And there are too many of them to be bombed, bribed, or intimidated.
“Political” support by outside powers is essentially irrelevant to the longevity of a government in that part of the world. Internal political support would, in theory, matter, but is meaningless in Afghanistan. It is generally forgotten that the Taliban ruled the country for over 5 years with the acquiescence, and even support, of the bulk of the population because they brought peace and order to a land that had suffered terribly (after the Soviet withdrawal) from civil war, banditry and the depredations of assorted warlords. The system they imposed was a medieval religious one, but it was accepted easily by a deeply conservative, largely tribal society. That is why the Taliban still have so much support: because they provide hope of a way out of the current state of warfare, turmoil, corruption and misrule to the previous state of peace and order. This support will continue to increase as the current war is prolonged.
You have it upside down when you say: fix Pakistan in order to fix Afghanistan (Feb 21, 0725 PM). See below.
There have been a lot of excellent comments in this thread. Many of them highlight the pointlessness and/or futility of continuing the war in Afghanistan (777Guy’s hit the nail exactly on the head – Feb 21, 0330 PM). But it seems to me that the key, critical point in this situation is still not sufficiently appreciated, and that is: unless the Afghan war is ended soon Pakistan will be lost to religious fundamentalism. The one exception was Grego’s quote from Andrew Bacevich : “No country poses a greater potential threat to US national security than does Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake.” (Feb 20, 0202 PM).
But it’s not Pakistan’s stability that is at risk. Pakistan is not going to implode (a la Somalia, etc). The prospect is much worse. The current misrule, corruption and economic hardship are causing more and more people to give up on this entire system of modern (Westernized) governance; this is the fertile soil in which religious fundamentalism establishes itself. (Note that I don’t use the term “Taliban”. Nothing so vitiates discourse on the subject as the stupid lumping together of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and sundry other extremist movements. It makes one want to tear one’s hair out to hear Richard Holbrooke prattling on about “the bad guys” etc).
Pakistan can still be saved. But the absolute, unavoidable pre-requisite is to end the war in Afghanistan.
Thank you for that quote from Michael McGwire. He is exactly right. Much of Pakistani thinking on the nuclear issue conforms to his analysis. There exists a strong suspicion, even inside the military, that the US is pushing Pakistan into fighting its war against “terror” in order to destabilize it and take over its nuclear weapons.
unless the Afghan war is ended soon Pakistan will be lost to religious fundamentalism.
Posted by: FB Ali | 22 February 2009 at 05:05 PM
One can stabilize Afghanistan using brute military force and various social engineering. But that is only 2-3 yrs solution, and very expensive.
while one doing that, a functioning afghanistan has to be created. A government that is able to more or less, create law/regulation, able to somewhat enforce it (police/national arm force), civil services, and more importantly able to define and generate the idea of “nation state”, function as the source of nationalism.
I don’t suggest the condition above can only happen if reform happens in Pakistan. But the situation in Pakistan plays major role in sustaining the biggest threat to creation and sustaining afghanistan central government.
things like RPG, huge administrative freedom in FATA, weapons, drug money, and more importantly ISI techniques to generate and maintain public supports using religious populism are detrimental.
The product of those mix is an organisation that is much stronger than afghanistan central government.
I don’t suggest changing Pakistan condition will happen in 3-5 yrs. But it has to happen in less than a decade. Or else eastern afghanistan will fall into fata gravity. The amount of RPG and opium alone will devour the new and very weak afghanistan national army. I also know the refugee and drug flow from afghanistan is putting serious stress on Pakistan.
But Pakistan also adding huge uncertainty to its own condition.
Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan has to be resolved. It is not possible for Pakistan to use the strategy in kashmir without people in fata learning the trade. The two areas are only half a day driving distance.
The problem with trying to win popular vote using religious populism, one has to play harder and harder each round. And it will finally explode in some sort of ethnic religious violence.
Fata has to be reformed over time, definitely under 10 yrs.
Pakistan economy has to improve, Pakistan politics has to move beyond what is happening right now, etc, etc…
Otherwise, next economic crisis, Pakistan will be gone. Currency, national debt, etc. With that, things will cascade fast. Next thing we know, It’s a small group of desperate rogue military men running big narco warlord operation taking over the country.
and that’s how Pakistan will collapse. It runs out of money and nobody cares.
The Muslim states always bitch & moan about the superpowers and assorted more powerful states messing up their polities.
This is a perfect opportunity for these states to put their money where their mouths are and try to resolve the Afghan problem. Fundamentally, only Muslims will have any traction with the Muslim population of Afghanistan.
Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 22 February 2009 at 03:49 PM
The world is waiting. It’s show me time.
Iran, unlike Israel, does not posesses nuclear weapons. You are, perhaps negligently, conflating two distinct situations. Your statements only further obfuscates the reality of the situation.
Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 21 February 2009 at 09:22 PM
Once capability to enrich uranium pass through certain threshold, the next biggest problem is electronic fuse. And I think Iran is more than capable to create such device.
granted there is a difference between enrichment threshold vs Israel 200 nuke heads, but that’s a question of manufacturing speed.
That argument scurrilous.
All women have equipment to be prostitutes; that does not make them so.
You argued: “Once capability to enrich uranium pass through certain threshold, the next biggest problem is electronic fuse. And I think Iran is more than capable to create such device.
granted there is a difference between enrichment threshold vs Israel 200 nuke heads, but that’s a question of manufacturing speed.”
That argument is scurrilous.
All women have equipment to be prostitutes; that does not make them so.