Iraq, Afghanistan and the decisions facing Barack Obama

– Al-Qa'ida is regaining strength in Iraq with a new focus on the Maliki government.  This article in today's Post makes it quite clear that this is happening because of the abandonment of the "Sons of Iraq" by the United States.  In the Middle East people group themselves in temporary alliance against common enemies.  Why is that so difficult to understand?  If you abandon your allies, they will seek other allies.

– The excellent feature article on corruption in Afghanistan that appeared in "The Nation's" last issue got very little attention anywhere.  I suppose that is because the implication of American complicity was not fully comprehended.

David Ignatius writes in today's Post that a Green Beret major named Jim Gant has written a major piece on the need to use the non-Taliban tribes in Afghanistan to control the strength of the Taliban and their Al-Qa'ida friends OUTSIDE the perimeter of the Route 1 ring road.  The article is entitled "One Tribe at a Time."

The shape of things to come is becoming more apparent.

1. COIN inside the perimeter, COIN focused on the cities and towns

2. International economic and political development and reform inside that perimeter.

3. Raiding against specific targets outside that perimeter.

4. Development of alliances with tribal entities outside the perimeter.

These are the emerging elements of a new strategy.

Such a strategy will allow an eventual  downsizing of the force in Afghanistan to a level that is much more sustainable for the US armed forces.  Some short term increase may be necessary in order to stabilize the perimeter but that can be followed by reductions.  Using the tribes in the way that Major Gant suggests is the optimal force multiplier for a reduced but politically and militarily sustainable policy n Afghanistan.

Why did we not do that before?  As I have written endlessly, the social sciences driven paradigm of the inevitability and desirability of the Nation State in every clime and continent has been an insuperable obstacle to the empowerment of tribal forces.  Why?  Our military and diplomatic leaders have been indoctrinated with the political science view of the world and the future of mankind.

This paper is a major development.  pl


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43 Responses to Iraq, Afghanistan and the decisions facing Barack Obama

  1. Paul says:

    Major Gant’s paper is stunning!

  2. The question of how to bringing sufficient peace, stability, and good governance to Afghan society so that the war can end with hope for Afghans and the world has no easy answer, but the first step is to focus our thinking on the underlying principles, and the second step is to set clear priorities.
    All the endless debate over tactics is nothing but a sandcastle unless it stands on a foundation of correct principles and priorities. The choice between the goals of a well governed Afghan society on the one hand and some combination of establishing Central Asian military bases for the empire, guarding pipeline routes, or defeating an insurgency on the other is a choice that matters. All the above goals may be defensible, but where to put the focus matters profoundly.
    Three core underlying principles should define Washington’s starting point:
    · Local Control: Muslim socio-political reform should be managed first by locals and second by neighboring non-Western societies;
    · Civil Society First: The method should always give precedence to civil society reform with military action firmly subordinated;
    · Afghan Independence: The goal should not be incorporation into the American system but the establishment of an independent society.
    To begin the arduous process of implementing these principles, make the following two steps top priority:
    1. Washington announces that it will vacate any region of Afghanistan that is either –
    * peaceful and drug-free or
    * guarded by an international force, preferably from Muslim societies
    2. the international force will have two duties –
    * preventing the use of force to resolve conflict
    * eliminating illegal narcotics, with emphasis on destruction of the refinement business.
    Let those who disagree make their case…but at this level. Before the U.S. can sensibly consider issues related to military tactics or which Afghan politician to support, it needs to determine why it is in Afghanistan and what would constitute an acceptable exit strategy.

  3. Norm says:

    Compare and contrast with Wm Polk editorial at He emphasizes the necessity of declaring a date certain for leaving Afghanistan as the necessary initial move to get a truly Afghan solution started. He knows the territory and makes a lot of sense.

  4. VietnamVet says:

    Thanks, for the hyperlink to “One Tribe at a Time”.
    Another good article is “Refighting the Last War: Afghanistan and the Vietnam Template”.
    The Vietnam War was; however, first, a continuous conflict between the US Army and the Peoples Army of Vietnam, fought on the borders of South Vietnam. Some of the battles were not too different than the last months of the Civil War or World War I; men attacking entrenched foes, “The Battle of Hamburger Hill”. Others consisted of stealth and maneuver and only fought when the Vietnamese had an advantage, belt to belt. The Montenyard Tribes were recruited to fight the Vietnamese in this war. Second, the Vietnam War was an attempt to pacify the rural Vietnamese population to accept governance from Saigon. This was the mission of Charlie Company 2/503 during 1969-1970 when I served. Its reincarnation, Chosen Company, was on a not too dissimilar mission at Wanat in 2008. In both cases as soon as American troops left their valleys, their foes regained control of the inhabitants.
    The United States is not fighting a war of maneuver against State forces in Afghanistan. It is a clash of cultures, a religious war; similar to the Indian Wars of North America. There is a reason that the uncontrolled areas are called “Indian Country” or a tribal leader in the article is nicknamed “Sitting Bull”.
    Americans are so blinded by our own perspective that we do not see the perspective of others. The US Army is in the identical position as the German Wehrmach in France or the Red Army in East Germany but without the overwhelming force. The only way the United States can establish a Western hegemony in Afghanistan is to pacify one valley at a time. This is a difficult bloody task; think of the fighting the Iroquois, Sioux or the Apache; even more so in Afghanistan. The Afghans are best prepared peoples in the world for the Clash of Religions, having defeated every other invader of their mountains and now they have radios, AK-47s and IEDs.
    A retreat to the perimeter around Kabul will assure an eventual withdrawal just like the Soviet Union. The United States cannot afford to stay in Afghanistan forever.
    Sometime far in the future someone may note that the Vietnam War, Gulf Wars I & II, and the Afghanistan War were all for nothing, and that the retreats from Afghanistan precipitated the collapse of two Empires, probably in Mandarin.

  5. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    “The rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839) will ever remain a watershed in the annals of the trans-Indus regions. Maharaja Ranjit Singh undertook to subdue and control effectively the ferocious tribes populating these regions. After the conquest and annexation of Multan and Kashmir, he led his legions across the Indus. This was a big challenge to the valiant Afghans who raised a cry of Jehad under Azim Khan Burkazi, ruler of Kabul. A big Afghan army collected on the bank of Kabul river at Naushehra. Ranjit Singh won a decisive victory and Ghazis were dispersed in 1823…”
    “In order to understand the defence measures of Hari Singh Nalwa, it is essential to be conversant with the geographical conditions of this region as well as the tribal distribution….”
    “The Afghan and Pathans always considered themselves superior to the people on the Indian side. They looked down upon Indian Muslims and contemptuously referred to them as Hindko. Their pride was pricked for the first time as they had been defeated by the Sikhs whom they considered infidels….”
    “It was prudently realised that although the spell of Afghan supremacy was broken, the region predominantly populated by turbulent and warlike Muhammadan tribes could not be securely held unless a large army was permanently stationed there….
    “In order to consolidate the defence of the north western frontier, Hari Singh Nalwa closely studied the topography of the Peshawar region….”
    And so on…
    US political science/international relations became divorced from its traditional link to history (diplomatic, political, and military)after World War II.
    In the Cold War era, the Rand Corporation and others pioneered mathematical modeling of international relations, etc. This level of abstraction-fantasy is useless for practical foreign policy in the real world. Professors in the Ivory Towers have made careers with it though and still do.
    McNamara loved his little mathematical models and charts, too. I remember press photos of him pointing to his charts and graphs…”Whiz Kid” like Kagan and McChrystal etal. today.

  6. N. M. Salamon says:

    The over riding question facing Mr. Obama and under his direction the Government and Congress is whether to waste another 100 billion on Afganistan, another 50 or more billions on Iraq, Somalia [via paid proxies] and another billions on blind support of Israel OR to repair in as much as possible the USA economy on one hand and prepare for the coming crunch in oil supplies, the age of electric cars, the age of CAREFULLY TAKING ALL STEPS TO REUCE ENERGY WASTAGE [war being the greatest wastage, for it cost to wage, then comes the cost of rebuilding]!
    Pleae note only one choice is possible, the USA economy and the preparation for the future, or wars. Your grandchildren and all other grandchildren [including mine] will judge Mr. Obama, the Congress and influential people [among them yourself] on how this choice is made.
    Were a poll conducted in USA [or any NATO country] where the choice is the summary of the two possible outcomes, the answer would be so overwhelmiong that the NEO-Cons and related arm chair generals would SH*T their pants.
    I believe that you would agree with the last statement, especilly after your great points re AC/PAC war at intellingernce squared.
    Thanks for your attention!

  7. seydlitz89 says:

    Colonel Lang-
    It is an interesting idea, but how many officers like Major Gant would a government actually need to implement this policy? To generate the strategic effect, but from the tactical level he writes about?
    Hundreds? And then of course also the bureaucratic-oriented but at the same time strategy-oriented apparatus necessary to carry the policy out . . .

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    You misunderstand the character of SF ODA teams like the one described Gant. Not officers necessarily, not at all.
    I think it is quite possible to find, train and retain the number of SF soldiers required. We did so before.
    As Gant says they, too, are a tribe. Membership in that tribe becomes something precious. pl

  9. seydlitz89 says:

    Colonel Lang-
    Point taken, “officers” defined broadly, but how many such would it take to gain tactically the strategic effect necessary?
    In this case, we are after all attempting to change strategic ponies “in mid-stream”, that is after eight years of neglect. How exactly does one ignore the center and focus on the periphery in such a situation? Has this been tried before, and what was the result?
    I see a bit of “Lawrence” in Major Gant, which I see as a good thing. There were undoubtedly such US officers in Vietnam, and at the end of the Cold War. Today, I wonder if the best thing is not for the Major Gants to come home . . .

  10. seydlitz89 says:

    “defined broadly as SF ODA teams”

  11. Arun says:

    Over the past few days, before reading Major Gant’s paper, I was thinking (partly inspired by Russell L. Ackoff – look him up in Wikipedia) that any strategy must use the structures in Afghan society that are in place.
    It is great to see that vague intuition fully developed into a strategy, in this, IMO, very good paper.

  12. china_hand says:

    Major Grant’s proposal sounds an awful lot like the general British and Russian strategies during the Great Game.
    The more things change….

  13. b says:

    According to the Guardian, the program is already in place: US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan
    US special forces are supporting anti-Taliban militias in at least 14 areas of Afghanistan as part of a secretive programme that experts warn could fuel long-term instability in the country.

    The attempt to create what one official described as “pockets of tribal resistance” to the Taliban involves US special forces embedding themselves with armed groups and even disgruntled insurgents who are then given training and support.
    In return for stabilising their local area the militia helps to win development aid for their local communities, although they will not receive arms, a US official said.
    Special forces will be able to access money from a US military fund to pay for the projects. The hope is that the militias supplement the Nato and Afghan forces fighting the Taliban.


  14. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Today’s Telegraph (London) contains very useful context with respect to Iraq. The after action/lessons learned reports are no doubt of particular interest.
    “On the eve of the Chilcot inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the 2003 invasion and its aftermath, The Sunday Telegraph has obtained hundreds of pages of secret Government reports on “lessons learnt” which shed new light on “significant shortcomings” at all levels.
    “They include full transcripts of extraordinarily frank classified interviews in which British Army commanders vent their frustration and anger with ministers and Whitehall officials.
    “The reports disclose that:
    “Tony Blair, the former prime minister, misled MPs and the public throughout 2002 when he claimed that Britain’s objective was “disarmament, not regime change” and that there had been no planning for military action. In fact, British military planning for a full invasion and regime change began in February 2002.
    “The need to conceal this from Parliament and all but “very small numbers” of officials “constrained” the planning process. The result was a “rushed”operation “lacking in coherence and resources” which caused “significant risk” to troops and “critical failure” in the post-war period.
    “Operations were so under-resourced that some troops went into action with only five bullets each. Others had to deploy to war on civilian airlines, taking their equipment as hand luggage. Some troops had weapons confiscated by airport security. …”
    Some will recall how the US media “managed” the reporting from UK during the run-up to the Iraq War. The ferocious debates in Parliament and the strong sentiment AGAINST intervention were suppressed in US coverage. The US media certainly did not want the US public to realize that the British Labour Party and other quarters there had substantial opposition.
    Thus Tony Blair, and the UK as our “staunch” ally and all that were stressed in US media. Heaven forbide the US Democratic Party getting some ideas from the more sane elements of British Labour, or the Republican Party getting some ideas from the more sane elements of the Conservative Party etc…

  15. Patrick Lang says:

    I know the program is underway. What Gant argues for is re-establishment of this kind of UW in US Army Special forces as a basic mission. pl

  16. YT says:

    Re: “US political science/international relations became divorced from its traditional link to history (diplomatic, political, and military)after World War II.
    In the Cold War era, the Rand Corporation and others pioneered mathematical modeling of international relations, etc. This level of abstraction-fantasy is useless for practical foreign policy in the real world. Professors in the Ivory Towers have made careers with it though and still do.
    McNamara loved his little mathematical models and charts, too. I remember press photos of him pointing to his charts and graphs…”Whiz Kid” like Kagan and McChrystal etal. today.”
    Mr. Kiracofe,
    Unfortunately the U.S. is an engineering society. Hence all problems seem to have a technical solution (not!), the U.S. army is basically still Jominian in its worldview (OODA loop) rather than a Clausewitzian one. Hence the idea that concepts mathematically formulated with finesse are the panaceas to war along with other related issues.
    “Whiz kids” like those gentlemen you’ve mentioned above are just merely reinventing the wheel, like those management “gurus” with their catchy phrases back in the 90s.
    Col. Lang and his generation of warriors paid the price in serving the nation by adhering to the slide-rule war formulae coined by Ivory Tower warlords like McNamara et al., guess the present generation of young “grunts” are likewise paying it in blood for the decisions of these so-called COIN “experts”.
    “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”: Niels Henrik David Bohr

  17. Vicente says:

    Seems to me this is just as much about the ‘core competencies’ of Army SF as it is about Afghanistan. Gant’s article is a bit of pushback against those that would have Green Berets as nothing more than bi lingual door kickers, imho. Bravo for his efforts.

  18. FB Ali says:

    The key question is: What is the US goal in Afghanistan?
    In another thread you have recognized that it is to retain long-term power and influence in the country and region (“it is not politically possible on the world scene for the United States to abandon Afghanistan to the Chinese, the Pakistanis, the Indians or whomever”). This, of course, is part of the expressed aims of the neocons, and, presumably, also of the US military-security establishment.
    So far the policy followed by the US to achieve this goal has been to establish a friendly, client government in Kabul. McChrystal’s proposed strategy was in line with this. However, the election has driven home the reality that this was not a workable policy. (That the policy was intrinsically flawed could have been learned earlier from the Iraq experience).
    The strategy you now see evolving would serve a policy of maintaining US clout and influence in the area through a long-term, direct US military presence there. I doubt if it can succeed. Garrisoning towns, COINing inside the ‘perimeter’, TETing in the villages looks great on paper, but it won’t work in a population that has fought, and defeated, foreigners for millenia. The US has tried it before in Vietnam. Even in Iraq, where the majority Shia needed you till they built up their own forces, you couldn’t stay on after you had outlived your usefulness. You said, The military art is the art of the possible. Under present conditions, it’s just not possible.
    The other big flaw in this policy is that in trying to hold Afghanistan you could lose Pakistan to a hostile regime. And, how long will your country, hard-pressed economically, support these imperial adventures?
    William Polk in his essay on Juan Cole’s blog makes a very realistic analysis of the options that face the US, and their likely outcomes. The policy that he proposes ‒ an organized exit ‒ is the best of the lot. It makes eminent sense if the US goal were in fact to prevent al-Qaeda and other jihadists from establishing a base in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this seems to be just for public consumption. I wonder if the delay in Obama’s decision has been due to a protracted battle by the military-security establishment to convert him to their real goal in Afghanistan.

  19. Patrick Lang says:

    Brigadier FB Ali
    The neocons? “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.” Von Rumsfeld
    “The US has tried it before in Vietnam.” Ah. In fact our efforts in Vietnam were quite succesful. We achieved a fair amount of stability in the country before we left under the terms of the ceasefire that we achieved with North Vietnam. Two years later the US Congress defunded any possibility of any future US support for SVN. THe North Vietnamese correctly interpreted that law and then over ran the country in a CONVENTIONAL campaign. Remember the photos of NVA tanks in the streets of Saigon?
    With regard to ultimate ends and goals in Afghanistan. I am quite willing to see a complete withdrawal in circumstances that indicate that Afghanistan will not become a state dominated by “political Islamism.” pl

  20. Patrick Lang says:

    “Col. Lang and his generation of warriors paid the price in serving the nation by adhering to the slide-rule war formulae coined by Ivory Tower warlords like McNamara et al.”
    You don’t know me if you think I “adhered” to anything the techno-nuts advocated. pl

  21. Brad Ruble says:

    I think Major Gant and those like him are on the right track.
    As a practical matter though,if we are going to interact with tribes maybe we should look back a hundred and fifty years and see how the people in this country did it.
    There were some very smart people out here at that time. I think there are some lessons that can be learned.
    There is a fundamental problem though. I still don’t know why we’re there. Bill Moyer’s Journal on Friday night explains some of the dynamic, but only some.
    Money, power, momentum, ideology, a lot of people who just really want to help. OK. I’m not buying the Al-Qa’ida taking over stuff. These are tribes and this isn’t 1999. Those guy’s in the hills are as smart as we are and they saw what happened in 2001.
    It almost seems like the Country Joe song “what are we fightin’ for, don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, my next stop is Viet Nam”.
    In 1968 I was an E-3 and I asked an E-6 friend of mine what kind of changes he’d seen since he joined up in the mid ’40’s. The biggest difference he saw was “you can’t bullshit Pvt. Jones anymore”. When you tell him something you have to be able to explain why. For good or ill, that’s the way it is. That’s true all over.
    If the people who run my government can’t explain to me why we are using up our kids how can anyone really expect me to support what they are trying to do. They have no standing.
    In the end we just waste another generation of Major Gant’s. For me that’s not acceptable but I’m at a loss for what to do.
    Wouldn’t it be nice to win one someday.

  22. YT says:

    Col., sir:
    My sincere apologies, sir. I guess I did a lil’ too much…
    I never was one to adhere to any rules or regulations either (f*** ’em). Good thing I never did join any military or political establishment. I’d probably end up as the biggest pain-in-the-a**.
    Long live the mavericks! (a toast to you & the rest of ’em John Boyd types in the U.S. of A.)

  23. batondor says:

    Dear Pat,
    I greatly appreciate your highlighting of the Gant paper and note that it was presented with an implicit endorsement by Ignatius and Cordesman, two influential figures for different reasons with whom I think you have disagreed on many of these matters as they have evolved.
    I cannot disagree with your critique of the tragic end of the American involvement in Vietnam because I was too young at the time to appreciate that potential reality through the acrid smoke of public fatigue and the pall of apparent excesses… and that was the ultimate problem, n’est pas?
    As the President and his colleagues prepare the new approach for public airing, I wonder how you and your fellow commentators would respond to these three questions:
    – How does the very interesting methodology presented by Major Gant impact the larger “Pashtunistan” conundrum? Beyond the issues of scale and internal stresses, and even if it worked in Afghanistan, what about the interactions with the bordering tribal regions in Pakistan?
    – Are there concrete reasons to believe that “one tribe at a time” is more (or less) durable in Afghanistan versus Iraq? For example, how does the rather clear-cut distinction between Shia, Kurd, and Sunni in both regional and political terms in Iraq compare with the notion of something like 40,000 tribes diffused throughout Afghanistan (and especially along the border with Pakistan)?
    – Is it viable for Obama to simultaneously present both a surge in troops, however modest and yet necessary, and a timeline for the drawdown, however concrete and yet contingent? It sounds all too much like the “triggered public option” in the health care reform debate… both in the sense that it seems like a half-hearted approach that will soften neither of the hardened sides of the debate enough to lead to a durable consensus, and to the degree that it represents an honest reflection of the conundrum in which instant shifts in policy and practice are impossible if only due to the logistical and institutional inertia involved.
    The first two questions are asked with no hidden agenda. The third point will be key, of course, because the only policy that can stand the test of time – meaning the next two or three years – will be one through which the President can gather a consensus from both sides of the aisle (IMHO, I believe that he can with the clear support of the key figures in the administration, in uniform, and in the Congress)…
    Thanks again, Pat, for your contributions (and those of your more thoughtful correspondents…) to these deliberations in the public realm.

  24. I have given up worrying about the US ‘goal’ for Afghanistan. My worry now is what is Obama’s goal for the US over next two decades and as far out as November 2012. Is there a shared vision that voters in the US understand? What is interesting is watching the Republicans cover all the bases no matter what choices he makes! Now that is really thinking ahead. If constancy, and a fundamental approach to US foreign relations and foreign affairs is that whatever the US does is supposed to advance mankind and serve good, there is no consensus on what should be done. Do we (US) ever listen to those who know more and are more competent? Not-invented-here I guess if patented would be held by the US!

  25. batondor says:

    Pat… just a correction request because I should have said “40,000 villages” rather than “tribes”…
    … but is it a reality that Afghan villages are generally smaller and are less bound to a common political (or religious) identity – other than Muslim and/or Afghan – than their Iraqi equivalents?
    That was the point of the inquiry.

  26. Arun says:

    Brig. F.B. Ali:
    This constant refrain of “let Afghanistan remain in Pakistani clutches, or else the Pakistani regime will fall, etc.” probably gets annoying to a superpower, even if it is declining.
    In any case, it is not at all clear how helping friendly Afghan tribes control their own territories and shut out Taliban/Islamists in any way threatens the stability of Pakistan.

  27. The Twisted Genius says:

    Jim Gant’s narrative illustrates the way Special Forces was always meant to be employed. IMHO this is the essence of UW (unconventional warfare), which SF ODAs are uniquely organized to conduct. This was what was taught in the Q course at least up to 1981. I can personally vouch for that. My guess is that it is still taught out at Camp MaCall and in the Uwharrie National Forest.
    It takes real stones to wage this kind of war. As Jim Gant points out, one has to break out of the force protection mindset to do this properly. SF soldiers will die and will dissappear when employed this way, but it would be a much more effective use of Special Forces than as just another bunch of door kicking shooters. We have plenty of those.
    As a boy, I remember reading in National Geographic about the exploits of SF teams with the Montanyards in Vietnam. As an ROTC cadet and later as a young lieutenant, I learned firsthand from former CCN reconnaissance team leaders. UW was what I wanted to do when I won my flash and was assigned to 10 SFG(A). I did get to work with indigenous forces. It was the highlight of my military career.
    I hope the “powers that be” allow men like Jim Gant do what Special Forces does best. Not just for the sake of our engagement in Afghanistan, but for any future wars we are bound to involve ourselves in.
    De Opresso Liber

  28. Fred says:

    Ignatius writes: “Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the delay has helped prompt a new wave of capital flight as Afghans rush to get their money out before the United States pulls the plug.” Without the usual jibe about ‘rats leaving the sinking ship’ what does this say about Karzai’s chances to build a stable government in Kabul? Just which people’s money is leaving – the truly rich, the carpetbaggers, the ‘middle class (or the Afghan equivelant)? The devil is in the details. It would be interesting to know if this is ‘capital’ flight or are people leaving too?

  29. fanto says:

    Colonel, Sir – I believe Major Gant is correct about HIS project and how to do it – but there are two questions: 1. he may be unique in his personalithy that he could ‘pull it off’ and become friends with Tribesmen – other US officers may not have the same charisma and may be not capable of producing the results as Maj. Gant
    2. The enemy may just focus on the few successful men and just assassinate them – and it would require a lot of courage by the successors to follow –
    It seems to me that what others suggest – i.e. to leave in orderly manner – may be the best alternative, (the least bad choice).

  30. Khiva says:

    The historical revisionism in regard to America’s “lost victory” in Vietnam is nonsense. The United States spent 20 years and countless billions of dollars buidling the ARVN. It had on paper nearly a million men, the latest tanks and infantry weapons, and a large air force with hundreds of modern fighter jets and US-trained pilots. When North Vietnam launched an armored probe, initially no more than a reconaissance in force in the summer of 1975, the ARVN collapsed in less than 24 hours. Within 48 hours, all organized resistance in South Vietnam had ceased. If there were any equipment shortages, they resulted from ARVN officers stealing and selling the supplies on the black market, which ANA officers do today. US personnel calculating how soon the NVA tanks would arrive in Saigon simply worked out the maximum overland speed of the tanks. Why? Because the government of South Vietnam was totally corrupt, incompetent and illegimate, and no one in South Vietnam was willing to fight and die for it. Exactly like Afghanistan today.
    Blaming ARVN’s collapse on the “sellout” of Vietnam by Congress is a cherished nugget of neocon mythology (borrowed from the Nazi’s “stab in the back” myth about the German government’s “betrayal” of German troops in the trenches in World War I) but as history it does not stand up to serious academic scrutiny, as many scholars of the war have pointed out. The situation in Afghanistan now in identical. Major Gant’s proposal has multitudinous military and cultural flaws which are not worth going into here.

  31. Patrick Lang says:

    How old were you in 1975? I ask that to know if I am debating someone’s second hand knowledge (scholarship) or a “time traveler” like me.
    You are correct that ARVN collapsed. Units that had fought well on previous occasions just disppeared.
    The rhetoric about the illegitimacy and corruption of the RVN government is simply advocacy of the communist victory.
    How do you account in your narrative for the two years of relative peace in rhe RVN between the cease fore and withdrawal of remaining american forces and the de-funding of the war by the Congress?
    Neocon? Me? If you ever suggest that again I will ban you from this site. pl

  32. VietnamVet says:

    I remember April 1975 well. My sons were born that month and Saigon fell. I was on probation for in the first year of my current job. I still remember the shock. I knew that the war was unwinnable when I was drafted. I just didn’t think it would fall apart like a house of cards. The fall of Saigon meant in the end that all the sacrifice was worth nothing.
    This time I will not be shocked if a similar scenario unfolds in Bagdad or Kabul. The same powerful forces of human resistance to foreign occupation are in play now as then.

  33. Castellio says:

    I don’t think Major Grant’s paper very convincing.
    In it, his TET achieves the goal of integrating into a tribe, the critical moment of that success being when his troops help the “lowland tribe” win back a valley from the “highland tribe”. But if one is trying to integrate or influence all the tribes, then inevitably US soldiers are also aligned with the lowland tribe as well.
    Thus, as the policy succeeds, the US troops, if they are not to fight each other, become arbiters of inter-tribal differences. This is called occupation, and will be understood for what it is.
    What am I missing here?

  34. Patrick Lang says:

    “if one is trying to integrate or influence all the tribes,”
    What you are missing is that you still believe in the possibility of the “nation state” in places like Afghanistan. pl

  35. Castellio says:

    Well, doesn’t the title “One tribe at a time” suggest that the process is meant to be an on-going and inclusive?
    But let’s cede that point: if one abandons the idea of a nation state, and sides with a set of particular tribes chosen for strategic reasons, then hasn’t one entered into, and escalated, an interminable civil war? Isn’t that what’s happening now?

  36. Arun says:

    Kerry-Lugar was treated as a big affront to the sovereignty of Pakistan by its press and political leaders. But when it comes time to pay the bills:
    “Islamabad, the official said, has also asked the US functionaries to help provide relief against FATA and Waziristan’s power tariff arrears, where in Pak military is at war with militants not to save the country, but also to save the whole world.
    To a question the official said that the FATA and Waziristan ’s power tariff arrears have swelled to over Rs 75 billion.
    It is very hard to collect the electricity arrears during the war time which is why the incumbent regime has asked Washington to help on this front bailout the beleaguered economy of Pakistan.”

  37. walrus says:

    Col. Lang,
    Major Gant has committed Two cardinal sins in my opinion:
    1. Being right.
    2. Committing his thoughts to paper.
    His views could also be easily dismissed by Washington under the old British smear of “Going native”, “letting his fondness for the Afghan people get in the way of his better judgement”, etc.
    I would like to know if you think that this is a career limiting action for Major Gant, or whether his rediscovery of the old British way of doing things on the frontier is likely to resonate with the powers that be.
    The tactics are not consistent with the “clear hold and build”, one size fits all version of a centralised Western style democracy.
    It seems clear to me that the tactics he proposes are consistent with the creation of a series of tribally based semi autonomous regions and an overarching central government of very limited power and authority – an Afghan solution to the Afghanistan problem, which is something like Afghanistan had before the Russians started meddling in the region.
    The greatest benefit of such a strategy in my opinion, is that it is scaleable, assuming there are other Major Gant’s available with the insight and empathy necessary to work with the tribes.

  38. Patrick Lang says:

    This (UW) is actually the base mission of Army Special Forces. It is what they were created to do beginning in 1954. This is what the people have been selected with an eye to doing, and what has remained their training criteria for qualification. For that reason, there are a lot of Gants, both officer and NCO. Actually, the distinction is rather unimportant in SF. One either IS SF or one is not.
    Incidentally, it is bad form and unwanted that someone refer to a Green Beret as an “operator,” or “operative.” The Deltoids can can call themselves that if they wish. Green Berets are “Special Forces Soldiers.”
    In the last 15 – 20 years there has been a “drift” towards direct action commando style missions like the SAS, Delta, the SEALs. That was where the attention was focused by the non-SF flag officers running the SOF community. Now the tide is running back in the other direction.
    I will not comment on Gant’s prospects.
    Fortunately, there are many Gants in the 1st Special Forces Regiment. pl

  39. Noman says:

    An informative and interesting perspective–thank you for posting it.
    This is “grassroots” warfare, is it not? Perhaps President Obama will find that appealing.
    That is my hope.

  40. Noman says:

    …though I would have to say that this is probably the crux of the matter (from the paper in question):

    “The risk-averse nature of our current method of operating would have to change. American soldiers would die. Some of them alone, with no support. Some may simply disappear. Everyone has to understand that from the outset.”

    I don’t know that we have the courage for that.

  41. Andy says:

    Col. Lang,
    Have you read this paper written by the Human Terrain System folks? Here’s part of the abstract:

    This report consists of two main parts: the first part is an overview of the existing historical and anthropological research on Pashtun “tribes” in Afghanistan, and the second part examines how “tribes” behave in Afghanistan. It is based mostly on academic sources, but it also includes unclassified government information and research performed by HTS Human Terrain Teams, which have been attached to U.S. Army brigades since 2007.
    Military officers and policymakers, in their search for solutions to problems in Afghanistan, have considered empowering “the tribes” as one possible way to reduce rates of violence. In this report, the HTS Afghanistan RRC warns that the desire for “tribal engagement” in Afghanistan, executed along the lines of the recent “Surge” strategy in Iraq, is based on an erroneous understanding of the human terrain. In fact, the way people in rural Afghanistan organize themselves is so different from rural Iraqi culture that calling them both “tribes” is deceptive. “Tribes” in Afghanistan do not act as unified groups, as they have recently in Iraq. For the most part they are not hierarchical, meaning there is no “chief” with whom to negotiate (and from whom to expect results). They are notorious for changing the form of their social organization when they are pressured by internal dissension or external forces. Whereas in some other countries tribes are structured like trees, “tribes” in Afghanistan are like jellyfish.

    Assuming the research in this paper is accurate, does it negatively affect Maj. Gant’s analysis or the prospect for tribal proxy forces as you’ve outlined previously?

  42. Patrick Lang says:

    Some of the HTS crowd are perforce deeply committed to the social science method of looking at just about everything. That means, in this case, that one studies some phenomeneon at the smallest scale possible, with the greatest rigor, and little tolerance for intuition.
    UW methods like those promoted by Major Gant work with any set of groups that have self identity in numbers small enough to be affected by you. Villagers, tribesmen, people working on collective farms, moshavniks. You can name any number of categories.
    They have to have some leadership. If not then you can provide it yourself. They should have a perceived grievance. Movies are fun. I remember the Nuristani/Kaffiristani villagers in “The Man Who would be King.” Their grievance was that the villagers up-stream were “pissing in the river.” pl

  43. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Extraordinary article. Remarkable photos. Notice the one of the little child?
    Here’s a rhetorical question. In the history of Likud Zionism, is there any photo of an IDF soldier holding a Palestinian child? More broadly, any evidence that the IDF has followed the tactics that arose out of the tradition of De Opresso Liber and expressed so well in the Gant article?
    Oh…I thought not.
    The questions are not entirely irrelevant, imo, because it suggests conflicting national strategies and goals. And yet…the Pentagon appears ruled by the Kagan crowd which, no doubt, opts for simply burning the village and, if necessary, the global village (justified by invoking the name of Lincoln?). Genocide writ large, with a goal of the destruction of a civilization.
    You think that Kagan cares about Sitting Bull? Please…
    So, from my civilian perspective, it seems that the deeper Gant and others delve into Gant’s way of doing things — which is the best way by far — the more likely that someone at the Pentagon will backstab them.
    Perhaps I am a civilian cynic, but I just see no evidence that the USG will stand up for people like “Sitting Bull” to same extent that Gant is willing to do. Such a Myers-Briggs type that lead to Gant’s way of doing things does not seem to be on the ascendancy at the Pentagon. And Gant may face some serious searing pain when he sees the USG abandon those he has adopted as brothers.
    Simply to make the point about the Pentagon, imo, it all comes back to Luti calling Zinni a traitor with no repercussions. Mystifying. From what I can tell, the Pentagon is the only place in the world where someone could call a highly decorated Vietnam Vet and USMC General a “traitor” and get away with it. Just unbelievable to me. The unwillingness (ho-hum, yawn) of anyone at the Pentagon to take a stand on behalf of General Zinni suggests that at least some of those at the Pentagon are more interested in that good ol’ government pension than representing the American people.
    I simply cannot come to any other conclusion. Would those WWII vets at the Pentagon in 1950 have yawned if someone had called Eisenhower a traitor? Good grief…The ho-hum, yawning approach perhaps is direct evidence establishing the prevalence about which Eisenhower warned.
    And based on the Luti-Zinni episode, I don’t see the powers that be at the Pentagon going out on a limb for Gant if it gets rough At least that is my “rebuttable presumption” to date. We are at that horrible place where those who know how to win –Gant — do not represent the Pentagon majority view. Not the first time, at least from what I can tell.
    So…to illustrate the point best I can in my own contented civilian way, I will borrow from the French I learned while attending a public school in Georgia for a couple of years. Until it is obvious that someone at the Pentagon will knock the absolute sh-t out Luti, Kagan or those like them…then, when it comes to the Pentagon, Gant and those like him need to watch their backs….big time.
    I mean good God, at some point, someone at the Pentagon has to say to Luti or those like him, “I don’t give a damn who you are”.
    Maybe I am right. Maybe I am wrong. But when it comes to the Pentagon and Gant, I say score it with the song by the Undisputed Truth, Smiling Faces.

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