“Can the US win in Afghanistan?” IQ Squared Debate – 2009 (Republished 12/15/2019)


The Washington Post  has been publishing a series of articles based on “leaked” US government documents concerning a government investigation into our operations in and government lies about Afghanistan.

I participated in the linked debate at NYU in October 2009.  I think it is interesting to compare what was said then to the situation now.  My little talk is linked in the top row second from the left.   pl   



(I am 25 pounds lighter now, but I have been ill) pl

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, government. Bookmark the permalink.

132 Responses to “Can the US win in Afghanistan?” IQ Squared Debate – 2009 (Republished 12/15/2019)

  1. robt willmann says:

    I was just going to put the citation to the interview of H.R. McMaster by Hugh Hewitt in a comment to the previous main post. This should be it–
    The discussion about North Korea is unsettling, and Hugh Hewitt, by the content of his questions, is encouraging war–
    “Hugh Hewitt: If we were to go into a preemptive strike, General McMaster, of some sort, large, small, whatever, would we tell the Chinese before we did that in order to manage their expectations and to limit the possibility of a replay of the Korean War?
    H.R. McMaster: Well, I can– I can’t really talk about any details associated with operational plans or– or strategies. But– but– it would depend on the circumstances I guess—
    HH: Have you– have you sat with the president and walked through how China might or might not react to a preemptive strike and how they unpredictably entered the war in the– in the first Korean War?
    HRM: Well, as– as a rule, we don’t talk about deliberations with the– with the president, but he’s been very much involved and– and has– has been– deeply briefed, you know, on– on all aspects of the– the strategy– on North Korea.
    HH: How concerned should the American people be that we are actually on the brink of a war with North Korea?
    HRM: Well, I think– I think it’s– it’s impossible to overstate the danger associated with this. Right, the, so I think it’s impossible to overstate the danger associated with a rogue, brutal regime, I mean, who murdered his own brother with nerve agent in a p– in– in an airport. I mean– I mean, think– think about what he’s done– in terms of his– his own brutal repression of not only members of his regime but his own family.
    HH: That’s a prison camp run by the Mafia with nuclear weapons.
    HRM: As one author has called it, it’s an ‘impossible state.’ Right?
    HH: Or as the chief of staff said, ‘Just because all the choices are terrible doesn’t mean we don’t
    have to choose.’ Will this administration choose or will it, as some people said about the last
    administration, ‘lead from behind,’ when it comes to North Korea?”

  2. divadab says:

    Thanks for the videos, Colonel Lang. Those slick self-dealers you are debating in 2009 are vomit-inducing. I’ll bet they all still have well-paid employment and continue to spread their crap without let or accountability.
    It seems clear to me that Afghans in most of the countryside want the US army of
    occupation out. Why are we trying to impose an occupation that is not working, despite billions of dollars spent and over 14 years of failed efforts?
    None of the thalassocratic states tried to control the hinterlands to their foreign entrepots. They controlled what was imnportant to them – their entrepots and trade routes, keeping competitors out and leaving the locals to their own devices in the hinterlands. This was the model for the Phoenician, Greek, and Italian City States, as well as the Portuguese, Dutch, and original British imperial traders. The ROmans had a different approach of Romanization – but they didn’t even try to control the Afghans nor the Scots/Picts and other incorrigible tribes.
    WHy not control the foreign affairs of Afghanistan and leave the local governance to the Afghans? MAintain a single military base in a key area, work with whatever leadership the Afghans themselves select, and drop this stupid wasteful idiotic occupation?
    Afghanistan has become the largest single heroin source in the world during the US occupation- after the Taliban had eliminated it entirely. What the hell are we doing? Stupid is too kind.

  3. Jack says:

    Thank you for the link to the NYU debate.
    It seems that when it comes to our policy in Afghanistan and South Asia, ME and pretty much the rest of the world it is Groundhog Day every day.
    IMO, after these decades being hegemon we should retire. Close our overseas bases, bring our troops home and mind our own business. If the Afghans, Saudis and others want to live in medieval times let them. If they insist their women should be uneducated slaves all wrapped up that is their choice. It makes no sense for us to spend trillions there that we could spend here at home, unless we intend to be a colonist with a commitment to be there for a century. If that is the policy choice, I suggest we send all the neocons and the snowflake SJWs there to remake these places into utopia.

  4. blowback says:

    how they unpredictably entered the war in the– in the first Korean War?

    The Chinese told Washington that they’d intervene and they did. What is unpredictable about that?

  5. Kutte says:

    My apologies for raising something not quite directly related to Afghanistan. The Senate has effectively stripped power from Trump by demonstrating they can overturn anything he attempts. This is a green light for the war party. Do you think Putin is going to blink, or do you think he will keep his finger on the button and say: “I dare you”. Afghanistan could of course also become part of the bigger game of daring each other.

  6. The Porkchop Express says:

    “Can the US win in Afghanistan?”
    Unless the definition of the word “win” is immeasurably altered.

  7. turcopolier says:

    The Congress has no power to command the armed forces. They have no command authority. pl

  8. Degringolade says:

    Thanks for the link. I found the arguments by the “yes we can” people unsettling.
    The fact that minor variants of the same arguments seems to be holding sway saddens me.
    But, I think that the folks over at Duffelblog ( recommend the site to all the readers here) had the best analysis of the situation.

  9. Babak Makkinejad says:

    We already have seen this movie before, it was called Jackson-Vanik Act. It was in effect for 34 years, before its repacement, the Magnitsky Act became ready.

  10. elaine says:

    The population of Afghanistan is slightly less than 35,000,000. In it’s ancient past it was home to Buddhists & Hindus. Perhaps it could benefit from a massive inward migration. It seems to function best as a monarchy.
    Mohammad Zahir Shah, the last king does have at least 1 male living descendant
    who is western educated & fairly open minded. These are just random thoughts best labeled as grasping @ straws.
    Sometimes I wonder if we missed the chance to solidify it as a modern state by
    arming the muj instead of teaming up with the Russians to pacify/neutralize the jihadis back in the 70’s.

    • Anna says:

      The Soviet legacy in Afganistan also included the additional constructions at Kabul University that at that time had been training, among others, Afghani female medical doctors. Native Afghani women were educated as medical doctors in accordance with modern medical practices.
      This is very different from the results of the US “humanitarian intervention” that has achieved a 15 fold increase in opium production, the destruction of the existing educational system, and the CIA-supported training of “moderate” terrorists.

  11. Fellow Traveler says:

    The Dark Lord emotes:
    The outside world’s war with Isis can serve as an illustration. Most non-Isis powers—including Shia Iran and the leading Sunni states—agree on the need to destroy it. But which entity is supposed to inherit its territory? A coalition of Sunnis? Or a sphere of influence dominated by Iran? The answer is elusive because Russia and the Nato countries support opposing factions. If the Isis territory is occupied by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or Shia forces trained and directed by it, the result could be a territorial belt reaching from Tehran to Beirut, which could mark the emergence of an Iranian radical empire.
    Not the Caliphate he was hoping for? I would have made the span to Tijuana for the affect, but what is he, 99 or 100? I’m waiting for his didactic footnotes on Strauss’ footnotes on the Apology.

  12. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Listening to this debate from ~8 years ago, I am reminded of a quote attributed to William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1846): “ What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass.“.
    Ishmael Zechariah (Dissident, Deplorable and happy to be counted among the damned fools.)

  13. Prem says:

    As long as the US is in Afghanistan, it is reliant on Pakistan. So, you have the ludicrous situation where the US government is paying Pakistan to kill American soldiers.
    I don’t see how this serves anyone’s interests. Even the most neocon Project for a New American Century type agenda isn’t advanced by this.
    The sensible option would be to patch things up with Russia and provide enough aid via Central Asia to the erstwhile Northern Alliance to stop Kabul falling. That would also allow the US to threaten Pakistan with economic sanctions.

  14. JohnsonR says:

    Hugh Hewitt, by the content of his questions, is encouraging war
    And doing so with dishonest terminology, as well as content. Note the repeated and profoundly dishonest use of “preemptive” to describe a US attack on Korea which would (arguably) be preventive, not preemptive. This is typical of how elites abuse terminology to shape discussions of foreign policy.

  15. Could such a debate take place today? I don’t mean the subject matter – that is fully as relevant now as then – but the way in which it was conducted.
    No doubt I missed the undercurrents but it seemed to be civil and the participants seemed to be listening to each other. It seemed a world away from the debates of the present day. Same difference between old debates and today’s debates in this country.
    Was this a one-off, or have we really gone downhill so much over the last few years when it comes to the level and style of debate?

  16. JMH says:

    Trump can give in on sanctions and still have his way on geopolitics regarding Russia.

  17. Vic says:

    No, it is not winnable.
    First, because Pakistan is a sanctuary. Anytime the enemy gets defeated they can retreat into Pakistan and resupply, reconstitute, and reorganize. They can then come back at a time and place of their choice and do it again, and again, and again…….[remember Viet Nam?]
    Second, thanks to the State Department/CIA we lack a host nation partner capable of generating and sustaining a capable military force. The underlying reasons for this are too numerous to list. After billions of dollars, and after virtually unlimited arms and supplies, and after a decade of advising/training the Afghans fighting for the government are worthless and will not and can not stand up to armed peasants.
    Third, the money, supplies, and ideology behind the insurgency (Saudi) is still there, although recently reduced due to the lower price of oil. As long as Saudi Arabia keeps promoting wahhabism some level of insurgency will exist.
    None of these problems are “military”. The US Army has had military success. All the problems above are political and were caused by State Department and CIA incompetence.
    Just an opinion.

  18. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Trump’s public musings and hints about abrogating JCPOA as well as the prior history of the demise of the Agreed Frameworks make both bilateral as well as multilateral negogiations with North Korea impossible. They will remain a nuclear armed state and a threat to US.

  19. Babak Makkinejad says:


  20. Babak Makkinejad says:

    But US Congress can declare war. Can US President decline to fight it?

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Afghanistan was unified, like UK, in the person of her Monarch. That perhaps could have worked on 2002 when Zahir Shah was alive and there were still many people who remembered his reign fondly. Furthermore, Iran and Russia were, for a number of overlapping reasons, willing to cooperate with US. None of that obtains any longer; US has burnt her bridges with Iran and with Russia.

  22. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Corruption is not the obstacle; tribes are – neither in the Land of Lamentation nor in Libya there exist a nation. And no one can build it now that the Monarchy is gone.

  23. FB Ali says:

    I find most of the comments on this topic to be strange.
    There was some sense and logic behind the original (2001) US invasion of Afghanistan.
    There is absolutely none in the US’s continued presence there.
    All the arguments for how to make it work now are ridiculous. The most that the US can do is prop up (for a while) a friendly President in Kabul (while the rest of the country is overrun by the Taliban).
    Ultimately, there will be nothing left for the US but the rooftop of the US embassy!

  24. Emad says:

    The substance of the debate aside, it was interesting to see you argue your case without deploying much of your biting wit. You sounded mellow, almost disinterested in discussing the obvious (The earth is not flat) with folks you didn’t think were up to the snuff.

  25. turcopolier says:

    You are right. I didn’t hit it as hard as I could have. I sensed that the whole thing was a neocon stunt. pl

  26. DH says:

    “the dark lord”…he certainly has the voice for it.
    Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi nationalist just visited KSA:
    “Peace regiments (Sarai al-Salam) were formed by radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr right after the slaughter perpertrated by radical islamists in 2014 in Camp Speicher. This amounted to rebranding the Mahdi Army which was disbanded in 2008 but retained its core of commanders and specialists. They were easily remobilized, since Sadr had more experience working with militarized formations than other leaders. By some estimates Sarai al-Salam could quickly mobilize up to 100,000 men. According to faction leaders, its power is not limited by number of volunteers but by shortage of resources, particularly money and military equipment. That’s because, unlike other factions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s group is largely cut off from Iranian funding. The movement, and its semi-military character, is popular in Iraq due to its activities in Iraq prior to US invasion in 2003. Unlike other parties and military groups, Sadrists were not part of the elite that returned to Iraq after US-led invasion. The movement was embedded with ordinary Iraqi citizens, not elites. Sadr has charted his own course, to the disappointment of Iran’s leaders who poured resources into Mahdi Army in 2003-10. Today Sadr and his militarized formations have a strong pro-national position, reject Khamenei’s politics, and are against the presence of any foreign troops in Iraq. This stance has introduced confusion concerning the role Sarai al-Salam in PMU. From time to time, Sadr’s supporters claim they are part of PMU, yet in other instances they claim they are not. This is partly the result of not recognizing Khamenei’s faction as part of PMU, and an even greater rejection of Iranian influence and of former PM Maliki in Iraq. However, this faction finds it useful to declare itself part of PMU due to its popularity among Iraqis.”

  27. ISL says:

    Vic, the problem is deeper. Follow the money (as in budgets). Now most problems look like nails. But when you hammer a screw, you just split the wood. Not fair to blame the broken screwdriver in the bottom shelf – A new screwdriver should have been bought.
    That is the real question.

  28. turcopolier says:

    Who is “the Dark Lord?” pl

  29. DH says:

    Do you think Nagl believed what he was saying?
    It was a neocon stunt, with an extra heaping helping of an extremely hostile Max Boot.

  30. turcopolier says:

    Kissinger? Why bring his name into this? I talked to Nagl after the debate and told him that COIN is a poisoned but attractive idea, that it would fail yet again an take down all associated with it. pl

  31. DH says:

    Colonel, I was replying to Fellow Traveler…he posted an excerpt from a Kissinger piece.

  32. aleksandar says:

    An ordinary afghan man and a nation-builder :
    – So you can vote and elect your government now !
    – Yes sir.
    – Right to choice your leader !
    – Yes sir, but my leader is my tribe chief.
    – Yes but you can vote as you want !
    – I will vote for the man my tribe ask me to vote for.
    – But it’s a personnal choice !
    – I will vote for the man my tribe ask me to vote for.
    The french well-known past minister shake his head and left the room.
    Only a king can run Afghanistan.
    About the military side,for those who want to know more, watch “SHAPIRO” movie and keep in mind that in some place,it was worse.

  33. Philippe T. says:

    When discussing about Afghanistan, somme terms should be clarified.
    1) The real nature of Taliban movement : a religious (fundamentalist, wahabist) movement, or the expression of the pachtoun nationalism frustrated by rise of Tajiks (dari-speaking tribes) at the head of the State (a State the Pachtoiun were have been directing for 3 centuries) ? IMO, Taliban are more “nationalists” than “fundamentalists”. Pachtoun nationalism has always been a strong political pattern on both side of the Mortimer Duran line. And, by the way, when coranic rules enter into contradiction with the Pachtoun tribal code (the “Pachtounwali”), Pachtouns obey to the tribal code, not to Coran (e.g, inheritage for daughters). In the 80’s, I saw Saoudis becoming crazy against the tribal pachtoun cultural patters. And their money would not change anything…
    Two consequences of the point 1 : If the Taliban are the expression of the pachtoun nationalism, then :
    2) A nationalist movement can seat at the negociation table. A salafist movement won’t.
    3) A nationalist movement cannot be destroyed by the military, unless you are ready to kill 80% of the pachtoun population of Afghanistan. The solution will be military-then-political (+ diplomatic alliances with surrounding countries).
    4) If you don’t control the borders with Pakistan, from North (Nouristan/Swat, Nangarahar/Khyber, Logar/Parachinar, Khost & Gardez/Waziristan, Kandahar/Balouchistan, etc.), its useless to try to destroy insurgents. If you decide to declare war to Pachtouns, you must make war to the whole Pachtounistan. The Soviet army wasted huge energy for nothing when they failed to control the borders in the first years of the war. Or, told on another way, you can’t defeat the Pachtouns without Pakistan cooperation.
    5) The issue of the existence of an “Afghan nation” has been extensively discussed her, I won’t elaborate. Nevertheless, one “bémol” to the general opinion : when a foreign power invades Afghanistan, you cas see “something” looking like a national feeling taking shape – against the invader. Maybe, as Soviet army did, the presence of the US/NATO army will be seen by the future historians, as an involuntary contribution to the building of an “Afghan nation”, or something looking like…
    6) During the last election in USA and in France, observers saw the hiatus between rural and urban political behaviors. Concerning Afghanistan, you can take this hiatus and multiply it by 100. In other words, either you lean on rural Afghanistan to build up your power, or you lean on urban one. Right now, trying to conciliate both is delusion.
    7) It’s difficult to fight against a people who uses to say “Jang khub maza meta”, of “Fighting is tasteful”.

  34. turcopolier says:

    Did you mean “Restrepo?” pl

  35. Philippe T. says:

    I forgot point 8 :
    8) Electoral democracy and consensus-reaching process : as Westerners, the electoral process appears to be the “natural” way to make decisions in a society : the majority wins, the minority losses, motion is implemented. In the Afghan political culture, the regular process is to get a consensus, whatever time it can take to reach it (and that can take very long time). “Shura” is the name of the game. At the end, nobody appears as winner nor as looser. The electoral process is brutality for Afghans (and in many equivalent cultures) because the minority has lost not only the decision but also the face : two good reasons to start hostility. The willingness to implement formal western democracy at once in Afghanistan is very naive, and chaos-making, not nation-building. The king was the garant of all these consensus building processes, something that the election winner cannot do, being “partie prenante”.
    PS : I apologize for the typing errors I didn’t correct, and generally speaking, for my broken english.

  36. DH says:

    As of about ten years ago, Hewitt weekly attended Saturday evening Mass and a Sunday Presbyterian service.

  37. Babak Makkinejad says:

    On your 1 – in Pakistan, Pashtuns are being assimilated into Punjabi culture and language; the music of Afghanistan, even 40 years ago, reminded one of India rather than Iran.
    Dari – “Farsi-e Dari” – Court Persian – is the lingua franca of Afghanistan, that misguided man, Davoud Khan, who destroyed legitimate authority in Afghanistan to usher her more rapidly into the brilliance of the European Enlightenment, tried very hard to make Pashtu the official language of Afghanistan. It had as much a chance as the Patois of Haiti in supplanting French.
    On your number 2,3,5,6 – I think one ought to expect the de facto partition of Afghanistan into an Iranic Sphere and an Indic Sphere. In other words, a unitary state cannot be put back together at acceptable costs to the Western Fortress. Then again, Somalia, USSR, FRY cannot be put together again either – what is the big deal?
    On your number 7: It is Persian: “War tastes well.” which goes to show you that you are dealing with people who know nothing but war.

  38. mike says:

    We are fighting the wrong enemy. Fuhgedabout the Talibs, or make a deal with them. ISIS Daeshis in Afghanistan are suicide-attacking Shia mosques in Herat and the Iraqi embassy in Kabul.
    The IRGC should bring the Fatemiyoun Brigade home. They should be protecting mosques in Afghanistan instead of the Sayyidah Zaynab in Damascus.

  39. FB Ali says:

    BM’s comment on your Point #1 is incorrect. The NW province, where a lot of Pashtuns live, also has large numbers of people from the Punjab and other parts of Pakistan, who live mostly in the cities, especially Peshawar, the capital of the province. The ethnic Pashtuns largely inhabit smaller towns and villages; they are NOT being assimilated into Punjabi (or any other) culture.
    As I said in a previous comment, Afghanistan has never been a unitary state in any reasonable sense of that term. It is futile to try and achieve anything of that sort now. Nor is there any prospect of BM’s ‘Indic’ and ‘Iranic’ spheres being established in the foreseeable future.

  40. hemeantwell says:

    Good points. A question for you or anyone else here: what would have been a more successful alternative strategy for the Soviets? Should they have let the People’s Democratic Party fall in 1979-80 and engaged the ensuing regime non-militarily?

  41. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Perhaps I should have said: “Seljuk Afghanistan and a non-Seljuk Afghanistan”.
    But I stand by everything I wrote.

  42. DH says:

    Phillipe, thank you for your very insightful posts. I look forward to reading further on the Pashtun.

  43. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The Soviets, like the Westerners, attempted to carry out their version of bringing the Enlightenment Tradition to the non-Western people. They failed – just as France failed in Algeria or the Liberal Revolutionaries failed in South America.

  44. aleksandar says:

    Yes sir !
    ( Alzheimer is on his way.)

  45. Philippe T. says:

    I can recommand only two books (in French) on the topic :
    – a recent one, “La Guerre soviétique en Afghanistan”, by Colonel Philippe Sidos, avril 2016 (“Les Soviétiques avaient presque gagné la guerre en Afghanistan…”)
    The link on amazon.com :
    – and an older one : “Afghanistan : Les victoires oubliées de l’Armée rouge” by Meriadec RAFFRAY, 2011,
    (“the forgotten victories of the Red Army in Afghanistan)
    Both books are focusing on tactical and operative approach.
    I can confirm personally that in 1984-1985, we (French expats) and the Mujaheddin accompagnying us were very afraid of crossing the Afg Pqk border, and of walking (even by night) in “liberated areas”, since :
    1) Spetnatz were giving night ambushes to the Mudjs, adopting the tactic of the French in Algeria (groupes de chasse, parachutistes), paratroops dropped on the supply roads of the resistance, and free to attack opportunity targets, before getting back to soviet bases by helicopter after 2 or 3 days of hunting.
    2) plus a KGB much more involved in the Afghan war, able to “buy” some tribes, sub-tribes and clanic groups (by playing on the ancestral feuds between willages).
    3) plus adapted tactics to storm the resistance bases (“marcaz” = center) in countryside and montainous areas.
    The final results was that the Afghan resistance was no more moving within the rural areas “like a fish in water”.
    But it was too late, and from 1986, the Stinger appeared, making impossible the use of helicopters, which was determinant in their tactical successes.
    Now, remains the main issue : how the Soviets, whose primary goal was to secure the communist regime, the main towns and the supply lines,by assisting, training and supporting the Afghan army, get involved at the operational level within 2 or 3 years – thus, with insufficient number of troops ? An interesting topic for the US/NATO troops in Afg.

  46. Philippe T. says:

    M. Babak M.,
    Thanks for your comments.
    I tried to bring some elements of response to the question of Col. Lang : can US win in Afghanistan? Whatever degree of “Punjabi assimilation” is prevailing in NWFP (but I doubt that Pak Pachtouns would appreciate, besides the fact that Pachtouns society is tribal, while Punjabi society was traditionally feudal), the point is : to which extent the Taliban movement is a nationalistic one, and to which degree it is a fundamentalist one, since Kabul government and NATO won’t process the Taliban on the same way. Of course there is a mix of both (but quite different from the 1994 – 2001 period, when Saoudi money was given larga manu by Ben Laden and others), and a pertinent strategy could be to favorize the nationalistic composante, versus the jihadist one. Of course, the neutralisation, if not the cooperation of the pak ISI (military intelligence, a State within the State in Pakistan) would be required.
    But that would need a complete re-assessment of :
    a) the US strategy (diplomatic strategy with Russians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Iranians + political strategy with Kabul government and Jamiat Islami / Shura e nazar + with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb Islami, who recently defected the Taliban alliance to join the Kabul politics),
    b) the US field tactics, by assessing the former soviet tactics of the 1984/85 years, by reconsidering the tactic goal to destroy the enemy (in Afghanistan, it’s easier to buy the enemy, or, e.g, to bribe the N°2 of a taliban group for him to kill the N°1 and become “chef à la place du chef”, to make much more prisoners and to use the jails as a place where internal opposition to taliban official line can be encouraged (e.g what the Turks did with Ocalan), to let understand the pachtoun population at large that the goal is a participation of pachtoun parties to the future government, etc. I agree with col. Lang video intervention that economic development is a paramount task in Afghanistan, with disappointing results (I visited in 1978 the extraordinary US project in Helmand Arghandab valleys, and the Soviet project in Nangarahar, both places where US and Soviets learn one hard afghan lesson : don’t rely on gratitude….)
    Of course that would take some years (2 or 3) and a perfect coordination between the US military, diplomacy, intelligence and civil affairs officers… I am not qualified to assess the feasibility of this coordination…
    Of course, I assume that the final goal of the presence of US/NATO in Afghanistan is not to stay and wait / create opportunities to penetrate Central Asia republics and create chaos against Russia…
    I’ll treat the issue you raised, partition of Afghanistan, in another post, today or tomorrow.
    Best regards.

  47. Wunduk says:

    Sad not to have watched this back in the day. I think the set arguing against the motion represented the reason why the American role was torn between succeeding at limited goals (maintain a CT platform) and failing at unreachable objectives (make Afghanistan the Switzerland of Asia). So the faction arguing for success was not quite united on how to define that. I never understood how Shinn made the jump from the need to maintain a network for information gathering and possibly direct action to the task of propping up a whole government and shape it in our image.
    Pn the interview: McMaster knows it very well, maybe best among the Americans, and I have confidence he knows what to do. The hints to address the sanctuary in Pakistan are in the interview quite bold. Reaction is like before however. Some people get driven around in Quetta these days…
    In 2009, Nagl and his ‘bible’ in particular drove me crazy. First he preached that you are supposed to understand what constitutes legitimacy in the local culture, and build on it an adequate system. While this political reform is what he and Petraeus preached as necessary precondition for going to steps of economic development and security operations, when called to do just in the end of 2009, they all recoiled and voted for imposing a political mechanism alien to the culture, which was then not even implemented along its own rules. So in the absence of political reform, the project was doomed from the start in 2009, and I felt very sorry for the many Americans and others who were burnt mentally or physically in this venture.
    @Philippe T. – the common enemy effect was well described in a series of articles by Malcolm Yapp. Worth reading them. His ‘Disturbances in Eastern Afghanistan’ (BSOAS 1962) were an answer to Nikita Khalfin’s thesis that there was an Afghan national sentiment emerging through the joint opposition to invaders. As described in great detail by Dalrymple’s book, there was no such national sentiment. I had searched myself for such protonationalisms in the region and came up empty. Each hopeful incipient dynasty (dawla is also used for state and interchangeable with government – hukuma) comes up with some more or less legitimator language, mostly geared towards other powers in the region.
    Your observation of Pashtun tribal code over sharia is of course correct. But as far as the Taliban were concerned, they went to great lengths to change this from 1994 onwards. By 2000 they had to put down armed rebellions in the Pashtun heartland over this matter. While they play on Pashtun ethnic sentiment and the belief that Pashtuns are destined to rule, the agenda under ‘ita’at-i amir’ (obedience to the Amir) is ultimately to abandon the ethnic baggage – as useful as it is for the moment and as difficult this is for many Taliban leaders in private.
    One factor easing the jettisoning of the Pashtun nationalist element is clearly that traditional culture favors the elite, and the Taliban come out of the impoverished rural population, which had not much in the sense of rights in traditional Pashtun society.
    @ FB Ali and Babak Makkinejad – In my experience the Pashtun language in Pakistan is noticeably different from each of the three rural dialect groups, and large populations of Pashtuns in Karachi and other urban centers have adapted to what goes for mainstream subcontinental culture. You ca go back to the Delhi sultanate days and see a gradual integration of the Pashtun upper crust, as well as their language into then Persianate Indian culture. This is well more than just adapting loanwords. Case in point is the most recent biography of Amir al-Muminin Mullah Omar published by his former propaganda minister (Abdulhayy Mutmaen), an Afghan who lived a lot of time in Pakistan by now. Review here by an Afghan journalist: http://www.rohi.af/fullstory.php?id=56908
    @ mike – The Daeshis in Afghanistan have nearly all grown out of the Taliban movement, and in many cases split over the question whether or not an Ishakzay should replace a Hotak at the helm. Too soon to forget about what spawned them. And IRGC never left, contrary to popular impression. Their people and the Tajiks working for the Russians were politely told in October 2001 to stay clear of the Americans and obliged their hosts. Easy to blend into the background. The shrine on par with Sayyida Zainab’s is Ali’s grave in Mazar. And they are on it.

  48. turcopolier says:

    Phillippe T
    The debate organization set the question, not I. pl

  49. turcopolier says:

    Phillippe T
    We introduced Stinger into the war to force the soviet helicopter gunships down to low altitudes where heavy machine guns could knock them down. That worked well. New subject: by the last year of the war the muj had captured so many armored vehicles that we were going to help them form armored units. pl

  50. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Shia do not consider that the true resting place of Imam Ali, many in Afghanistan do not either.

  51. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your comments.
    But you guys are funny, in a way; where a strong nation exist, you try to weaken it and where none exists you try to create one.

  52. mike says:

    Wunduk –
    Thanks for the response. Although the Ishakzay vs Hotak reference escapes me. I thought they were both subtribes of the Ghilzai. What is the issue between them?

  53. DH says:

    Only at the risk of impeachment, which would be forthcoming on the grounds of “high crimes,” for not protecting the country (in the opinion of Congress).
    At best he could skillfully foot-drag.

  54. DH says:

    I’m thinking this is an ‘Idlib can wait’ situation.

  55. Wunduk says:

    Mike – Ishakzay are one of the five Ghilzay tribes who joined the Abdalis and became ‘honorific’ Durranis back in the 1730s. Today the are called Panjpay Durrani.
    Got frequently land grants from the monarchy in various parts of Afghanistan, sometimes land previously held by ‘rebels’ (read: Ghilzay).
    Also it’s large opium-farming operations with vertically integrated cross-border value generation oppose to poor pastoralists on marginal land.
    On the other hand, the Hotakis have the claim to have once headed a mighty empire up to the treacherous alliance between some tribes (Abdalis) and the Iranians…

  56. Keith Harbaugh says:

    The first of the following two articles gives the standard argument (which I don’t agree with)
    for “staying the course” in Afghanistan;
    the second makes, essentially, the standard argument on
    the problems of that approach:
    “Getting an Edge in the Long Afghan Struggle”
    Trump’s early approach holds promise
    if backed with a sustained, and sustainable, commitment.

    by David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon, 2017-06-22
    From the Petraeus and O’Hanlon article:

    America’s leaders should not lose sight of
    why the U.S. went to, and has stayed in, Afghanistan:
    It is in our national interest to ensure that country
    is not once again a sanctuary for transnational extremists,
    as it was when the 9/11 attacks were planned there.

    In Afghanistan today, the military needs to revisit the phase of the mission it largely skipped in the years after the surge of 2010-12 or so,
    when it downsized too quickly and too far.
    This approach will not achieve “victory” in Afghanistan,
    after which all troops can be withdrawn.
    That is an impossible goal in the near-term.
    But it will be sustainable and it can improve the prospects of
    shoring up our eastern flank
    in the broader battle against Islamist extremism —
    a fight that likely is to be a generational struggle.

    The problems with that approach are certainly emphasized in:
    “President Trump: The only America First Afghan policy
    is to get out of Afghanistan”

    by Michael Scheuer, 2017-07-26
    In my (KH’s) opinion,
    what is needed is a good critique for the argument,
    presented in numerous places, that
    if the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan
    it will become an effective center for future devastating attacks against the West.

    Note that even Scheuer’s article, as far as I can see,
    does not address that argument.
    You (the SST contributors) can discuss ad infinitum the internal problems and characteristics of Afghanistan,
    but those discussions don’t seem to do much to counter the statement italicized above.
    BTW, if anyone is wondering, my opinion is that
    the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan
    and fight the “war against terrorism” internally in the U.S.
    and through NSA/CIA activities.
    But that’s just my opinion, and doesn’t explicitly counter
    what was italicized above.

  57. Wunduk says:

    @ KH – the tendencies for the Afghans, more particularly the Taliban and from among their midst the newer ISKP guys to veer on a course of support for international jihadist forces have been demonstrated from the early 19th century on, when with Sayyid Ahmad Barelvy the first of many non-Pashtun leaders rose against what he saw the unbearable rule of non-Muslims who based himself in today’s AfPak borderlands (he was killed in the battle of Balakot 1831 by the Sikh army, officered by European Napoleonic officers in service of Ranjit Singh). In the whole region from the 1700s a ‘resistance’ formed against Iranian Shia, Sikh and later British and Russian encroachment. This was from the start framed in the language of jihad against non-Sunni Muslims and built on an even longer duration tradition of expansion of the faith through military means.
    This being a long term trend, it is worth noting that there was a counter-trend too. Locals did not all jump on the bandwagon, and the Barakzay sardars of Peshawar, the Yusufzai Amirs of Swat and the Mehter of Chitral were the first to cooperate with the Sikhs against ‘Mad Mullah’ Barelvy.
    So if the threat cannot be discounted, that if this faction wins, it will be time for OBL 2.0. But there are of course alternatives to stay with military forces in Afghanistan forever. I am more than wary of what Petraeus, O’Hanlon are promoting. Supporting whatever power which locally manages the threat is a good alternative.
    In Colonel Lang’s statement in the 2009 discussion I was struck by his reference to size of the area in which a COIN campaign is undertaken. In order to achieve stability in a contest over legitimacy, our allies need to have the benefit of attempting it on a manageable scale. Protecting them from becoming overstretched would be a good strategic advice.
    Princely states of the frontier in the 19th century were an answer to that threat that did not require troops deployed. A certain level of homogeneity helped bind every one who mattered to his lordship in every state. Among his retainers were technical specialists (foreigners), who maintained a force at his disposal which would have better capabilities than the rest of his subjects. Not more. Sometimes these were officers deputized by British India, sometimes they were adventurers who were encouraged to join the service of this or that lord.
    The disappearance of the small principalities has led to a loss in quality over territorial control. The new elites in Kabul and Karachi/Islamabad saw no value in maintaining the archaic systems and did away with these feudal structures. Their revenue stream came from customs, export duties and international rent payments. It would do a lot of good in my opinion to revive the smaller units in both countries, maybe even in today’s Central Asia, and maybe under the umbrella of confederations headquartered in today’s national capitals.
    Would this be practicable today? In my opinion, Somaliland took this route and has things to show, being still under the roof of Somalia. While no perfect state, it at least does not require constant garrisoning.

  58. turcopolier says:

    I suppose I am influenced in my thought of how much land a native regime should try to control with the resources available by Ibn Khaldun’s idea of the division of all such theoretical domains into bilad al makhzan (the retained or retainable area) and bilad al-siba (the uncontrollable area). north Yemen when I lived there was exactly like that and the government’s practical reach was quite limited of necessity. You could draw lines on the ground to mark the extent. pl

  59. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for upbringing forth the salience of anti-Shia sentiment in the formation of what used to be Afghanistan. Cut-off from the source of their civilization, there was only one way left for them and that was down, down, down.
    In your comments about Central Asia I think you are not going far enough; one has to envision a situation in which the Soviet structures – an offshoot of the European Enlightenment – decay and disintegrate – just as those of the Western Colonial states did after the independence drive after World War II.

  60. Philippe T. says:

    You are right.
    I witnessed the fact that the DaShKas and ZiGoYaks have shot down much more helicopters than the Stingers did, during the second half of the 80′. I didn’t know that this was the outcome of a voluntary tactic. Anyway, as a result, the Red Army and the Afghan régime had to abandon many outposts, subdisctricts and disctricts centers, which became undefendable without helicopters to supply/defend them. The Mujaheddins, therefore, captured a lot of military equipment as “ghanimat” (booty).

  61. Philippe T. says:

    Yes, sorry for the “raccourci”.
    RY, PhT

  62. Philippe T. says:

    Here is a recent interview of Colonel Philippe Sidos, in the specialized publication “DSI” (in French) : http://www.areion24.news/2017/01/20/analyse-militaire-de-guerre-sovietique-afghanistan/

  63. scott s. says:

    I am interested in US Army’s creation of “Security Force Assistance Brigades” and the call for a Div and even Corps HQ. Seems like a permanent war for Afghan?

  64. Walrus says:

    Wrong! “Military success” has not been had. That implies seizing and holding ground until at some point the enemy loses the will to keep fighting.
    To put it another way; Win battles? Certainly! Break the Afghan will to fight? Never!

  65. turcopolier says:

    Yes, but I was right and Mattis is now trying to make a deal with the Taliban. pl

  66. turcopolier says:

    scott s
    IMO they are just creating structures so they can have a large number of generals in the “club.” pl

  67. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg says:

    It’s all part of Brzezinski’s Gran Chesboard – The US can threaten Iran, Russia and China from Afghanistan. And most of the dying is being done by Afghans, so who cares? “Let it Bleed”

  68. quote:
    From the Petraeus and O’Hanlon article:
    America’s leaders should not lose sight of
    why the U.S. went to, and has stayed in, Afghanistan:
    It is in our national interest to ensure that country
    is not once again a sanctuary for transnational extremists,
    as it was when the 9/11 attacks were planned there.
    End Quote
    That justification is stupid on so many levels as to be obviously a complete lie. They can’t be stupid enough to believe that excuse.
    1) It’s next to impossible to prevent extremists from setting up camps in a country like Afghanistan where the terrain is insane and the government weak. The US just spent 14 years and billions of dollars trying and obviously has failed miserably, irregardless of whether there are “sanctuaries in Pakistan”.
    If you can’t control them in Afghanistan, how the hell are you going to control them in Pakistan, which is the same thing separated by an imaginary border?
    2) Why use military means to achieve this? Why not try bribery?
    3) Why not try the same law enforcement – counter-intelligence methods that have worked against other extremist groups?
    4) Would Betrayus and O’Hanlon like to tell us how they would achieve this when 14 years and hundreds of billions of dollars have not succeeded? How does “stay the course” actually change the outcome?
    5) Since these guys don’t get the phrase “pissing money down a black hole”, clearly what matters to them is precisely that money (and their careers and influence) and nothing whatever to do with 9/11 or actually doing something that effectively defends the US from terrorists.
    And contrary to what FB Ali suggests, there was no logic or reason to invade Afghanistan at all to get bin laden. Not to mention they DIDN’T get him for how many years? Knocking over the Taliban was NOT necessary at all. All Bush had to do was provide evidence to the Taliban that bin Laden was involved in 9/11 and they had suggested they would turn him over to a neutral country for trial. Bush couldn’t be bothered. An oil pipeline and the heroin trade was much more attractive.

  69. JJackson says:

    OE I suspect it is possible and that it is just location/moderation/guests and audience. This audience are looking for reasoned argument which is what will sway them. What you get in a typical MSM slanging match is entertainment with the possibility of cementing the opinions that were already with you. Horses-for-courses, in my case the first may work and the second is unbearable to sit through.

  70. Charles says:

    “where none exists you try to create one” you omitted the words ” …a weak…” or maybe that was just so obvious that it was assumed.

  71. Charles says:

    General Petraeus is not the sharpest spork in the drawer.
    There is no purpose to the American presence in Afghanistan, there is also no definition of what victory would be.
    The theorists in the American military can be successfully inserted into two cubby holes.
    1) Coindinista
    2) Summer’s Soldiers.
    The underlying assumption of the Coindinista is that the nation we wish to hammer is run by Quislings and McCains. Enough baksheesh enough unctuous oils, enough fresh orange juice, enough pie in the sky and we win … something.
    The underlying assumption of the Summer’s Soldier is that the nation we wish to hammer is run by nationalists, Churchills, never give up patriots. Enough bomb them back to the stone age, enough genocide and we win … something.
    I am learning to appreciate the ability to put complex things into cubbyholes.

  72. JamesT says:

    Which “SHAPIRO” movie? I have never heard of this film, and I can’t find any film called SHAPIRO or related to a guy named Shapiro. I would be very interested to see a film that depicts Afghanistan from the Russian point of view. Very interested.

  73. JamesT says:

    Ah – Restrepo. Yes, I have seen that.
    I walked into the Military Museum in Kiev maybe 12 years ago and there was a poster on the wall of a Soviet soldier cradling an Afghan baby and smiling at the camera. My world spun around for a few seconds. It can be quite educational to see things from other people’s points of view.

  74. Grazhdanochka says:

    @Philippe.T @turcopolier It should be noted that while “Stinger” had effects in Soviet Operations in Afghanistan – It did however get mitigated somewhat with Compromises, Tactics and Countermeasures that rendered the Problem far less severe by 1988… To late for many but that is War.
    When the Stingers first came to notice, Soviet Teams were in competition to be first in Collecting a Sample, At least 3 such were captured in Operations Jan 1987..
    A long side increasing use of Flares, Helicopters would work in duos as seen in Syria Today, one pair covering the rear of the other as they would cycle around the Battlefield at low altitude and high speed. Air Fields saw increased security Patrols, higher Angle of Descent for Transport Aviation and the use of Helicopter ‘Escorts’ to protect higher value Transport. For other Aircraft who could afford it, it could and often did mean increased Altitude decreasing effectiveness (The Soviet War in Afghanistan was somewhat done ‘On the Cheap’ in terms of some Provisions)
    None the less as the Colonel Points out this appears to have been a result of Valid Tactics that whilst ‘On the Cheap’ in essence no different to Soviet Intentions of Integrated Air Defense that made up PVO (and Todays VKS), Interconnected Systems forcing an Aircraft from one Zone in to another.. That Stingers themselves may have been less effective than Advertised does not necessarily change influence – Pushing some Aviation in to ineffective Altitude and others lower into other Fire…
    (Or in the Case of Airfields increasing the risk of otherwise Standard Take off and Landings)
    At no Point I can think of right now were Soviet Forces unable to ‘supply’ or Access Towns, and Districts, though certainly this does not mean exactly ‘Freedom of Action’ in Contested Mountains, Regions.. More likely the reality is that even whilst arguing against the War from the enset having being forced to prosecute the War, the Armed Forces and KGB went with the approach you correctly noted before, Picking and Choosing some Battles and supporting some local Groups in negotiated Truces, Trades that could bring relative ‘peace’ to some Areas…
    Afghan Forces in Terms of Operational Freedom and Aircraft Losses I am less able to speak of at this Point…

  75. Grazhdanochka says:

    I cannot speak of Shapiro but a well known Soviet Film that I can speak of – Afghanskiy Izlom….
    Some Elements is not so ‘real’, but for a Film made and with Cooperation of Soviet Armed Forces it is very uncompromising that would put most any Film Today (and those made East-West) to shame….
    Prisoners of both sides are murdered, Civilians killed, Towns Raised….
    It is quite a dark Film, for some of us even more somber than others…
    There is not English Subtitles available that I am aware of but I made some for a Friend, if there is way to do so in Private I may be able to share them….

  76. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Reply to comment #69:
    First, I agree we should get out of Afghanistan and deal with terrorism OUTSIDE of Afg., not in it.
    However, I am all too aware of the argument that
    our presence in Afg. has been, while expensive in dollars and manpower, a success,
    in that another major (9/11-like) terrorist attack on America has not happened.
    So the problem is:
    How do we prove that our presence in Afg. was not a necessary condition for preventing such attacks?
    The only way to prove that is to get out of Afg. and see what happens.
    The problem is that if we do get out of Afg.,
    then if another such attack does occur,
    all those favoring our staying there, which includes many in the media, certainly the WaPo editorial page, will then say “I told you so.”
    They will say: “See, we got out and look what happened.
    It’s all the fault of those who made the decision to get out.”
    Yes, I (KH) know very well that is not a valid argument.
    But that won’t stop it from being made,
    and convincing many people.
    Andrew Exum explains the problem in a recent article (emphasis added):
    “Is the top general in Afghanistan in too deep?”
    By WESLEY MORGAN, Politico, 2018-03-05

    “I think the reason we’re in Afghanistan after 17 years is because
    policymakers look at the risks of leaving
    and those are easier to conceptualize
    than the risks of staying,”

    [Exum] said.

    And just what are those “risks of leaving”?
    Exum does not say, but I believe that what those policymakers are afraid of
    is the scenario I raised above.

  77. JamesT says:

    I would love to see this film. Feel free to email me at jamestreleaven2000@yahoo.com and we can discuss it. Cheers.

  78. outthere says:

    I don’t want to discuss the reasons why USSR entered Afghanistan, or the reasons that USA did. I just want to say that after 9 years USSR recognized that it made no sense to stay any longer, and went home. But USA has been there for 17 years, and Afghanistan is no better for USA presence. Yet USA refuses to recognize that it is senseless, and stays on indefinitely.
    Both political parties in USA have had their turn at the helm, and also control of both houses of Congress. Yet the result remains the same.
    It is a mystery to me how/why this continues.

  79. Bill Herschel says:

    The risks of leaving are very, very simple to understand. Very simple.
    From Afghanistan, the U.S. can export terrorism into the former Soviet Union and ultimately into Russia itself.
    Why is Russia in Syria? They have explicitly stated that they are there to kill jihadists who will ultimately end up in Russia. They speak explicitly of Chechnya terrorists that they have eliminated in Syria.
    Why is the U.S. in Ukraine. See 2nd paragraph. Why are U.S. “boots on the ground” all around the world?
    The real question is who and why is the U.S. so fixated on Russia? I don’t even begin to know the answer to that question, but I suspect it goes back to the very beginning of the cold war, the days when Bush Senior was doing business with the Nazi’s and intelligent people in the U.S. understood that the Soviet Union was the real thing. I simply don’t know.

  80. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Response to comment #79 (and others):
    I am sure different people have different reasons for keeping the U.S. in Afg.,
    but at least one leading American politician made the reason for her commitment to Afg. quite clear:

    I make the same pledge to the women of Afghanistan.
    We will not abandon you.
    We will stand with you always.

    Hillary made that pledge while speaking in her official capacity of Secretary of State.
    I have always wondered why the media and Congress did not make an issue of that pledge.
    Who is the “we”? If it is the U.S.,
    how can the SecState get away with unilaterally committing the U.S. to a commitment of open cost?
    In any case, I think her comment is but a sample of the commitment many American feminists have to promoting feminism in Afg.
    Note: The original Dept. of State webpage has been archived at
    but the download from there takes about a minute.

  81. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Looking at the instant replay given to my comment above,
    it looks like that URL, with two “http”s, confused typepad.
    Rather than trying to outguess typepad’s automatic algorithms,
    let me just mention that there is a clickable link to the webarchive URL in my blog post linked to above.

  82. Philippe T. says:

    “WHy not control the foreign affairs of Afghanistan and leave the local governance to the Afghans? MAintain a single military base in a key area, work with whatever leadership the Afghans themselves select, and drop this stupid wasteful idiotic occupation?”
    Why not? Because maintaining a military base in a foreign country is called “occupation”. And because no Afghan leader could be elected (or whatever processus of selection) while accepting à foreign base on Afghan soil.
    What you propose was the Brit strategy in Afghanistan during XIXth century, and it failed.
    Afghanistan “destiny” is to be a buffer state (or a buffer territory, if you don’t believe in the possibility of an “Afghan State”). Le reste est littérature.

  83. turcopolier says:

    Philippe T
    Idealist fantasy. pl

  84. Poul says:

    Regarding the stability – legitimacy question.
    -How did the Taliban establish control over the areas of Afghanistan they controlled before 2001?
    Where they also struggling to suppress local revolts or were they just better at cutting deals with local tribes?

  85. turcopolier says:

    The Taliban had been nurtured during the mujahid war against the Soviets in schools in Pakistan funded by Abu Sayaf and the Pakistani Deobandi. Civil war broke out after Soviet withdrawal and US disengagement and the Taliban entered the civil war as a fresh force committed only to their wahhabi ideology. they defeated all the mujahid groups and too over. They suppressed the Mujahid leaders who we often call war lords. pl

  86. Sarah B says:

    As I have understood, the Taliban are not of Wahabi ideology…

  87. turcopolier says:

    sarah B
    Ok They are mainly Deobandi with heavy Pashtun influences but Sayyaf had so much to do with them that I have to believe that there is some wahhabi influence. pl

  88. Babak Makkinejad says:

    It is a difference without merit – if your are not one of them.

  89. Sid Finster says:

    Now for the funny.
    The Communist Najibullah government held out for two years after the last Soviet troops left, and its soldiers fought reasonably well during that time.
    The Najibullah government fell not because it was defeated (although it certainly was helped by the disunity among its opponents) so much because it no longer had access to arms or fuel after the fall of the Soviet Union.

  90. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Yes, in retrospect, it is now clear that the proper state policy for Iran would have been to support the Najib government.
    The Islamic state supporting the Communist state – like the Secular state supporting the Jewish state.

  91. Sarah B says:

    More than on Taliban´s ideology, I think we must focus on the origins of the Taliban movement itself….
    Taliban comes from “Talib” who means, “that who learn Quran”…These were madrassa´s students who with time radicalized from US interventionism in Afghanistan. They then found a leader in Mullah Omar after he and his followers made their own justice on a case of raping of teenage girls by mujahideen warlords who, at that time, were instrumentalized by the US against the USSR. This event brought quite popularity to Mullah Omar, not only amongst the Talibs, but also around the country, in spite of his and his followers´ retrograde rhetoric for women and society in general…
    But it was not only certain misintepretations of Islam what leaded to the current state of affairs, but it was the US, through its means of propaganda and espurious use of radicals around the globe by CIA´s Cyclone Operation, which played a determinant role in the radicalization of Afghan population and not only but also in the genesis of so called international “islamic terrorism”:

    United States edited and funded jihad manuals for children
    The so-called “Islamic terrorism” did not exist before the CIA launched Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan.
    On March 23, 2002, the Washington Post (1) reported that between 1984 and 1994, the United States spent $51 million on a school program to train jihadists for Operation Cyclone. When social networks did not exist, the CIA devoted itself to eliminating traditional Islamic books to replace them with others.
    Those books continued to be used by the Taliban after 1994. They contained anti-Soviet propaganda and claimed that the Afghans were “natural warriors”, called by God to arms. The children learned to count on tanks, missiles and mines.
    The textbooks were edited by the Afghanistan Center at the University of Nebraska. They taught the Koran with profuse references to weapons, bombs and tanks, populating the psyche of young people in these countries of a landscape of violence and terror.
    Ahmad Fahim Hakim, a teacher who worked in the non-profit organization Cooperation for Peace and Unity in Pakistan in 2002, said that “the images were horrendous, but the texts were much worse”. Of 100 pages, 43 contained passages or violent images.
    A US official from the Asia Task Force told the Washington Post that “we were very happy to see that these books destroyed the Soviets.” When asked at the time National Security Adviser Brzezinski, he replied that although they formed terrorists, the plan was a success since they stopped the expansion of communism.
    In 2011, journalist Syed Nadir of the Express Tribune of Pakistan pointed out (2) that textbooks created “a generation that celebrates death and not life” and in which “violence is accepted as something natural and everyday”. The propaganda, he wrote, “transformed the region in the last 25 years. Not surprisingly, after the acceptance and proliferation of violence in classrooms and on television screens, children are recreating suicide attacks as a game”.

  92. JW says:

    The question about ‘winning’ implies the use of a success criteria. Here’s one, framed as a question:
    What is the extent and durability of Chinese penetration into Afghanistan’s centers of power that control their not insignificant natural resources ?

  93. Terence Gore says:

    Thanks for relink
    In the circle of people I know I doubt not more than one or two is aware of the Washingtoon Post series. Of those who might know of it I doubt they gave it a second thought besides their initial reaction.
    You may have defined the true enemy to the ongoing counterinsurgency the American public. As long as we are not engaged nothing will change.
    I don’t get the same feel on popular issues such as climate change, gender equality, racial equality, me too, black lives matter. These provoke stridency on both sides.

  94. turcopolier says:

    terence Gore
    Fall told my class of incipient COINists that in a democracy waging a COIN war we would be lucky if the plebs did not rebel against the costs before we could work our will.

  95. Leith says:

    Let Iran pull the heavy load of protecting their co-religionist Hazaras and the smaller Shia groups in western Herat and Farah province. They could pull the Hazara brigade, the Liwa Fatemiyoun, out of Syria now and send all ten or twenty thousand to protect Kabul and the Hazara villages in the central mountains. But Iran won’t do that as long as US and NATO troops are there doing their work for them. So get out of Dodge.
    Russia learned their lessons 40 years ago, and are no longer what the Pashtos would consider godless communists. They could do like they have done in Syria and send Muslim MPs from Kazan, Chechnya, & Dagestan.
    If that doesn’t work then we could still leave and yet support the Tajiki and Uzbeki Afghans with weapons and air support. Re-invigorate the Northern Alliance.
    India has investment in Afghanistan, they should also have to pull some weight instead of depending on us.

  96. artemesia says:

    “a success, in that another major (9/11-like) terrorist attack on America has not happened.”
    I can’t believe anyone gives that notion any credence.
    40,000 people died and 4.5 million people were injured in car crashes in 2018. Should all automaker plants have been shut down to prevent a repeat in 2019?
    –> 45 000 servicemen have committed suicide in past 6 years — 15 X the number of US deaths 9/11
    –> is Afghanistan the only place on the entire planet where an attack on USA can be hatched?
    –> What are the opportunity costs of staying? How many homeless on the streets in major cities across USA– more or less than the number of Americans killed 9/11? How many of them are veterans?

  97. Factotum says:

    Read a book published in the 1970s claiming there were pass-through countries and cul de sac countries. Afghanistan was a pass through country, and has been for eons which would always make it a strategic prize to conquer. Yet, no one could subjugate it. The British tried. The Russians tried. Alexander the Great tried.
    These scrappy, fierce, and tribal warriors defended their God forsaken chunks of real estate against all comers. Forever, and always won. At the time when I read that book, in the 1990’s, getting ready for a trip to Pakistan, I laughed at the idea Afghanistan could matter to anyone, ever again.
    Guess who still gets the last laugh on that one. Then came 9-11.
    However, nothing reads as a better yarn than the history of the Great Game – Britain vs Russia for centuries of cat and mouse, seeking the strategic advantage yet again of this God-forsaken pass-through country. Makes me want to re-read Michner’s Caravans, when it was a again pass-through country for the western hippies seeking eastern enlightenment… and easy drugs.

  98. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Iran Iran will expend nothing substantial in Afghanistan.
    She is in the process of negotiating a settlement with Taliban.
    India has no leverage there. Northern Alliance is dead. It did not have to be this way. US had the goodwill of Russia, China, and Iran at 2001. She destroyed them grotesquely, in my opinion.

  99. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Those issues are akin to the circus games of the ancient Romans, keeps the Plebs huffing and puffing over insubstantive ideas.

  100. Babak Makkinejad says:

    In the light of the Algeria’s history since 1830, I am doubtful that any such mission, carried out by a Christian power, would have any chance of success, regardless of duration or personal commitment of those who would carry out such policies.

  101. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Safavid ruled Afghanistan for more than 200 years. The successor states ruled Herat and Farah, even longer. It is possible to rule Afganistan but not as a European state.

  102. Seward says:

    It seems unlikely to me, and contrary to everything that I’ve I’ve read about North Korea, that they intend to commit national suicide by attacking us. Their nuclear arms, therefore, are only a threat to the U.S. if we attack them first. They are a deterrent against us attacking them, as we’ve threatened to do as long as I can remember (I can remember the war), and which we still do.

  103. Factotum says:

    Small book: The Way of the Pashtun. When an enemy is defeated, he must come on his knees and eat grass. Then he is embraced as a friend.

  104. Factotum says:

    I believe the US stayed in Afghanistan in an attempt to stop the poppy-heroin trade ravaging our inner US cities. Stop the source, stop the sales, stop the need – hit it on all fronts. But it is intractable and the money buys too much protection. Plus wasn’t there something about an oil pipeline through Uzbekistan?

  105. A.I.S. says:

    Given the atrocious Taleban behaviour towards Iranian diplomatic personal in Kabul after they took it, it would have been prudent indeed. Although it is my understanding that the Iranians did end up prefering the Najibs over the Talibs, which was why the Talebs slaughtered the Iranian embassy in Kabul.
    The Najibs were, to the best of my knowledge, quite willing to show Moscow the bird if they perceived to be capable of getting away with it. They would have probably welcomed more Iranian assistance against a joint threat, and became more independent of Moscow due to now having 3 patrons. Heck, this could have made the independent enough to appeal to China for a 3rd patron.

  106. turcopolier says:

    Many of you should stop frequenting this site. You are the most committed sort of economic determinist. You believe that man DOES live by bread alone and I find that annoying and do not want to endure reading such stupidity every day. People of that sort believe that the US fought in VN for ten plus years to control the French owned rubber plantations and the endless supply of fish sauce. They also believe that the US spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan so that parties unknown in the US could sell heroin world wide. Idiots.

  107. Colonel – I again watched the video you put up yesterday and it again reminded me of some hard hitting comments I’d read a long time ago about the UK part in that conflict. They came from the UK Brexit authority, Dr North, who used to write extensively on defence matters, focusing, if memory serves, mostly on equipment failures.
    Unexpectedly I found Dr North returning to the subject today and if appropriate it might supplement the comments on your video by giving an (acerbic) view of the UK part of the enterprise.
    That video. I do not think those men were truly listening to what you said. I think they were literally unable to take in anything that went against the picture they had built up. Scary.

  108. oldman22 says:

    Ron Paul comments:
    “Falsely selling the Afghanistan war as a great success was a bipartisan activity on Capitol Hill. In the dozens of hearings I attended in the House International Relations Committee, I do not recall a single “expert” witness called who told us the truth. Instead, both Republican and Democrat-controlled Congresses called a steady stream of neocon war cheerleaders to lie to us about how wonderfully the war was going. Victory was just around the corner, they all promised. Just a few more massive appropriations and we’d be celebrating the end of the war.
    Congress and especially Congressional leadership of both parties are all as guilty as the three lying Administrations. They were part of the big lie, falsely presenting to the American people as “expert” witnesses only those bought-and-paid-for Beltway neocon think tankers.”

  109. oldman22 says:

    In 2002 I had access to the internet and read news sources widely.
    Knight-Ridder regularly reported on Iraq and the arms inspections while NYT/WaPo/WSJ printed USA propaganda uncritically.
    Remember oh so well, going to see my friend who worked as a stock broker, and no one in the office was working, they were all watching the smart bombs explode, celebrating like it was the 4th of July. None of them had heard of Knight-Ridder, none of them had any doubt that USA was saving civilization on earth from Saddam’s nuclear arsenal.

  110. John Ison says:

    I can think of 3 with English subtitles:
    “The 9th Company”
    “The Beast of War”
    “Gruz 300”

  111. Serge says:

    Has anyone read “Ghost Wars” by Steve Coll? Great book on the 80s-90s period in Afghanistan, rise of the Taliban, and events leading up to 9/11. I read in the news this week that a lone Taliban wiped out an entire unit of ANA in an “insider attack”, killed two dozen(1 survivor) before loading up all the unit’s kit in a humvee and driving off to the Taliban. I wonder if that man expected to survive this action, and what he must have felt like driving away in that humvee.

  112. Serge says:

    Safavid control over Pashtunistan was always tenuous or nonexistent though, correct? And, as those familiar with the history know, it did not end well.

  113. Leith says:

    Coll’s latest on Afghanistan, ‘Directorate S’, also a good read. It covers intel efforts against AQ and the Taliban from 9/11 through his 2018 publication date:

  114. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Tenuous compared to Tabriz or Herat, yes. But Pashtun tribal lords went to Isfahan to seek Justice. It did not end well due to divsions among Qizilbash tribes. They found it convenient to let the Legitimate Authority be destoyed so that they could lay claim to the throne of Persia. They were fools but such is the stuff of history. I wonder if the Armenian boys and girls, supplied to Afghans for their sexual pleasure by Julfa, were on the right or wrong side of history?

  115. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Ron Paul is being disingenous; who are these men and women in US Congress but the representatives of American people?

  116. Babak Makkinejad says:

    In reply to Serge

  117. Walter says:

    Would/will Nagl and his ilk ever admit that they were wrong?

    • Pat Lang says:

      One of the members of the other team said to me last year “we won the debate, but you were right.”

      • Ishmael Zechariah says:

        They flatter themselves; they did not win the debate! I wonder if any of these “Wise Men” will ever be called to account in this world over the multitudes killed and maimed due to their “policies”.
        Ishmael Zechariah

  118. Pat Lang says:

    The IQ2 thing is phony. What the motivation is escapes me.

  119. Barbara Ann says:


    O/T, but I’ve just read something which I felt I ought to bring to your immediate attention. It is from a blog run by J E Dyer, a retired Naval Intelligence officer. Ms Dyer appears to be a committed defender of constitutional liberties and writes on both naval and intelligence matters. The post in question concerns the new National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism (NSCDT) and the role the Capitol Police (USCP) have within it. This may not be news to some, but it was to me. The key points are:

    1) Under the NSCDT, the USCP is given a new role to monitor threats to Congress from “domestic terrorists”. It will be setting up regional offices in the states in order to partner with state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) governments for an intelligence led approach to identifying threats. Why can’t the FBI/DHS do this, you may ask – well see point’s 2 & 3.

    2) The USCP does not work for an agency of the Federal Executive, it works for Congress – specifically it is run by Nancy Pelosi.

    3) The USCP is not subject to FOIA requests.

    Ms Dyer then goes on to highlight language from the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance of March this year which makes the policy case for using intelligence collection tools focused on international terrorism on domestic terrorism threats. The article uses Tucker Carlson’s allegations of the IC (NSA) monitoring of his comms as an example showing that this may be a result of these new policies.

    Leaving aside the Tucker specific case, it seems clear Nancy’s new FOIA-proof private Gestapo aims to use all the tools in the IC toolbox to target “domestic terrorists” (formerly known as “Deplorables”) who threaten Congress (read the Democrats) based on entirely political motivations.

    Is this really as bad as it sounds?


    • Fred says:

      Barbara Ann,

      Yes it is that bad. Which states have recognized the federal legislatures police force as having authority within their borders? As to who runs them, Pelosi is neither immortal nor is she likely to be actually giving them directions. A review of her and her various committee staffs wold probably show who is likely in charge of the accusation and false-flag machinery.

  120. Is the “country” of Afghanistan anything much more than the territory that the Persian, Russian, British/Indian and Chinese Empires couldn’t control?

  121. Bobo says:

    History reveals all. After 20 years of US involvement in Afghanistan we will now see again the Taliban representing the country in the UN. The Colonel was on target with his statement that the American citizens are not interested in extended incursions in other countries but what escapes me is why this lasted so long as if we had 20 years in Nam we would of won.
    I noted the reference to Doctor in regard to the Colonel which showed the esteem he was held in then and now.
    The Taliban were never our enemy but our military leaders never realized that.

    • Fred says:


      It is the politicians who decided to stay, other than Trump; and belatedly, Biden.

    • blue peacock says:

      $800 billion was spent in Afghanistan. That’s a big reason why we stayed – to keep the beltway bandits in clover. Then of course were the flag officers from Petraeus, et al who needed it to stroke their egos among other rationales.

      2,300 American soldiers and the tens of thousands of Afghanis KIA were a small price for the above.

      • Barbara Ann says:


        I fear the egos damaged by the Afghanistan withdrawal will look elsewhere to reassert themselves, and soon. One example: The usual crazies are urging Biden to get tough on the cyber attacks allegedly emanating from RF territory – get tough with a “visible” attack on Russian infrastructure. In the current climate especially, I’m pretty sure this would be seen as an act of war.

        Since the HMS Defender incident and the Russian language in the aftermath, it feels to me that we are on a knife edge. Putin seems to be under a lot of domestic pressure to act tough and I am not at all sure that is widely appreciated in decision making circles. The potential for a miscalculated “signal” to Russia leading to catastrophe seems very high.

      • Keith Harbaugh says:

        “$800 billion was spent in Afghanistan. That’s a big reason why we stayed – to keep the beltway bandits in clover.”

        There were politically powerful forces in America
        that demanded the U.S. intervene in Afghanistan society, e.g.

        See also the many remarks from America’s Feminist-in-Chief Hillary Clinton
        demonstrating her desire to impose feminism on Afghanistan, e.g.

        Also see the many demands from American media that the U.S. stay in Afghanistan, e.g.

        • blue peacock says:


          The real question that needs to be asked is what was the motivation of the “politically powerful forces” to keep the Afghan military project going for 20 years? And of course Iraq, Syria and Libya? And why this constant Russia boogeyman?

          My contention is that big money has a big role to play. And another is the delusional state of mind of decision makers across both the political & governmental spectrum. And of course domestic political optics.

          Take the pandemic as another example. It is becoming clear that there is strong circumstantial evidence of an engineered virus. In any sane polity, they would be serious about investigating the origins to prevent a future one. But instead we have collusion among top government officials, the scientific community dependent on government grants, big tech, big pharma and big media to obfuscate. Note that big pharma is represented on the boards of big media and is one of their largest sources of revenues.

          • Keith Harbaugh says:

            BTW, BP, what do you think of the defenestration of Robert Millikan?


            My opinion: It’s a damn shame.
            Cases can be made for and against eugenics.
            But what does seem undeniable, IMO, is the great good he did for both science and education.
            His leadership played a major role in the establishment of a truly great educational institution (and, if anyone is wondering, I had and have no connection to Caltech).

            Condemn his support for eugenics all you like (BTW, why is a live issue in 2021?).
            But recognize and honor the good things he did for the total society.

            That the lengthy attack on Millikan linked to above was written by a mere grad student is, for me, another issue.
            She should, IMO, show more respect for a man with Millikan’s accomplishments.
            Some students are clearly looking for ways to demonize people of achievement.

            (BP, practicality all of the above has very little to do with you.
            I’m just getting some things off my chest.
            Only engage if you want to.)

          • blue peacock says:


            I am a Caltech alum. Richard Feynman to me was the epitome of a professor and I consider myself very fortunate that I took several of his classes. He is also known for his aphorisms.

            Wokeism was not at all prevalent when I was there. It is a small school and if you were into research most professors encouraged out-of-the-box thinking.

Comments are closed.