So, what’s the goal in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama?

In descending order of importance and precedence these are the steps involved in planning for war.

– National purpose (what are we about?)

– National goals (what do we want?)

– National policy (what will we do about that?)

– Grand Strategy (civil and military action)

– Strategy (over-all military action)

– Resourcing the strategy (how much, how many to accomplish the strategy?)

– Tactics (fighting)

Each succeeding step is supposed to proceed from the previous step. That's the way you are supposed to plan, folks.  That's what they teach you at a War College.  War Colleges are typically the most senior service school of any armed force.  Lieutenant colonels and colonels are carefully selected to attend such schools. 

The idea contained in the array of terms above is that military strategy and campaign plans are the product of goal setting by echelons of government above the military.

In the case of US actions in Afghanistan, there seems to be a chaos of voices confusing this logical and orderly process of planning.

The basic contest over policy in Afghanistan is between those who insist that to reduce the Islamist danger to the USA, Afghanistan must be made into something fundamentally different than what it has been (the counterinsurgents) and those others who think (like Biden) that something less ambitious will accomplish the same thing.

What is the goal, Mr Obama?  What is the goal?  pl

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28 Responses to So, what’s the goal in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama?

  1. And the strategic context?
    A new study on one piece of the situation, China and Iran:
    “Over the past quarter century, China has been challenged to balance a major interest in maintaining comity with the United States against its efforts to develop multi-dimensional cooperative relations with important countries in the Persian Gulf—including countries in policy conflict with Washington. This “Persian Gulf dilemma” in China’s foreign policy first took shape—and has challenged decision-makers in Beijing most consistently—with regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Over the years, the Islamic Republic has emerged as the de facto leader of regional resistance to America’s longstanding hegemonic position in the Gulf and the Middle East more broadly. As tension between Washington and Tehran has risen, U.S. demands on Beijing to cooperate with U.S. efforts to isolate and press the Islamic Republic have mounted. But, since the mid 1990s, China has developed an increasingly strategic energy relationship with Iran, reinforced by a variety of economic and technological cooperation agreements. And Tehran, for its part, has made China the focus of an emerging “Eastern orientation” in Iranian foreign policy….”

  2. mo says:

    I am no expert in either warfare or psychology but when the national goal is vengence it seems to me that everything else is moot.
    And the problem with vengence as a goal is that if it is not accomplished quickly you are left floundering. Leave and that thirst for vengence unsated will turn to acrimony and accusation. Stay and you have no goal and therefore are always grasping for tactics and strategy that have no discernible goal.
    Surely now is the time for the White House to start trying to change perceptions and expectations. Now is the time to “end” the war.
    Declare Al-Qaida defeated in Afghanistan because to all intensive purposes they’ve moved house now anyway. The advantage of being a global Salafist is that home is wherever you hang your AK and Pakistan, Somalia or even Saudi are paths of much less resistance than staying in Afghanistan where you can no longer run an operation.
    Stop talking about driving out the Taliban and start talking to them. They are Afghans and you cannot drive a people off their own land. Find a way to let them back into the fold without sacrificing the democratic principles you have brought to Afghanistan (but dont be upset if 3 years from now the Afghans vote them back into power!).
    And finally, stop allowing the lives of young men and women to be cut down in the name of a futile and patently fruitless war that has brought no advantage to anyone but a few corrupt Afghanis and brought disadvantage and turmoil to the people of the towns and villages of the country.
    It is time for the US to cut its losses and the losses of the Afghan people. The continuous images of American troops killing innocent civilians will do nothing to reduce the danger of “Islamists” in the US.
    As you have said in the past Colonel, those holding the ground at the end are considered the victors. Whichever way you look at it, the US and NATO will never have enough troops in the country to be holding the ground at the end. By default therefore, the Afghans will always be the victors. Its time an American govt. learnt to put humility above the lives of its troops and find a strategy that does not involve absolute victory but saves the lives of the countless that will die if it does not.

  3. Now that NSC Advisor Jones has signed on the notion that AF-PAK is one theatre, on the ground is there unity of command and political direction of the US effort? Great post PL because as readers of this blog and others know there is absolutely no agreement on the goal in AF-PAK [except perhaps making sure Jihadis don’t get the Islamic Bomb] and there is little likelihood that President Obama can fashion a Goal or Goals that even make sense to many at this point. So don’t expect an answer anytime soom from the Administration IMO!

  4. JohnH says:

    I am so relieved that prominent people are finally posing the question I’ve been asking for years.
    As the inestimable Yogi Berra once said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”
    Yet Washington policymakers remain singularly determined to avoid giving a believable answer. Usually, when someone can’t tell you why he’s doing something, there’s something fishy going on. Even more so when he keeps changing the story.

  5. Nancy K says:

    I know nothing about military strategies but as an American who loves her country and as a mother of 5 children, I know if someone invaded my country and was making my life and my children’s lives unbearable, I would look at them as my enemy, even if they said they were there to liberate us.
    I feel that is what is happening and will happen in Afganistan. We see us as liberators, they will see us as the enemy, and the Taliban will increase in size and strength because they are fighting us. For the US, it is a lose lose war.

  6. N. M. Salamon says:

    There is no straategy nor was there ever strategy in afganistan [sans driving out the USSR]. The whole mess for Mr. Obama is to balance the feasible [very limited] and to defang the neo-cons [all Cheney-s etc, also VERY limited].
    This war will end as the US$ collapses. I am optimist, that it may not happen in the next 3-4 years, but could come sooner with another banking crisis or another bout of public spending to balance the unacceptable unemployment/underemployment rate.
    The simple fact is that the public purse can not afford DoD and the wars in their present size, especially as states are cutting education and social programs as more and more houses are foreclosed.
    I am aware that such a point is difficult to take by a career Colonel, especially for one who was involved in National Security fields; however, ce la vie!

  7. Mark Stuart says:

    Doug Mills’s picture is a great one to illustrate the NY times article. Just what is the role of the VP in this country?
    I sure hope he’s not in charge of foreign policy and war planning. Because when Biden said on October 2, 2008 during his Vice-Presidential Debate:
    “When we kicked — along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don’t know — if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.”
    well knock me down and steal muh teeth! Everybody in the Middle East and everyone who had followed recent events in the region knew then that Biden as VP would be as useless as tits on a boar hog!

  8. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Our national purpose has been floundering since the end of the Cold War. Our purpose is being driven by two small factions: those who are concentrating on making as much cash as possible without regard for the national good (CEOs, Masters of the Universe, and their ilk) and the neocons who think we’ll be overrun by marauding hordes if we don’t “project our power” at every opportunity.
    We have no truly national goals – only the goals of those two interest groups. So we have no policies. Leading to a muddle in everything else.
    The War College approach is very similar to what we call “structured design” or “structured development” in the IT/Telecom world. Everything flows from defining business processes and then nailing down the requirements needed for those processes to work. Once those are in place, you can design a system to meet the requirements. Following such a structured approach doesn’t guarantee success, but not following it almost certainly guarantees failure.
    Scope Creep is a very ugly thing, indeed.
    And that’s where we are going at a very, very past pace.

  9. Fred says:

    “With fewer than 100 Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan, he reasoned, the nation was investing disproportionate resources in the wrong country. ”
    Less than 100 Qaeda fighers? Time to borrow W’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner.
    As to the rest of these quotes, these folks are following the example set by the talking heads you blogged about a couple of days ago.
    “When was the last time Biden was right about anything?” Thomas E. Ricks, a military writer, wrote in a blog on Sept. 24. Mr. Ricks is affiliated with the Center for a New American Security…” Where are all those Iraqi nukes, AQ connections etc ad nausium. We might as well ask when the Republicans have been right on fiscal policy (remember the financial bubble that just burst) or national security policy (yes, 9-11!, Iraq, and of course Osama – he’s still free).
    “I think a big part of it is, the vice president’s reading of the Democratic Party is this is not sustainable,” said Bruce O. Riedel,”
    This is at least accurate in that it portrays what is really important to both political parties – how to make short term election gains.

  10. N. M. Salamon says:

    An interview by a TWICE DEAD [by Pakistan and by USA military action] Al Q leader:
    Another view on Af/Pak.

  11. Patrick Lang says:

    NM Salomon
    Surely one so worldly and learned as you are has heard of the device of the rhetorical question… pl

  12. N. M. Salamon says:

    Yes, I heard that form of Q. With grest respect to you, and your compatriots on this blog, the situation for the USA in 2009 is far too grave, that an occasionsl [and new reader] of your blog would presume that a q might be rhetorical, for this site is not for spin [NYT, WP and lots of others well qualify there].
    Sorry, if I misunderstood your intentions.

  13. WILL says:

    the elephant in the room
    George Washington on Entangling Alliances
    “…a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a deposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld.
    “Farewell Address”
    this American Exceptionalism=American Dominance, Israeli Firster Policy. When LBJ ordered the fighters recalled that had been dispatched to aid the USS Liberty that had been attacked by Israeli Mirage fighters and torpedo boats, a Rubicon had been crossed.
    He said “I would not have an ally embarrassed.”
    Do we really have our OWN national policy?

  14. Patrick Lang says:

    Do not presume to give me guidance on how I should write in my native language.
    I am uninterested in your opinion on the subject of my literary style in English. pl

  15. isl says:

    Unfortunately, for the real world, I would add two other items (not in order), probably before all the others:
    >How does the war benefit my main financial supporters.
    >How does the war help me get re-elected.
    After 8 years, it is hard to square expanding the war with the purported goals. So I’ll take the bait. Lets imagine some new goals (not that I think there is necessarily any truth to this supposition):
    Goal: Establish a strong military presence on China’s and Russia’s border.
    Deny and minimize Chinese and Russian influence in S. Asia.
    Policy: Destabilize weak countries that oppose US interests here (Pakistan, Iran, Kazhakistan?), keep Afghanistan weak so it cannot ask the US to leave, but not so weak that it exacerbates the US costs. Block Chinese and Russian interests.
    Policy: Since the public is unlikely to support a war for such abstract goals, don’t explain.
    Policy: Since the public doesn’t really support the war’s goals, borrow money rather than raise taxes.
    Resourcing: Supplies through Russia, Pakistan, with funds borrowed from China.
    Stopping at this point, contradictions abound. I believe that many of the other attempts to use the schematic outlined by the colonel would be similarly inconsistent.

  16. Fred says:

    MS, picking Biden as VP had the distinct advantage of removing him from the Senate and his position as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

  17. Jose says:

    Forget Afghanistan, our real goal is to destabilize Pakistan as an excuse to take away the “Muslim bombs”.
    IMHO, nothing else makes sense.

  18. Fred says:

    I thought you got banned?
    “Al Qaeda is a threat that has proven itself capable damaging US properties and interest, , taking lifes…” Timothy McVeigh took lives too, policing efforts resulted in his arrest. He was given a fair trial before an impartial judge and jury while presented adequate legal council. That is the way our people are supposed to do things.
    Threats, read the DHS report on right wing extremism, the same kind Tim McVeigh was a member. Do you suggest we deploy the US Army to the streets?
    As to your laundry list of items, the USA has plenty of the same:
    Corruption? Like the United States has with convicted felons the former representatives William J. Jefferson and Randy “Duke” Cunningham? Perhaps you mean Ken Lay or Bernie Madoff (the former avoiding jail only by dying of a heart attack first.)? Drug dealing? The United States has more people in prison per capita for drug crimes than any nation on the planet. Target the big weapons? Like the box cutters Al Qaeda used on 11 September?
    The US National Security Advisor reports less than 100 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, it does not take a full field army to fight them.
    “run the south Korean occupation gambit.” ” you mean the occupation of South Korea by Koreans who provide government of South Koreans, by of and for South Koreans?
    The Taliban government of Afghanistan (the one that provided Osama bin Laden refuge) was defeated by the US Army (and then only part of it) in 2001. The current ‘Taliban’ are in rebellion against the government of Harmed Karzai. As reported on during the IQ2 debate posted earlier less than 7 percent of Afghans support the Taliban. It is up to the people of Afghanistan to fight for their own government and their own country, just as the South Koreans did for thiers.

  19. turcopolier says:

    You are right I forgot I had banned “curious.” Thanks. pl

  20. curious says:

    “I thought you got banned? ”
    no, one post a day. I got banned now, because I say the nation is a retarded member of world community based on last decade list of peace award and should hang head in shame.
    The korean occupation is just an extension of that (unpleasant reality of militarism). But I could have said Kimchi is spicy and still get banned.
    But whatever. cya.

  21. Patrick Lang says:

    Kimchi man (curious)
    No. I remember the one post a day thing now. Continue with that. pl

  22. optimax says:

    Curious Limited comes up with a lot of ideas, many I think are good. Even if a person, or agency, batted 100% they’d still be ridiculed. Say the FBI had arrested Atta and crew 9/10/2001 how many would have said, “They were buffoons and couldn’t rob a bubblegum machine? Overpower a plane with box cutters? Absurd. The FBI informant gave them the box cutters. Little men with big ideas entrapped with Gestapo-like tactics.”
    Now we wand babies at airports, and I expect soon we will have a Federal Bad Humor Law outlawing ethnic jokes, Spike Lee suing Clint Eastwood.
    Government’s crazy because a googly lot of Americans are crazy. Curious LTD is right about that imho.

  23. optimax says:

    Sorry, I’ve overstated Curious’s position. His being that the rest of the world sees us as dangerous bullies. The thought that Americans are crazy, or to be more precise have crazy ideas on our place in the world community, is my idea. In an above post Leander brings up the common American idea that “The Arabs/”camel drivers” sit on the world’s oil resources by sheer dumb luck.” I’ve heard people say that and also that the oil is really ours and we should turn the ME into sand and take the oil. This from people I work with, otherwise good people, but with crazy ideas.

  24. optimax says:

    “into sand” should be “into glass.”

  25. curious says:

    Man, you are missing the big point.
    It’s global vote of no confidence. This is not a temporary fluke or can be patched with quick political jibe. This has affect. Look at dollar price, long term energy contract and big construction, global commerce pattern, or more obvious recent diplomatic set backs.
    As a result, variables that are presumed constant in afghanistan strategy actually will change a lot in 4-5 yrs window. Allies support, cost of maintaining troop, stability of Pakistan economy, impact of small terrorism against economic activity, drug money, weapon supplies, relationship with arab world, Iran conflict, etc.
    Imagine a situation where third country start supplying weapons into afghanistan and nobody in the world cares. Anybody ready for at least protracted guerilla war ala kashmir? Or worst, what if afghanistan turns into big hot war? (Iran-Israel-US-Russia) or India-Pakistan?
    Watch Germany refuses to change basic NATO treaty, because they lack confidence of US geopolitical posture. Or Japan pulling the plug on everything. Good luck figuring out what europe wants in changing global geopolitical condition.
    So, if the afghanistan clown show continues. It will be soon titled Soviet in afghanistan ver. 2.0. A big conventional army getting stucked in dead end conflict.
    Read soviet reports on afghanistan occupation, theirs were much more competently run in term of coin and fixing central government. And few thousand supplies of stingers ended it all. Want to see what is the effect of GPS jammers to war cost if somebody start inserting that?

  26. optimax says:

    Man, I thought the big point is that the Western frame of reference sees the world as incomplete and our job is to rid the world of evil, to make it good, to perfect it, create a perfect stasis which we will design and manage from the computers in our dens. It’s bending the savage world to our will that’s complicating things.
    The Chinese see the world as complete, just changing balance, fluid, something to adjust to, instead of forcing the world to adjust to your way of thinking.
    I assumed that was why the Chinese were expanding and we were contracting. I didn’t know.

  27. optimax says:

    Curious, I don’t understand what your big point is. see a lot of small points that could add up to many different scenarios.
    What I wrote above is what I think is happening in the balance of the two big powers, mostly on the economic front but China sees an advantage in us depleting our treasure in Afghanistan. They’re not the only ones.

  28. curious says:

    detail of situation on the ground, local politics, personalities of big decision makers, and how money flows are my favorite pointers.
    The meta narrative of conflict in central asia has always been about competing national interest of big power. (territory, energy, trade route, geopolitical advantage, …the usual.) It’s that raw.
    Of course nobody runs around saying “we gonna kill you all, so we can get mineral/land/conquer”. It’s wrapped under high minded ideas so it is acceptable to public.
    Take taliban for eg.. One has to ask, why are the Tajik or western afghanistan shia not going crazy and blowing up stuff when they seen and did the worst violence during the 30 years afghanistan war? But north east mountain of afghanistan? Really? the spot where taliban begun? Or why things radiate out of Peshawar? The biggest supply coordination point to mujaheedeen?
    Nobody is going to admit where muj/talibs originate, how they mutate or that the power that be lost control of these armed militias. More importantly, nobody is going to admit, holy cow… you know, the basic of COIN strategy is exactly what the soviet did. How is that going to mesh with muj/taliban/ISI/CIA original drive? How is Karzai going to ever be able to pull that off with the skill and connection he has. It’s 180 degree. (tho’ I seriously don’t think Karzai even think on this term. he fancy himself to be the king of afghan. He is turning his clock all the way back to 1950’s. When the king’s court lost favor and modern political parties and secularism arise, hence the anti soviet game in the 70’s-80’s.)
    Russia and china see afghanistan as continuation of cold war mess. They don’t say it outright yet, but if you follow the obscure news (but with significant money and long term importance, thus they must put some serious analysis.) you can guess how the big power see each other, plan and anticipate. Those are more honest review of what’s going on in afghanistan. Nobody can fudge energy consumption pattern and the need of cheap energy supply. Nobody can fudge the desire to increase value of investment. It won’t be a surprise when things turn into low intensity war between big power soon instead of guerrilla war. Once the balance of taliban danger vs. national interest tips.
    Knowing afghanistan history where in the end somebody always pulls string arming guerilla to get the other, watching how the big guys think is important. All world major powers clashed in central asia. It’s been like that since the beginning of time.
    concrete prediction:
    -Afghanistan election politics will create major rift. (Watch Norway vs. Galbraith, porcupine oil — afghanistan election referee)
    -Watch how germany negotiate the new NATO treaty (eg. their involvement in afpak and long term arm commitment to US)
    – watch how Japan new party reconsider afghan spending, thus entire balance of power in Asia in next 4-5 years.
    – watch the trilateral meeting between Russia-China-India, and recent china/India border incidence.
    – definitely watch anything Israel – Iran
    – Pakistan internal politics
    – Watch the finger pointing and accusation between the powers. Cause sooner or later it will turn into war by proxy, then hot war.
    Then combine with al qaeda pattern of attack. or what taliban is doing.
    you can almost sense what they gonna do next.

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