“Tribal engagement in Afghanistan”

Iranussrbritain "…facet of the Iraq strategy that McKiernan doubts can be duplicated in Afghanistan is the US military’s programs to recruit tribes to oppose insurgents. That effort, begun in 2006 in Iraq’s Anbar province, led a loose coalition of tribes to turn against the Sunni insurgent group al Qa’ida in Iraq and side with the U.S. military. It was expanded in early 2007 in a U.S. military effort to hire local tribesmen and former insurgents to serve as armed guards in their neighborhoods. In Iraq, nearly 100,000 of the volunteers, primarily Sunnis, are on the job. "  Wash Post


"Tribal engagement in Afghanistan is also vital, McKiernan said, but it must be carried out through the Afghan government and not by the U.S. military.

"I don’t want the (US?) military to be engaging the tribes," he said. Given Afghanistan’s complicated system of rival tribes and ethnic groups and the recent history of civil war, allying with the wrong tribe risks rekindling internecine conflict, he said. "It wouldn’t take much to go back to a civil war." "  Wash Post


General McKiernan is someone deserving of respect.  He was the coalition ground force commander for the invasion of Iraq.  His principled resistance to Rumsfeld’s demands for an excessively small troop list for Iraq was impressive.

There clearly are not enough US ground troops in Afghanistan.  The lack of enough force is limiting action severely and causing troops to be spread across the landscape in such a way that tactical risk is markedly increased.  The same phenomenon increases reliance on air power for the fire support needed to redeem bad situations. 

Nevertheless, I think McKiernan is looking at the situation in Afghanistan in an unrealistic way. 

Afghanistan is a country dominated by tribal loyalties and structures.  No matter what the State Department or his political scientist advisers may tell him, those loyalties and lifeways are not going to change much any time soon.  The US government is rotten with the political science inspired notion that societies evolve and "progress" in the direction of the creation of geographically logical centralized states.  This is merely a theory.  It was created to provide a satisfactory (to some)explanation of European history.

The Afghan government of today is merely one of the many "players" in the complex socio-political situation in Afghanistan.  If the United States backs the Karzai government with the idea of creating a highly centralized state in Afghanistan, then it is going down the road to re-creating the same social chaos that led to several years of ferocious tribal and factional revolt in Iraq.

Afghanistan is never going to be the kind of country that the neocons would like to see.  Success in Afghanistan will require a realistic use (manipulation if you prefer) of the actual playing pieces on the board of Afghan Chess.

Can the existing Afghan government adequately engage its tribal and clan competitors and adversaries?  I doubt it.  The ability to coordinate the efforts of varied tribal entities often depends on a certain independence of interest. 

TE Lawrence is back in fashion.  We seem to have missed this lesson that his example teaches.  pl


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32 Responses to “Tribal engagement in Afghanistan”

  1. b says:

    The social net in Afghanistan seems to be more complicate than within the Anwar tribes.

    Like any complex society, the Afghans divide and order themselves along a multitude of different social categories that may contradict one other and often apply simultaneously depending on the circumstances. An important structuring principle is the tribal system that covers about two thirds of the population. Although the tribal principle is clear and unambiguous, it by no means forms ”real” social groups. Instead it is one of the recruiting principles of corporate and of conflicting groups, though never the only one.

    Bernt Glatzer (2001). “War and Boundaries in Afghanistan: Significance and Relativity of Local and Social Boundaries.” Weld Des Islams, 41, 3, pp. 379-399.
    as quoted at Registan
    The concept is known as Qawm

    A qawm is the term used to describe any segment of society bound by solidarity ties, whether it be an extended family, clan, occupational group or village. Qawm is based on kinship and patron-client relationships; before being an ethnic of tribal group, it is a solidarity group, which protects its members from the encroachments of the state and other qawm, but it is also the scene of internal competition between contenders for local supremacy (Pierre Centlivres, Olivier Roy, and Whitney Azoy quoted in Roy 1989: 71).

    Within those structures ‘scial enngineering’ by outsiders will never work.
    McKiernam is right in that. He should have the balls to say that the ‘west’ can never win in Afghanistan.
    He is calling for more troops knowing well that no more troops are available. That’s just covering his ass.

  2. Patrick Lang says:

    “‘social enngineering’ by outsiders will never work”
    Oh, please! How naive you sound!
    My argument was for the opposite thing. pl

  3. Will says:

    Afghanistan is not an Al-Qa’eda problem I would think. Even if the foreigners were gone, we have decided we cannot deal with native Taliban. But once in a while, you hear a murmur that there is no military sol’n, matters must be solved politically.
    the conventional wisdom is now that the Abizaid-Casey doctrine for the employment of US forces in Irak followed the principle that they were an antibody to that society and they needed to be isolated on large bases and used kinetically. Antibody in the sense that their mere sight attracted Al-Qa’eda and stirred resentment. Of course when they left those bases to their points of insertion they became susceptible to IED’s.
    On the other hand the population centered COIN strategy which includes multiple facets but which now in shorthand is called the “surge” eschews the antibody large bases and inserts the troops fulltime where they need to be applied. It reduces the danger of IED’s due to the better intelligence gained by actually living in the neighborhood but subjects them to greater mortar threats. I guess the ethnic cleansing that had taken place in the preceding pre-surge year plus, the Mahdi Army stand down & the Sunni awakening reduced the IED and mortar threat. And we must not forget the the Walls.
    Let’s see what Petraeus and his dream team of consultants (Kilcullen et al) come up for Afghanistan.
    I would think the problem is in southern Afghanistan. The North is Uzbek and Tajik. The East is Persian allied? The South is Pushtu- a continuation of northern Pakistan, (an arbitrary border drawn by Englishmen and Russians?)
    My brother in law a Major in the British Army just got back from Khandhar. Thank goodness, the Brits only deploy for five months at a time. !!!

  4. jonst says:

    We seem to have missed a lot of “lessons” these past 7 years or so. Not announcing anything…just muttering it to myself, sorta.

  5. Duncan Kinder says:

    One thing we could do – if we were to legalize drugs – would be to purchase all the opium that is currently funding the Taliban.

  6. Joerg says:

    “Success in Afghanistan” – what´s your definition of that? And would there still be troops in Afghanistan seven years later, if the definition of success acted upon by decision makers was not one of those PoliSci-notions you don´t seem to have much use for? Just asking – I am really not sure I understand what your expectations regarding Afghanistan are.

  7. DaveGood says:

    Col. sir.
    Neither of us have anything like the understanding we would need to go in and tinker with the Afghan tribal structure to produce something either of us could approve of, want, or regard as “satisfactory”.
    What should we do about the Hazara? For example? A people that the Taliban slaughtered and today most Afghans despise?
    Once you start backing this “tribe” against that “Tribe”… ( Which is what America did by by throwing their weight behind an Iranian backed Shiite party in Iraq)
    You have a civil War on your hands.
    Once you forment active killing on tribal grounds you have no hope of contolling or guiding the result to a “satisfactory conclusion, because you don’t know the language, don’t know the history, don’t know the politics and don’t know the culture.
    Instead you’ll start putting out 25,000 dollar “rewards” on naming and locating the “bad guys”.
    So every local in the area with a grudge names his opponent… watches as that guy’s home and family is destroyed by an American launched missile… then goes and picks up his 25,000.
    If you don’t understand the history, the society, or the language of a people who have damaged\destroyed two world empires ( British and the USSR)..but insist on involving yourselves intimately into their lives, their politics, their futures… expect to lose.
    Do not pump in money, guns and mercenaries,
    Afghanistan has seen all of that before.
    We need a different mix of money plus other stuff… suggestions Anyone?
    Because in the long run…. Afghanistan will prove more significant to our futures the Iraq.

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    I am not interested in benefiting the
    Afghans or “tinkering with their tribal structure.” I am interested in extricating the US with as little further damage to US forces as possible. pl

  9. Dan M says:

    Than isn’t the answer for us to withdraw as quickly as is practical, while offering Karzai a laurel and hearty handshake?
    I keep saying this to folks and they tell me we can’t.
    Why not? “We just can’t.”
    No, really: Why not? “Bad things will happen.”
    I mean worse than having to repeatedly drop 100 ton bombs on illiterate poppy farmers, whose surviving sons are then driven into Taliban-controlled refugee camps?
    I’m sure our withdrawl would prove transformative for Afghan society. I’m not particularly concerned with which transformation they choose.
    Afghanistan is just one more distraction from what should be our ongoing conversations with Iran and Pakistan (not neccessarily in that order). .

  10. Watcher says:

    Two things of note. NPR had a nugget about this that the WAPO did not mention. In the NPR story, McKiernan also gave the reason for a surge not working was that, in his opinion, the tribal structure in Afghanistan was too badly damaged/non existent after 30 years of conflict to achieve the same gains as we saw in Anbar. Perhaps between that assessment and Afghanistan’s role as an economy of force mission for seven years has led McKiernan to think that trying engagement now would simply be another tar baby to get the US stuck on.
    The idea that we can treat Afghanistan like Iraq in terms of TTPs is something that has sunk down to the lowest ranks. Late last year while I was still an O/C, we were putting a Brigade through it’s paces for Afghanistan. The senior BN O/C, an Infantry LTC who had commanded in Iraq, huddled the senior O/Cs to discuss the best way to coach and teach the BN through the tactical problem in front of them. This LTC was not a dumb guy, he normally got things pretty quick. His view though, along with the manuever O/Cs were of the opinion that we could take many of the things that worked in Iraq and apply them to this problem. I disagreed and we went round and round for about an hour or two before they understood the problem set was different due to culture and the enemy we were portraying and how issues that we as the US viewed as part of the problem were really accepted parts of the culture and we had to work it so that their cultural norms could be modified to become legal to us without a lot of change that they would notice, ie, rather than shutting down the shake down points of traffic coming across the boundary, work with the local government to give the shake points a badge and make it a tax point so that the village could profit from it. Did the rose still smell the same, yeah, but now it smelled alot better to us and the locals still got a cut of the local traffic in a good way. In the end, we still have a long way for us to go before we really understand this problem at all levels. We really need to get past the silver bullet mentality about counter insurgency and get back to the age old lesson that cultural plays a bigger role than we sometimes realize.

  11. zanzibar says:

    What would be repercussion if we just left?

  12. Graywolf says:

    Look at it from 30,000 feet:
    If we leave Afghanistan, does that mean a highly probable repeat of 9/11?
    NO means…get out ASAP.
    YES means we can’t leave.
    If YES, then what is the plan for preventing another 9/11 without becoming another worn-down Soviet occupation force and destroying our Army?
    And that’s the problem.
    Just declaring the “NO” is simple and easy until Afghanistan slips into a terrorist state and provides the ground for another 9/11.
    I don’t have much confidence in Homeland Security and TSA to keep the bad guys out.

  13. stanley Henning says:

    We should also re-look the British experience in Afghanistan and Kipling’s contemporary Ballad of East and West. Good luck! And, by the way, I think we are also still “helping” the Philippines cope with the Moro issue, for which we designed the .45 automatic pistol about 100 years ago.

  14. Patrick Lang says:

    Graywolf et al
    Nothing there we really need, but it is desirable to keep the place from becoming a takfiri jihadi base area for international action. My BR Stan Henning understands this situation exactly. This will be a long ride even if you do it right.
    To that end, I favor a minimal program for Afghanistan, one in wnich infrastructure building(both institutional and physical) is combined with a readiness to foster a diplomatic settlement between an acceptable central g0vernment and a weakened taliban. To achieve that weakened state a campaign should be fought that seeks to use tribal forces against the taliban and takfiri forces. This campaign should used UW methods and SF troops assisted by the HTS program. In other words use Afghans to fight Afghans. This effort must be backed up by enough conventional ground and air power to tip the balance in our direction in tactical engagements. Training the Afghan Army, sure— yawn. pl

  15. Ormolov says:

    Along with the players and regional forces others have mentioned…
    Pakistan’s ISI. Recruited Talib in refugee camps. Funded their movement, etc. They still obviously consider them a resource. Afghanistan won’t know real peace until Pakistan does.
    Any bets on when that happens?

  16. Will says:

    as i’ve said before, our problems did not start with afghani or wazir stans but with pali stan. (palestine)
    doesn’t the narrative quoted below from the friday lunch club (NPR) sound like a CONCERT OF THE MIDDLE EAST of which Col. Lang had advocated once or twice.
    “Bob Baer: “…The Iranians would like is to become an equal partner of the US in the Middle East …”
    Baer interviewed on NPR, here, via WarinContext
    “…Terry Gross: An equal partner in what?
    Baer: In the Middle East.
    They would like to sit down with the United States and Israel and actually come to a solution for the Palestinians.
    They would like to support and give power to the Shia in Lebanon, because the Shia are approaching a majority in Lebanon.
    They would like to co-administer Mecca with the Saudis.
    They feel that their sect has been repressed since 680AD — since the murder of the Prophet’s grandson. They believe that this is the Shia millenium….”
    Rather far fetched goals- eh
    Recently Olmeret said the unspeakable_ Israel must contemplate giving up East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Golan. Who knows?

  17. David W. says:

    Michael Yon has moved from Iraq to Afghanistan, and just posted this informative entry on his blog:
    Isolated from other habitations, a lone compound makes an inviting target for an airstrike when enemy are believed present. We greatly depend on airstrikes due to lack of ISAF and Afghan soldiers. Yet civilian casualties are turning the locals against us. The men from the village where the French soldiers were killed, told me that airstrikes had accidentally killed about 200 animals, including 27 cows, and they were never compensated. I do not know if the numbers are accurate, but I sensed the men were being truthful that animals were killed. They said four people from a nearby village were killed from an airstrike during the fighting, and they gave specifics which made me think they were likely telling the truth. The men also said they liked the French and the Americans before the fighting, but they hate us now.
    Isn’t this looking like Vietnam redux? Pakistan playing Cambodia, etc. I think the real problem is institutional, where lip service may be paid to common sense ideas, such as the Col Lang’s, but in the end, the old adage remains: “There is nothing so powerful as a bad idea who’s time has come.” In this case, to me, this means the Institutional US ‘Eye of Sauron solution’ of large bases and troop deployments, air power, ‘smart’ bombs (ask Ollie North how smart they are), and USAID strings-attached aid. I hope I’m wrong, but then, I’d be going against history, and the institutional inertia of the US MIC.
    Teh Surge won’t work in Afghanistan for many reasons, but primarily because the piggy bank is broke.

  18. Will says:

    i should revise my remark re the abizaid-casey Irak strategy. It was more than to garrison the troops on large bases and to send them on kinetic missions. In fact their core mission was to train and build an Iraki Army from scratch. An Army that had been disbanded by ProConsul Bremer.
    And as that Army was built up, then the American Army would withdraw.
    The Col. on at least one post noted that the Iraki Army had no tail. No logistical support, intelligence, etc.
    Woodard in his book notes that Casey took exception to Condi Rice describing his operation as a clear and hold which would have been a COIN population centered strategy. Casey saw his mission as a training strategy. Bush was focused on the “kill” numbers, on the scoreboard, b/c that would tell him who was “winning.” It was important to him not to leave in defeat.
    It could be argued that if we had followed the Casey strategy, we would have been out of there by now, and the inevitable showdown would have already ocurred.
    Now the question about Afghanistan?
    Is it now a training mission of the Afghani Army and we get out on meeting certain strength benchmarks OR is it going to be a COIN (clear and hold) population centered strategy?
    Note bene (Latin for well). Palin actually used the term COIN (counter insurgency) in the debate tonight. That clears up one point. Maybe McCain understands that the “Surge” was much more than a troop surge.

  19. b says:

    Sorry for messing up the html/typing in the first comment.
    Pat says:

    To achieve that weakened state a campaign should be fought that seeks to use tribal forces against the taliban and takfiri forces.

    The point of the two academic sources I quoted is that the tribal structure in Afghanistan is not the premier social structure and thereby unreliable.
    Whatever existed of such structure has also been damaged by 30 years of war.
    You may find a warlord and his clan/clients that can be bribed to do your thing today. But they may well fight you tomorrow.
    McKiernan in his NPR interview acknowledges that:

    “What I find in Afghanistan is a degree of complexity in the tribal system which is much greater than what I found in Iraq years ago,” McKiernan says. “And I also find that of the over 400 major tribal networks inside of Afghanistan, a lot of that traditional tribal structure has broken down.”

    Nuristan, a small 300,000 people province on the boarder to Pakistan, has fifteen tribes with lots of subgroups with five different languages and even more dialects. Some of these groups fight each other for ages.
    So which tribe of those does one hire and arm to do what?
    On infrastructure building NPR has this:

    Reconstruction programs in many parts of the country have ground to a halt for lack of security. There is much talk of increasing the amount of aid and beefing up the reconstruction effort, but Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says it is rather late to start talking about that, seven years after the invasion.
    “The fact is our aid that is given is extraordinarily ineffective for many years, and they’ve done nothing about it,” Rubin says. “So now they’re talking about it, but there’s nothing they can accomplish in the last days of the administration.”

    The somewhat funny thing is that infrastructure (roads) in Afghanistan was attempted to build by contracting it out.
    Those were/are mostly Chinese and Indian workers who are doing these projects (the ringroad). Instead of hiring local youth and getting them off the warrior path, the occupation imported more foreign elements into the country.
    There is one thing one could immediately do to help in Afghanistan.
    Get the Indians out.
    Pakistan is fearing (correctly in my view) to suddenly find an Indian ally to its west. This threatens a double fronted war to them.
    India is doing its best to get Karzai on its side (he was educated at an Indian university). It has lots of diplomats and paramilitary troops (some of the roadbuilders are Indian paramilitary army engineers) in the country.
    Pakistan says, quite believable, that the Taliban it now fights within its boarders (today’s NYT) are financed by India. That is at least plausible.
    Get India out of Afghanistan and remove the reason for Pakistan to incite the Pashtun against the occupation.
    That will help much more than trying to use those poor tribal structures that might still exist.
    The way out of Afghanistan is well known. One can fly, drive or walk out. As longer one waits as more expensive it will be. The results will change little independent of how long one stays.

  20. Jose says:

    IMHO, we should listen to former 48D’s, State department/CIA officials and even Russians who have a clue and experience about what is going on in Afghanistan.
    Last time we sided with several Afghan tribes, things did not turn out the way we wanted them to.

  21. Patrick Lang says:

    Well, I am a former 48D and G so I guess you have to listen to me.
    You have your facts wrong. Like most people you seem to think that we created the Taliban. That is not the case. The mujahideen factions that we backed against the Soviets were neither Taliban nor Al-Qa’ida. They accomplished what we wanted. They defeated the Soviets.
    I really am not intersted in the opinions of academics on what is possible or not possible in Afghansitan or anywhere else.
    The tribes might turn on you later? It is childish to think that any policy will have permanent effect. pl

  22. Have we really fully and accurately assessed the “Human Terrain” in Afghanistan? A country with no real census ever, no really good maps, no really good roads, no really good economy, and a history of foreign tampering since the British Raj in India! Did Alexander and the Mongols make a real dent in their culture and history? Perhaps! I think ignorance still pervades most of what the US does in Afghanistan! But of course could be wrong.

  23. Patrick Lang says:

    I would say that the process of understanding the Human Terrain is ongoing and should be. pl

  24. John Howley says:

    What of the opium trade?
    The NYT headline below begs the question: what of traffickers allied with Karzai or (gulp) ourselves? Do they get a pass?
    “Good” tribal leaders can sell all the opium they want…”bad” tribal leaders cannot. What am I missing?
    (At least they seem to have given up on attacking farmers and their crops.)
    NATO Aims at Afghans Whose Drugs Aid Militants
    “I think there’s a need for increased involvement in I.S.A.F. in assisting the Afghan government in counternarcotics efforts,” said General McKiernan, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or I.S.A.F. “Where we can make a clear intelligence linkage between a narcotics dealer or a facility and the insurgency, I consider that a force protection issue, and we can deal with that in a military way.”

  25. JohnS says:

    In other words use Afghans to fight Afghans.
    I’m not a military guy, but if I recall correctly, wasn’t that Bush’s initial strategy to take down the Taiban in Afghanistan, pre Iraq invasion? Wasn’t it more or less successful pre-Iraq?
    Am I further mistaken, or didn’t Bush shift his Taliban fighting Afghan strategery to installing a strong central gov’t with our own guy at its head and building an Afghan Army to fight the Taliban (while actively working to disarm the very ethnic groups responsible for our initial successes!!!)?
    Both our presidential candidates are on board with Bush’s central gov’t/Afghan Army vs Taliban strategery. Or can an Afghan strategy include both militias and a central gov’t/Afghan Army to take on the Taliban be cobbled together?

  26. David Habakkuk says:

    Your ask whether, if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, this means ‘a highly probable repeat of 9/11?’ And you say that if the answer is yes, this means that you cannot leave.
    But this would only follow, if staying in Afghanistan could 1. materially reduce the risk of a repeat of 9/11, and 2. could do so without other negative consequences, as or more serious than a repeat of 9/11.
    The fact that an objective is desirable does not mean it is achievable. And it is a basic principle of good strategic planning (in any field) that it is better to have a less ambitious objective that is achievable than a more ambitious one that is not.
    In fact we have no means of accurately assessing the risks of a new 9/11. At the moment they seem materially less than many thought following the event, but we do not really know. What should be apparent is that to reduce these risks to zero is simply not an attainable objective, and attempts to achieve this — as by broadening the Afghan war by attacking targets in Pakistan — are highly liable to increase the risks rather than decrease them.
    In any case, a new 9/11, while one devoutly hopes it can be avoided, would hardly be the end of the world. What would of course be enormously more serious would be a nuclear attack by jihadists on American or other targets. This would certainly be an historic catastrophe — but it would still not be the end of the world.
    A corollary of the need to avoid unachievable objectives is the need for flexibility. As long as one continues to nourish hopes of some kind of remodelling of Afghanistan on the model of the United States, the fact that many other actors in the region — notably Iran, Russia, and the Central Asian states — share a common interest with the U.S. in preventing the jihadists acquiring a safe haven in Afghanistan is not material.
    Once abandons such hopes, an obvious question arises as to whether some kind of regional concert can be created. Equally, once one concedes that one cannot reduce the risk of a new 9/11 to zero, the importance of ensuring that any such attack is made with conventional rather than nuclear means comes into sharp relief — which requires an effective policy aimed at ensuring that jihadists cannot obtain access to nuclear weapons. In the long run, this requires an effective non-proliferation policy.
    Both the prospects of any regional concert, and policies to ensure that jihadists cannot obtain access to nuclear weapons, require engagement with Iran and with Russia.
    Your preferred presidential candidate, however, likes to sing ‘Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,’ and is firmly committed to incorporating the Ukraine and Georgia in NATO — a course of action which guarantees something close to a complete breakdown of relations with Russia.

  27. TomB says:

    David Habakkuk wrote:
    “What should be apparent is that to reduce these risks to zero is simply not an attainable objective.”
    And boy do I think something like that motto ought to be pounded into the head of every American and inscribed in one form or another on our currency.
    Some years ago the elder Kagan I think (ironically enough), wrote a book asking the interesting question whether a study of history could show whether there was some general common cause for war. And his answer if I recall correctly was yes, and that answer was a sort of national or ethnic/tribal/in-group or whatever ego. (As I remember it, and for want of me being able to lay my hands on the book and its exact words right now for some reason.)
    But the book wasn’t persuasive at all, and instead, by far, and especially as to modern wars it struck me that if there was any commonality it was the ridiculous quest for some kind of ultimate security.
    Sure there’s an ego component to this; the more egotistical one gets the more one feels they have the right to make war for ever more security. But to me at least, insofar as anything can be said to be a common hinge of war generally, I think it’s been “security.” People don’t have some innate desire to go and conquer others and are only held back trying by their inability. But they do have an innate fear of being attacked, encroached on, humiliated, conquered or whatever.
    And it’s funny too because the more you take away the *ability* to make war for ever more security, the more logically do the implications therefrom naturally suggest a foreign policy ever more resembling that of our American founders: Interference in no one else’s affairs, friendship with everyone who doesn’t attempt to interfere with ours.
    Not only morally/ethically consistent, but eminently sensible too since the country then was so small and we were so weak we *couldn’t* attain much security militarily at the time.
    Seems to me with the ever-increasing availability of weapons of mass destruction, ease of terrorism, and etc., etc., some thought ought to be given whether, once again, and just like before, America simply can’t get any too huge a chunk of security via pure military strength. That was only true during some extraordinary times of the last century. So if you really really really want more “security,” what needs to change isn’t the *military* aspect of our foreign policy, but the *non*-military aspects of it.

  28. lally says:

    Some probably naive questions:
    While another 9/11 could be the results of planners in Afghanistan being left unmolested, does anyone believe it would be the source of the doers who would execute the operation?
    Like the original, westernized operatives who can pass are required, one would think. Are they likely to emerge from the tribal fighters, the Taliban, the foreign jihadis, etc?
    Back to the potential planners in situ; given the technological advances over the past seven years, wouldn’t an execution of a 9/11-ish attack require some working familiarity with the technologies in order to counter them?
    Where in the world would such adepts likely to be found? I would guess they wouldn’t be among those waging war in the high plains and mountains of Afghanistan/Pakistan.
    To indulge in my inevitable “if only” whenever this issue comes up; was his connection with Iran the rationale for refusing to ally with the only man who had a prayer to lead Afghanistan? “democrat” Shah Massoud; could his assassination been avoided had we made common cause with him as per his requests?
    Oh well..futile musings and regrets.

  29. b says:

    Pat: – I really am not intersted in the opinions of academics on what is possible or not possible in Afghansitan or anywhere else.
    You are yourself an academic. An authority on the tribes in Iraq, on their language and their tribal roots and history. You are also an expert on some folks in Vietnam you have worked with.
    That academic knowledge resulted in a plan (written in 2006 I think) that proved successful. The ‘sons of Iraq’ were born through your study and that has helped the U.S military for a while.
    They SoI will now go down the usual deadly path of collaborators.
    No policy has permanent effect.

    But as an academic authority (with lots of field experience) on Iraq and Vietnam what drives you then to disregard the authority of people who have worked on Afghan tribes (with lots of field experience) for decades?
    If they say it can’t be done, why are you confident it can be done?

  30. Patrick Lang says:

    You have not seen as yet the things that I am really good at.
    You have no idea of the number and variety of things that I have worked on.
    I made a decision long ago that I would not be a professor or a professional researcher inhabiting some institution.
    Afghanistan? I was head of analysis for the Departnent of Defense for South Asia for eight years including the period of the Mujahid war against the Soviets. After 2003 I worked on efforts to build the economy in that country for several years.
    Academic monographs? Interesting sources of information but unfortunately usually distorted by some fashionable academic received wisdom.
    I remain what I always was, and that is not an academic. pl

  31. Mad Dog says:

    Good jousting commentary!
    From that I synthesize that no amount of US/NATO armed forcery, no amount of civil reconstructory, no amount of tribal musical chairery, will render Afghanistan/Pakistan Talibanery null and void.
    So that just leaves solving the real underlying issue/problem.
    If the fact that we don’t know just what that issue/problem is, don’t feel too bad. I suspect the Afghanistan/Pakistan residents couldn’t in the end identify it either.
    Solve the Israeli/Palestinian problem? Sure, that removes a very sore thorn.
    But, that pétard has hoisted many a rear end far beyond its reasonable animus, to the extent that now it has attained the raison d’etre (the purpose that justifies a thing’s existence) for entire populations of both Musliam and Jewish souls.
    Since we don’t, and may never have, a true identification of the real underlying issue/problem, we might as well just fix that ol’ Israeli/Palestinian problem, kill or capture Osama Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, give the Afghans a Platinum Visa card with a few billion dollars line of credit, and then call it a day.

  32. Cieran says:

    David Habakkuk:
    In any case, a new 9/11, while one devoutly hopes it can be avoided, would hardly be the end of the world. What would of course be enormously more serious would be a nuclear attack by jihadists on American or other targets. This would certainly be an historic catastrophe — but it would still not be the end of the world.
    As always, you provide well-considered and relevant food for thought. Thank you for that.
    And if I could amplify your commetary here, I would add two comments about the two threads of the quoted paragraph…
    First, 9/11 was predicted, in both general and remarkably particular manners, so the hopes of avoiding another similar incident are quite likely feasible. We just need an executive branch of government that would pay some attention to Intel briefings that have titles such as “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”, or to FBI agents and counter-terrorism experts hollering for someone to pay attention to the threats they have uncovered.
    So while we cannot reduce the likelihood of such an attack to zero, we can certainly do a lot better job than what we’ve seen from the last few administrations. Plenty of smart people know how to infer threats… they just need to be permitted to use their brains to do so without political hacks (e.g., Cheney and his ilk) telling them what pre-ordained outcomes they are supposed to infer from their intelligence sources.
    Second, the nuclear threat of terrorism is an wildly uncertain one. Yes, it’s tempting for a terrorist group to try to procure such a weapon and use it, but on the other hand, to do so risks utter annihilation of that group, and of any country that might have harbored it in the recent past.
    As you pointed out, no terrorist group, even if nuclear-armed, poses an existential threat to the U.S, so any group stupid enough to use a nuclear weapon will not be smart enough to hide their tracks for long, and then they will be obliterated, because “an eye for an eye” is not an inappropriate response in most cultures of the world. So who would want to head down that path to set the first precedent for what would likely result?
    The end of the world as we know it is infinitely more likely to come from the kind of rank stupidity we’ve seen lately from within our own nations, e.g., expanding NATO’s tripwires into countries that don’t want to serve as such, or bombing nations like Iran as part of our military-industrial Ponzi scheme… or just letting the financial system of the west melt down because no one had the stomach for either regulation or accountability.
    Those existential threats are likely much more difficult to defend against than terrorists in caves hoping to get lucky with another 9/11. And that’s in large part because the accomplices needed to pull off the terrorist dreams of Al Qaeda are also likely found in caves in remote Waziristan, where the accomplices needed to perpetuate this ruinous self-inflicted stupidity are currently running much of our society.

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