It's the Tribes? That's Stupid.

It's the Tribes? That's Stupid. - Lieutenant Colonel John Malevich, Canadian Army -- U.S. Army / U.S. Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, Combined Arms Center Blog.

When you are a stranger in a strange land, you need to be aware of, and hold on to, and be proud of your culture. In my experience you can become susceptible to myth and unfounded fears of a super warrior that you have not yet engaged. I was chatting with a young Afghan who, full of Pashtun bravado said to me "westerners were from a feminine culture," because we spent the majority of our economic activity on goods and services and not on weapons of war and the military. Being one half Irish and one half Yugoslavian culturally speaking, I am not inclined to walk away from a fight and "them sounded like fighting words to me." I asked my Pashtun buddy to show me how westerners greet each other. He extended his hand in a wave. I pointed out the open hand and said, "do you know why we do that? The open hand shows the other westerner that 'I have no weapons;' so, I won't try to kill you, this time." It seems we are not such an effete culture after all, my Pashtun friend!

In our ninth year of insurgency in Afghanistan it seems that we are turning to romantic notions and silver bullets to extricate ourselves from what seems like an unending conflict. The latest great hope is the tribes. The idea being that if only we could mobilize them, we would be halfway to a solution to this insurgency.

I think that this approach smacks too much of military orientalism. We seem to be looking for the Jean Jacque Rousseau "noble savage." Or in modern terms, I would call it the "Avatar Effect" or "Last Samurai last hope." In the search to find a way out we are pinning our hopes on the weakest link in the Afghan conflict chain.

I will not look at this problem from an anthropological point of view but rather from a strictly military point of view. There are limitations to the tribal style of warfare that have always limited their effectiveness and always will.

Tribes fight within the limitations of a complicated honor code that requires the respect of both sides to work. Pashtun culture sees the fight as being a matter of honor, worth fighting only if it is an affair between men taking equal risk i.e. it has to be a fair fight. The targeting of women and non-combatants to gain an advantage is out of the question. Once you do that, the Pashtun leaves the fight. Historically, this has been a very effective method of defeating them. British Aerial Policing did this, Taraki's bombing of revolting villages did this, and the Taliban fanatics are not above targeting non-combatants either.

The Pashtun fight for booty or land not ideals. This limits their zeal because once the objective is taken, the spoils are distributed and the fighting stops. After that comes the squabbling between tribes as to who gets what from the spoils. So, motivating them to expel the Taliban from their midst is really a non-starter because there is no money in it.

Real soldiers know that it is all about logistics. Start running out of ammo in a firefight and you know what I mean. Afghan tribal fighting style and honour code demand that Pashtuns should all fight all the time. That is a great line for Star Ship Troopers, but not militarily practical for the Pashtuns. Because they will not take less honourable duties like logistics, their style of fighting is best suited to the advance where they can live off the land like armies of old. They cannot support themselves outside their immediate area, or Kehl.

Getting tribes and clans and different communities to fight side by side is problematic. Disputes over spoils or disputes over perceived slights can quickly turn allies against one another. King Ammanullah was able to use the mullahs as interlocuters between the tribes and as logisticians in order to keep them fighting the enemy not each other. This time, the enemy is the mullah. Who will keep the tribes on side? P.S. This week, two Shinwari sub-tribes took up arms to fight each other over an ancient land dispute, leaving at least 13 people dead. This is the same tribe who were supposed to work with Coalition forces for a cool million.

Tribes cannot call jihad, thus their dead cannot be shaheed (martyrs). This limits their enthusiasm for the fight. We want them, in fact, to fight against those that have called for jihad. How do we cross that bridge?

Jirga/Tribal structure makes planning too slow. It is easily infiltrated and the supporters are too easily identified and targeted with night letters and murder, and of course their plans can be communicated to the enemy quite easily.

Tribal war is all about the survival of the tribe and the protection of the status and possessions of the elders who are reluctant combatants because they have the most to lose. The elders that we put our faith in are the least —to fight because they take the greatest risk. They have land, women and houses that are not easy to walk away from. It is the young who have the most zeal because they have the least to lose. The tribes are most likely to join you only when you are winning and the can get in on the booty.

They are first to quit. In fact, the Taliban never took all of Afghanistan. They merely built up a head of steam and the tribes/warlords flipped over on their backs like submissive dogs in order to preserve their status. After 911, they flipped back against the Taliban, because momentum was with us and we would preserve their status. The mistake we make is that in our culture, changing sides is seen as the worst kind of evil, but in Pashtun culture it is seen merely as clever because it is all about survival of the tribe.

Let's look at the recent history of the tribes. The tribes tell us they hate the Taliban, the Taliban are trumped up school teachers who have stepped above their station in life, the tribes are full of mighty warriors, and it is the Elders who should be in power. If this were the case, the Taliban would have been chased out a long time ago. It seems to me, the tribes are either not capable or not —to take on the Taliban and are content to maintain the status-quo and their position within it.

Which is it?

LCol JJ Malevich, Canadian Exchange Officer, COIN Branch Chief, US Army/ USMC Counter Insurgency Center. This statement is my own and does not constitute an endorsement by or opinion of the Department of Defense.

Your rating: None



The evidence is in every single statement that is made by both sides of politics. Neither the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition or CD mention the other work going on in Afghanistan by Australia. They continue to frame the public's mind with old, conventional language to describe the conflict in Afghanistan.

In fact the majority of funding AusAid provides is to multilateral agencies like the World Bank or the UN who continue to fail in the monitoring and evaluation side. UN is one of the worst.

Where AusAid does claim credit for success I would seriously doubt the veracity these claims. For example, I have never seen any evidence of their claim to have contributed to the provision of emergency health care in remote and conflict affected areas in east and south Afghanistan.

It has nothing to do with commitments in relation to the size of a country. It's how effective those commitments are - I only hope our AusAid commitment in Afghanistan is better than the commitment in Sri Lanka, because that was terrible.

But I would go as far as predicting that the AusAid people on the ground (if we have any that are not just only based in Kabul) actually personally go out on a daily basis and directly monitor the development work AusAid are supposed to be doing. That means daily time/date and GPS coords of photos, numbers of people directly employed on the ground, number of family beneficiaries etc

This is no stab at AusAid people. They are decent folk. Just being frank about what actually happens in reality on the ground and how poor our political leaders have been at articulating the situation in Afghanistan. Both sides of politics in Australia need to read SWJ for just one week and they would be more informed.

Thanks for your comments.


What is your evidence for these statements:

"Our political leaders and commentators continue to portray Afghanistan as a military exercise. Therefore, giving the public the perception that there is only a military solution."

I concede that, prima facie, relative to other contributing nations, our commitment is modest and our political debate sufficiently shallow to drive that perception, yet surely our AusAID contribution let alone the mentoring work in Oruzgan suggests a more multi-faceted approach than purely a "military exercise".

Your thoughts invited.

I apologise for coming into this debate so late. Been having an electronic holiday. I also feel humbled by engaging in a debate with seasoned veterans on this topic.

Afghanistan is a psychological Rubic's Cube where no amount of corporate style powerpoints are going to be able to present the flow chart to a five point plan for success.

In Afghanistan there continues to be a substantial proportion of the population who support the Taliban. This support is not necessarily based on an Afghan nation administered from Kabul by a Taliban Government. Those who dont support the Taliban dont necessarily support GiRoA either and display a high degree of suspicion towards the unelected, largely invisible and mostly corrupt Provincial Governors and sub-Governors. Mostly, support is determined by basic human motivations to survive - in Afghanistan this has always been based around what ever is in their collective interest.

As with this "it's the tribes stupid, is stupid" debate, we continue to treat the fight against the Taliban as if we are flighting a unified force. How many current or former soldiers who contribute to SWJ found that the Taliban they were fighting, in the valley they were fighting in, were being directed from some higher command beyond the local environment.

The byzantine tribal and ethnic structure where all politics is local between families, clans, tribes across hills, valleys and between wells will always exist. One of the massive failures of the recent Kabul Conference was the assumption that all politics in Afghanistan comes from Kabul. The international community is making the same mistakes made by the British in the 19th Century by imposing Western models of governance and principles that do not fit with Afghanistans social physiology.

While no where near as large as the US, Australia has had a number of troops killed in recent months. Our political leaders and commentators continue to portray Afghanistan as a military exercise. Therefore, giving the public the perception that there is only a military solution. Again one dimensional thinking continues here as well.

Like the US and Canada we have a national approach to issues and ones that are highly parochial and we just dont trust central government to solve any of the challenges. The further we move from the centre of power the more the bonds of family, local geography, your word being your contract are what binds communities rather than centrally planned laws and regulations.

Point being there will be a number of independent and inter-dependent factors that lead to a result in Afghanistan. Certainly part of the mistake global leaders have made, such as those who made lovely statements at the Kabul Conference, is that they seem to lack the mental dexterity required to engage in Afghanistan. This is on top of the failure to provide the military with adequete resources up front, clear direction and open responsbility of engagement.

No wonder it is nearly impossible to provide a template for the ground. Beyond a few generalities we all see Afghanistan from our own direct experiences in particular locations with unique local issues and drivers of action.

Great article and great discussion. Keep it up guys.

think of the tribe as a community-- basically protecting community. this guy seriously does not know what he is talking about, it is just like conspiracy theory. The SMJ better not publish these kinda article because they lack educational imperative in first place.

He should have taken a different approach to critique the on-tribe method not by playing himself as a tough guy because in this 10 years we know who is tough and who is not.

Just remember your heritage as being half Irish--- the Irish regiments were defeated numerous times in Afghanistan.

I have been a strong supporter of developing Afghan police forces since my first deployment to Afghanistan in 2005 as a mission analyst. In my opinion there are two main arguments for this. The first is that there is a direct link to security (and insecurity) and rule of law. For most Afghans, they are living in the 'wild wild west' where the rule of the gun (ie. violence, threats, powerbrokers, insurgents, criminals, illicit drug brokers, and inlcuding corrupt government and police officials) dominates social, political and economic activities. I submit that the imposition and enforcement of the rule of law would directly and indirectly influence security, development, corruption, justice, governance and the licit economy. On the other hand, ISAF and allied nations are far too concerned with security and the development of military forces (ANA) to address security concerns despite the fact that the ANA would essentiallly be limited to influencing principally the security line of operation (and Governance somewhat).

It would appear that nations have their exit strategies pinned on the unrealistic expectation that we will train an army to replace our military forces and let Afghans take responsibility for their own security as we withdraw. This is a failed strategy since their forces will not be: numerous enough (there are currently not enough forces with ANA combined with allied forces), properly trained, equipped or self-sustaining. The GIROA is unable to fund their salaries without significant financial support, let alone maintain capabilities and meet the logisitical requirements. Moreso, the GIROA would not be able to fund the other three lines of operation necessary to adddress the sources of insurgency that exist.

The requirment for police forces far outweighs the requirement for military forces yet we continue to support ANA development far in excess of the ANP. In terms of addressing this requirement, arguments could be made for militias, national police, auxiliaries and even arming villages. These police development strategies though must be balanced with developing governance and judicial systems at the local level, in concert with the future national governance that has been put in place. Local militias are seen as a threat to national and even provincial governance mechanisms for example.

Lastly, I would argue that the international community made a serious error in instituting a national democracy far too early in the nation building process. I agree that success needs to be built piecewise from the village up versus instituionally from the Capital on down. The elections happened far too early and have resulting in a weak minority Government unable to meet expectations and especially prone to corruption as we have witnessed.



Carl---you are correct with you observations on national vs territorial police.

The recent NYTs' article on the ANP was not in the least flattering and it appears there are enough well trained ANP to implement to a degree what you are talking about. Corrupt ANP and ANA do more to damage the locals view of a central government than anything we do as the villagers view us as leaving someday.

Over on the blog topic "One Tribe at a Time" this exactly what SF is recommending in their view of creating tribal defense groups.

It will be literally years before a "well trained" ANA/ANP can come anywhere near being able to police the entire country.

Remember only about 3-5% of the population can even read or write---that figure was far far higher in Iraq where there was a tradition of a standing Army and Police.

Outlaw 7--Your comment about a territorial police force got me to thinking on something else. I have noticed there seems to be a lot of emphasis on building a national police force. That is a very very hard thing to do in a short time, especially given the numbers needed. What if you used the "territorial police force" for most of your manpower. They would be supervised by a very few number of national policemen. You would need a fraction of the number of national police and therefore you could afford to select carefully and train thoroughly in the more technical aspects of policing. If men of proper character were used the national police would be respected by the territorial police who are in turn respected by the locals. The whole thing would still lead back to the national government.

I find the stress put on a national, centrally directed and administered police force to be a bit curious. We don't have one and we do ok.

Carl---good point. But to some blogging on this topic there seems to be the desire to have them transition to full government control. Based on the SF CIDG transition to the SVN Army Ranger program in 1970 there is a track record for such a transition. But it was being done simply because SF in SVN were redeploying back to the US.

It could be argued though that irregular forces could in fact continue either as a recognized para military force inside the regular Army or for that matter they could be reflagged as a "territorial police force" and continue providing security as they did as irregulars.

Either way they would maintain the respect they earned in their respective areas, get a steady salary, and still be seen as an active supporter of a central government.

I've read through all 81 comments and I've found one reference to Pakistan/ISI (by Zenpundit) and one reference to overall strategy (by Ken). I think without a strategy of some kind to deal with Pakistan/ISI, the various approaches of tribes vs. s-groups vs. up the government vs. trice-versa are for nought. A very large part of the problem is coming from over the border. That which is coming over that border being sponsored and encouraged by a country with a big government with a big army, many of whose bills, ironically enough, are being paid by us.

Pakistan/ISI is one perhaps the primary of the root causes that Greyman referred to.

From my civilian point of view, wouldn't "night letter" campaigns of intimidation be partially handled by ambushing the letter carrier and leaving his body in the street to be seen by all? The ambushes probably would be best done by the locals whose cooperation would be garnered by whatever works at the time and in the place. As Outlaw 7 suggests, this is what worked decades ago.

Outlaw 7 I have a question about the following quote "As UW progresses to the benefit of the govenment then the irregular forces can be transitioned to a conventional military force and the UW environment can as a whole be transitioned to a more conventional effort." If things progressed well to the benefit of the gov, would there be any need for the irregulars to transition to regular forces at all? Couldn't they just disband or maintain their irregular status? I am not trying to be a smart-aleck but I don't see why it would have to be so.


First, wanted to apologize for my snarky comments on St. Paddy's day. Second, I like your ideas. If you'd like, then you can read a brief essay that I wrote a year ago for SWJ that follows your thought process- "Conflict Resolution in Small Wars." Additionally, I've rounded up some other Majors to co-write a piece on "Leader Engagements in Small wars." Hopefully, we'll have it fit for publication by 1 May.


I feel you. You are conducting what I call FID for the the US Army. I'm about to start the same thing at Bragg teaching small units prior to deployment and capturing their lessons learned when they redeploy. Keep up the good work. On a side note, most rangers probably won't study that stuff. The regiment mostly focuses on raids these days not small wars.



Mike--in some ways MAJ Gant is in fact wanting to operate in an "open source war" fashion.

Now ask Company Cmdrs what "open source warfare" is and you get a total blank stare.

We have not as a Army been able to explain the rapid pace of evolution in an insurgency--what took Mao 15 years is taking the Taliban and Sunni insurgencies 2, 3, at max 4 years to achieve. Why and it is not cultural based.

I mentioned previously that I had no explanation for the failure of institutional knowledge---I do in fact have the explanation-- it is in understanding "open source warfare", but right now no one either in the IC or DoD really wants to hear about it nor understand it.

From a blog today.

Friday, 19 March 2010
JOURNAL: Failure as a Strategy (Update)
Open source warfare dictates against long planning cycles and complex attacks except in extreme circumstances (the handbook of open source warfare is Brave New War). Typically, this means that for attacks to be sufficiently disruptive at this level of planning, they need to target soft but systematically important nodes on critical networks. However, there is an exception to this rule. If the defensive response to attacks on hard, symbolic targets is excessively intense, the damage caused by even failed attacks can be as disruptive as attacks on critical infrastructure. I made the case for this in the Dec. 2009 post: "Failure as a Strategy".

It now appears that the US counter-terrorism community accepts this premise (see "Al Qaeda's new Tactic is to Seize Shortcuts" in the LATimes) and is acting on it. Here are some choice quotes from the article:

•An examination of recent plots, including the bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, has convinced U.S. counter-terrorism analysts that Al Qaeda is becoming more opportunistic, using fewer operatives and dramatically shrinking the amount of planning and preparation that goes into an attack.
•The lesson Al Qaeda probably took was that, " 'Jeez, the damn bomb didn't go off and the Americans are still going out of their minds,' " a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said.
•U.S. intelligence agencies are struggling to stay abreast of the evolving threat. The National Counterterrorism Center expects to add as many as 50 analysts this year focused exclusively on tracking emerging threat data that previously might have been overlooked when the emphasis was on trying to detect and prevent a mass- casualty plot.

Mike---just a side bar on your comment.

I have taught over 34 groups of BCT Company Cmdrs going through their FORSCOM Leadership Training Program prior to a NTC rotation.

Subjects: HUMINT, HUMINT related issues, HUMINT in cultural contexts and Mao's defintion of a three phase guerilla war.

NOT a single Company Commander and there were Rangers in the mix even knew the term Phase 2 or even could give you a close definition--to me a VN, Desert Storm vet and a civilian contractor vet of Iraq (former SF) it was always a medium shock.

If you do not know your enemy better than yourself all is lost AND THAT is the problem--it is almost like after seven years of war and constant BCT rotations there is no institutional knowledge where there should be tonnes of it.

I have no explanation for it.

it's very true. and my ethnic group, hazara, is being oppressed, killed, and kept away from education.

pashtuns not only in afghanistan but also in pakistan have the same honor code. in their pashtunwali honor code giving rights to women is a shame. that's why they cover their women under burkas and beat them up.

how unlucky we, hazaras, are which happened to be in same country with these stone-age tribes.

i'm not sure how possible it is to divide afghanistan into two parts: pashtuns and other tribes. we would make our own country with a decent relation with the world based on human rights and modern values.


The NYT's report should not come as a suprise to any serious practisioner. The Taliban reverted back to PH One/Two operations in order to preserve itself against overwhelming mass. Personally, I think it compliments Bing West's latest report on SWJ to better highlight the difficulties the Marines and SF boys are facing.

As far as definitions go, you're right and Ken added some important causal factors. We already had the terms nailed down, and it should be nothing new. However, the fact is that not everyone is on the same page now, and that's not good. As COL Maxwell pointed out, organizations like JFCOM and USSOCOM are attempting to standardize the definitions. To me, this is extremely important particularly for Regular Army units.

RA is being asked to do more IW, FID, and SFA. Our only common reference is FM 3-24.



Sigh. Once more into the breech (sic -- that's an indication I need to have a door slammed on my head... :( ). The 4:47 PM Anonymous Mouse is Moi

Outlaw 7:

True on the manual and the Corps -- as for why not the Army; I suspect the same multiple choices can apply -- those plus your also correct comment on risk aversion

I bought Gallulla's book at the SBH Bookstore when it first came out. Did not see a thing we had not already learned by 1964. Not one bloody thing...


Re: your last, Roger that -- everything old is new again. Or something along that line. Doubly sad.

Wasn't necessary and a lot of voices banished to the wilderness in the 80s and 90s cannot derive much pleasure from saying "I told you so..." I sure don't.

We are fact recreating the wheel countless times over in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

There has been massive research done on the guerrilla war in VN and yet it seems that no one seems to pay attention to it.

In the out of print "Silence Was A Weapon-The Vietnam War In The Villages" by Stuart A. Herrington in 1982---Harrington a retired MI officer wrote about his experiences in the guerrila war for the villages and villagers.

AND his book clearly parallels the NYTs article-it is as if many simply do not want to learn from history.

"As NATO's much vaunted military offensive in Marjah winds down, there are now reports that the Taliban have begun a campaign of intimidation in the area. Taking advantage of the fact that NATO and Afghan troops "cannot defend anyone even one kilometer from their bases," the Taliban hide among the locals, and at night, the city "is like the kingdom of the Taliban," as one tribal elder put it. The Taliban post "night letters" at mosques and on utility poles, warning locals against cooperating with international and Afghan troops. They threaten to behead collaborators, and warn that they will confiscate any money locals earned from government jobs."

Ken---even the MC repackaged a 1960 US Army manual on guerrila warfare and pushed it to the troops--and they seem to be moving faster on incorperating lessons learned vs regular Army BCTs--wonder why?

Maybe it has to do with the CAC and the Combined Training Centers getting "stuck" in predefined ruts they do not want to change as risk averison is a BCT fact of life, OERs, and promotions.


So I am not sure why if doctrince defining the term has been in place inside SF since at least 1966 and that went back to 1960 -- why the need to define?

My guess would be due to (pick one):

a. SF is no longer in charge...

b. Egos

c. The 'Not invented by us' syndrome.

d. All the above.

Still, you raise a quite valid point. "We have met the enemy and he is us," quoth Pogo. Reinventing wheels is good; square wheels are impractical.

Sigh. We always forget that last...

Mike---reference the comments on the current Taliban shadow government and the dispute that broke out over IW vs UW.

Still stand by UW and I hope that someone in USSOCOM understands their definition of UW is not covering real environments ie Afghanistan as Afghanistan is a real "open source war" not the COIN FM versions.

This came from an execellent NYTs article from today--basically open source.

"As NATO's much vaunted military offensive in Marjah winds down, there are now reports that the Taliban have begun a campaign of intimidation in the area. Taking advantage of the fact that NATO and Afghan troops "cannot defend anyone even one kilometer from their bases," the Taliban hide among the locals, and at night, the city "is like the kingdom of the Taliban," as one tribal elder put it. The Taliban post "night letters" at mosques and on utility poles, warning locals against cooperating with international and Afghan troops. They threaten to behead collaborators, and warn that they will confiscate any money locals earned from government jobs."

What a perfect example of what happens when one trys to define things to fit a "perfect" world---actually the current 2009 definition of UW could have come out of my 1966 SF training and I was in several SF teams that were strictly UW down to parallel identities and unmarked 45 ammo and clean 45s. So I am not sure why if doctrince defining the term has been in place inside SF since at least 1966 and that went back to 1960 --why the need to define?

The Bushmills is empty, slight hangover, voice hoarse from singing along to the Wolfe Tones, but the rage is still there.
This attitude that I see of, "Dont bug me with your book learnn and such cuz I am down range and executing" to me smacks of General Haig 1916 saying, "dont bug me with your fire and movement or creeping barrages, I am busy fighting a war here."
I have been down range, but it seems that I did not get issued my halo and untouchable status on the flight in. Just cuz you are down range dont mean jack to me. Been there done that.
Here are some down range insights that I have experienced:
I had an 06 tell me that I was over emphasising the threat in Helmand, Kandahar and Farah because a lot of that area had a low population density. Oh yeah, than why are we pouring our surge into that place now!
I had a very high level political advisor, behind the wire type, tell me that elections were cancelled, "I have just briefed that to the commander." He heard it from an embassy contact. I had just come from the office of the Afghan who was running the election and guess what, it was not cancelled.
Two days before I got on the freedom bird, I told another very high up behind the wire guy that, he needed surge forces, he needed them early and he needed to get moving on some stuff. He told me I was wrong. Fair enough. He got fired, surge forces got sent in, too late the operation was a fiasco.
I have seen other people "down range" reading magazines during high level briefings at MoD while using the rest of their time to shop for carpets and blamestorme when things go wrong.
Next time I go down range, tell me where to get my halo, wings and aura of knowledge.
Just because you are in the back of the bus, doesnt mean you cant read the road sign saying you are going the wrong way. The correct response is not, "dont bug me Im driving, look at pictures of the other places I have driven too." It should be, lets check out that map.
I went down range so my son would not have to; at this rate, I think I will be giving him my AAR.
Thanks for bringing back the Rage.

Here is some music for the insurgency.

Greyman's voice reminds me of those that have given years to small wars and not cherised one unforgiving minute. In the same spirits, I type with my green shirt with a 4 leaf clover and the motto, "1st round draft pick!!!" Today, everyone is irish.

Some Cranberries and grievances then i'm spent...



I've been on the range with my son for a couple days and now I am checking back in. BTW, don't think I have anything against "book Learn'n" quite the contrary.

OK, shadow governments and Taliban justice. Here is the nut buster that got me thinking about all of this in the first place. In all the briefings that I received before shipping out, I was told that, "Pashtunwali" was the be all and end all of Afghan culture; Afghans had a perfect Greek style democracy that provided for all of their needs, governance conflict resolution basically the whole nine yards. (It was Dances With Wolves only with Turbans BTW take that movie back in your time machine and show it to the survivors of Fort William Henry who were released by Gen Montcolm without escort, yup I did some book learn'n) The Taliban et al have been making quite a bit of hay touting the fact that, "they provide governance and Justice" with their flying courts etc.... Well, if Pastunwali, provides for all, what the hell is the Taliban and the average villager complaining about!! According to Pashtunwali, the elders will mark off with stones the houses of people in conflict, and they, the wise white beards, will decide all. So, why do they need government or Taliban courts??? So, what is really going on?

People on the ground know what is going on? Don't be too sure about that. I lived two years outside the wire in Afghanistan, and worked with Afghans every day. Not easy. I did sleep two nights inside the wire and I felt like Capt Willard at the Do-Long bridge; I was with 15000 coffee shop commandos who never saw an Afghan. When I did see green suits outside the wire, great guys and gals, they were taking notes in order to build a power point brief feeding the beast with inane questions. When I worked at the Election Commission, I was like an Afghan meeting a constant stream of changing ISAF reps that were handing off after shorter and shorter tours. Nobody knew who had agreed to what or cared. It was all bout the power point and getting back to camp. BTW I am no expert on anything.

We need to study this place without pre-conceived notions. For me, things just don't add up, so I question it. We are facing a Jihad. Each Afghan decides to support his or her government on their own. We are pouring aid into this place, and making deals with whomever, quoting COIN bumper stickers, but not reading COIN doctrine.

Riddle me this, what is the Root Cause? What has Afghans, who are just like you and me, pissed enough to take up arms against their government? Figure that out and we might just crack this nut. If you're a hammer, all of your problems are nails, if you are USAID or the UN, all of your problems are development projects. But, poverty was not a root cause of the US war of independence. Why should it be the root cause here. Do we build Dubai on the Shomali plain?

COIN in Afghanistan, reminds me of every TEWT I did in the 1990's. Every estimate had "Republican Guard" and if you identified them as the COG, you got a blue ribbon. Guess what, the blue ribbon now goes to the guy who says poverty is the root cause and bonus points go to the guy who hands out the most aid money.

Let's do some unrestricted problem solving on this issue without preconceived pat answers.

Rage over back to my Bushmills. Happy St Patrick's Day. BTW poverty was also not a root cause in Ireland.

I meant to say in my second-to-last paragraph, "which is just as important in Afghanistan as it is here."

Mac, one of the fascinating things about my brief foray into commenting on this blog is that someone might have thought I was smacking them or otherwise going nuclear.

So here's my magical TTP that will solve all problems in Afghanistan with no foreseeable downsides (sarcasm alert, earnest soldiers):

Job 1 is figuring out what disputes exist at the local level. Most of the civil war in Afghanistan is a result of local disputes attaching themselves to the ideological sides with more resources. This is also exactly what happens in pretty much all civil wars American Greek Nicaraguan etc.

Now that you understand where the local disputes are (congratulations) you now ought to think about how to resolve them. Since the civil war has a thousand little engines, you have to drain the oil out of them. Picking a side isn't really a good option here, because it undermines your position as a fair arbiter and because in Pashtun areas and the areas of other mountain Afghans, you are bound to start a 70-year or longer feud. Or, you have just played a bit part in a feud that has gone on 70 years. Not the goal, obviously. Some training in Islamic law will help you here, but persuasion and herding cats are the keys; you need to persuade people that the course you think is fair really is fair. This all takes days if not weeks, per dispute.

Finally, know when to butt out. Locals may prefer to solve a problem themselves and they don't need you bossing them. "Protecting the population" means protecting their interests, not just their bodies--and their interests may be in seeing your face as rarely as possible. Roll with that.

Two reasons why I say dispute resolution:

1) Solving local conflicts is the Taliban TTP where they are successful. These folks don't dig wells for the population, they dispense justice severe though it might be, and they punish those who deviate from the plan. It may not look fair to you, but the Taliban know that protecting the little guy (i.e. the non-elders) can bring the population's trust. Also, the very limited role of the central government in rural areas during its heyday in the 1930s-70s was to act as a background against which local disputes could be considered and as a last resort for the disputants to have their cases judged.

2) There is excellent research, done very recently, in a variety of ethnic and geographical locales in Afghanistan, which says that local conflicts are burning all over the place. Those conflicts, which are the edges of local societies that outsiders can get a finger-grip on, are the one way I can see non-locals playing a useful role at all. And, local communities without major grievances are much less susceptible to Taliban, because people are more likely to inform on the folks who are trying to disrupt a good thing.

3) I know I said two reasons but here's one more. If you go back and read all those crazy dissertations by anthropologists written in the 70s about Pashtuns and others, they always talk about "social control," which I take to mean the same thing as Mac's "exploiting [things]." Except "social control" as defined by these guys who speak Pashto and Pashai and god knows what else, and lived in these villages up in the mountains for years, what these guys say is that the mechanism for social control is dispute resolution.

Now, here's a little problem. American warfighters are, like, totally trained all day long in dispute resolution, right? Oh, maybe not. I am personally skeptical, and no offense to anyone here because Mac tells me you are all delicate flowers, that a warfighter is going to be the right man for this job most of the time. Sorry.

This is why the "Afghan government" should not be totally disregarded. Yes, there should be a focus on the local. But if you do not have an Afghan face on dispute resolution, the Taliban just beat you at IO. Americans cannot dispense the kind of justice demanded by many Afghan disputants, or we'll get hauled into the human rights courts, anyway.

I am not at all hesitant to say "Afghan government" because dispute resolution is the one purpose it had in many areas for decades. And, even these local disputes need a higher court to appeal to once in a while. It may not collect taxes or have the kind of penetration a normal European-style nation-state does, but it's gotta be there if only to give a shape and contour to local existence.

This is a complex matter and each case, really, has to be judged on its own merits, literally and figuratively. The reason I brought up novels is because this is how we people think about complexity at our best, and foregrounds the individual person, which is just as important as

Now then, I have a family and a job (which, by the way, has nothing to do with Afghanistan or tribes at all, whatsoever), and I have to sleep sometime. So good night to you.

One last comment which is mostly footnotes:

1. Outlaw7 @655pm. Actually, I'd label both Iraq and A'stan as medium-sized wars based off size, scope, depth, and breathe of the external actors, internal discontent and violence, and initial impotence of the sovereign state. To whit, IW and UW definitions are muddied in this context and both applicable to certain situations.

2. For everyone else, to realy understand shadow gov'ts and break points, read Robert Andrew's "The Village War" and Gordon McCormick's "People War" in the Encylclopedia ofConflicts since World War II: Volume I: Afghanistan through Burundi. If you're time is extremely limited, then you can read my short essay in SWJ entitled "The Break Point."



I'll add one more comment to attempt to bring it all home. Then, I'll sit back for a bit.

So, in this "shadow" gov't where the Taliban has taken over, the big T controls the populace through coercive population control measures and deception propaganda in classic Mao form.

On the one hand, on the local level, they do a good job of decisive governance. If someone has a land, commerce, or social dispute, then the Taliban has an answer. To the local populace, that's something that the Karzai gov't failed to do. We should not forget that.

On the darker side, the big T doesn't offer much hope for a better future. They preach of the caliphate, but every hope is based off an existential belief in God without direct action. To many, the coercive measures of governance are intolerable- elders are disrepected or assassinated, peoples hands are chopped off for buying the wrong kind of veggie, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol. Women are reclassed and delegated as second-class citizens.

Seriously, the big T cannot offer one a job at Microsoft. In their biggest reward, one can blow themselves up. How cool is that?

How should we engage those who reject the Taliban? Should we be concerned over labeling them tribes or S-groups? After we defeat the big T, which won't be that hard, what should we do? Do we have the required resouces and planning in this preparation?

If we view the situation in this regard, as it is and not how we wished it to be, then the appropriate COA would become clear. In truth, outside of our own insecurities and debates over COIN, the enemy offers no hope.

As far as solutions go, I'm gonna put my money on men like Jim Gant and Greg Mortenson. Hell, I might even join them again to make it happen.

And for the record, I'm not SF, and I've never been to A'stan. I'm just an RA dude trying to apply practice to theory :).

Facta Non Verba.



Afghanistan really pushes the defintions:

"Unconventional Warfare consists of activities
conducted to enable a resistance movement or
insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an
occupying power or government by operating
through or with an underground, auxiliary and
guerrilla force in a denied area."

One could in fact argue that with the parallel Taliban "shadow government" operating in areas denied to the government ---tribal "defense" elements might in fact be conducting UW in order to regain government control of a denied area that the government simply cannot afford to send troops to, nor wants to exert any form of control over out of fear of failure.

There are still large areas of Afghanistan that fall under this definition and as we focus on protecting the larger population areas we will inherently give up large amounts of land to the "shadow government". Was not that the Soviet WWII policy---trading land for time?

Outlaw7 @6:40pm,

Now we're talking. You nailed it on the head- shadow gov'ts, and I concur. Dr. Gordon McCormick would further add that the shadow gov't is one that has exceeded the breakpoint- the insurgency overcame the existing gov't and has replaced it with it's own political, econ, and mil apparatuses.

This happened in Anbar and Diyala in Iraq, and it is happening in A'stan. One could argue that the drug lords have done it in portions of Mexico.

My simple template still applies, but we must use Outlaw7's definitions. The "state" is now controlled by the insurgency, and we transition to UW. In these areas, we are now conducting UW.

The rules of this game are far different from FM 3-24. While my written thoughts may be off a bit, I worked in these areas, and I understand the difference.



Col Maxwell,

Thanks for the link. I wasn't trying to be snarky with my last two comments; those definitions are highly contentious between SF and RA.

In my small world, I like to keep it simple so that I can comprehend.

There are big, medium, and small wars. Within the small wars,

In UW, we're helping the little guy overthrow the gov't.

In IW, we're helping the gov't keep the little guy in check.

In between the two, aka Frank Hoffman, other people inside and outside the system will attempt to intervene out of various interests.

But even cooler is that given a liberal interpretation of SOCOM's definition, I am now a subject matter expert. That's a first :). I assumed that I was a generalist knowing too much about nothing.



Mike---currently the Taliban have built a complete"shadow" government with a judicial system paralleling the current Aghan government. I think it is far past the term "rebellion" and the term guerilla is a better fit as a descriptor to what is going on. If one follows Mao's writing we are somewhere between a Phase 2 and a Phase 3 guerrilla war.

Thus the reasoning for UW vs IW which has become the latest in "buzz" word. Jim's idea of Tribal Engagement forces would then be irregular fighters in an unconventional war. As UW progresses to the benefit of the govenment then the irregular forces can be transitioned to a conventional military force and the UW environment can as a whole be transitioned to a more conventional effort.

There is nothing in the theories that says the characteristics of both environments cannot exist side by side.

The United States Department of Defense defines UW as a broad spectrum of military and paramilitary operations, normally of long duration, predominantly conducted through, with, or by indigenous or surrogate forces who are organized, trained, equipped, supported, and directed in varying degrees by an external source. It includes, but is not limited to, guerrilla warfare, subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities, and unconventional assisted recovery. Organization varies by culture and type of conflict.


I recommend this article:

In June 2009, the commanders of
U.S. Special Operations Command
(USSOCOM) and U.S. Army Special
Operations Command (USASOC)
adopted the following definition of unconventional
warfare (UW):

Unconventional Warfare consists of activities
conducted to enable a resistance movement or
insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an
occupying power or government by operating
through or with an underground, auxiliary and
guerrilla force in a denied area.

The USSOCOM commander further
directed that all forces assigned within his
command adopt this single definition, concurrent
with the official change to the doctrine
that will follow pending the publishing of the
new Joint Publication (JP) 3-05, Doctrine for
Joint Special Operations, in the near future.

This revised definition was the culmination
of an effort initiated by USSOCOM in
2008 based on an identified lack of common
understanding across the Department of
Defense (DOD) as well as the special operations
community. The working group that
developed the final definition met for 3 days in
April 2009 at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy
Special Warfare Center (USAJFKSWC) at Fort
Bragg. Subject matter experts included representatives
Army Special Forces Command, USAJFKSWC,
Joint Special Operations University,
Naval Postgraduate School, and U.S. Army
Training and Doctrine Command.


One quibble. Since we're trying to support the recognized, sovereign Karzai government, is the term unconventional warfare (UW) inappropriate? My limited study suggests that UW is a term used when when we train, equip, and employ forces to overthrow a gov't (Ex. OEF One, and 10th SFG in OIF One). Currently, in A'stan w the Taliban and AQ, it seems that we're simply trying to quell a rebellion.




Since you seem to be so aware of what is untrue, can you stop by my home and pull the sheets over my eyes so that I can sleep as peacefully as you?

I apologize if my words sound harsh, but what exactly is your recommendation?




You are right in a number of ways---again this is all about irregular warfare--I really like though the term UW.

What MAJ Gant is talking about is one element in that UW fight--although a very critical one.

The second element is intel and this is where the story gets broken and which I do not think it can be fixed as it is totally focused on CIED and Attack the Network.

If in fact Jim is correct then the Taliblan/AQ will be far more engaged in the tribal areas and thus less focused on the cities as the rural areas are indeed their sanctuaries and every guerilla force has to have sanctuaries where he can rest, train, recruit, and rearm.


You ask a good question. There are mutiple variations of tribal and local population engagement efforts going on such as the Afghan Public Portection Program, Community Defense Initiative and Local Defense Initiative and then we often discuss here and in the press the One Tribe at A Time paper. They are each somewhat unique. While we debate and the press reports, the only people who really understand what is going and know the details of these programs are those who are planning, coordinating, and executing them in Afghanistan. So I defer to the experts on the ground.

Jason Walters,

In the statement:
"He also missed the point of assisting the tribes and villages; we are not arming or paying them, we are assisting in their survival by offering what the Taliban currently do, security."

Maybe I took your statement too literally, but are you giving arms to the tribes or not?

Jim Gant's paper clearly talks about arming the tribes.

Brother Ian, I love you... but come on...
What is a "solidarity group" really? Is it a label or an actual living, breathing organization made up of individual members that have decided that they share a common interest and who believe that only a communal effort will ensure success? You are the one that keeps talking about solidarity groups versus tribes, but when someone wants to actually discuss how to exploit this organizing principle you balk and argue that this cant be done because they are NOT nice and discreet building blocks of society that can be moved around or exploited. Really, tell me, what is the real problem here? Are we uncomfortable with the fact that moving pieces around and exploiting people is what this is all about?

I am not trying to piss you off but I have to tell you that your thinking is shallow, unimaginative, and petty. I have noticed, based on personal experience working the Human Terrain Program, that many an academic (are you an academic or warfighter?) will go nuclear early and attack the messenger vice the message. So it should come as no surprise that you might seek to ridicule me for making assumptions; accuse me of making stuff up off the top of my head and if I understood correctly: for reading a novel? Yet you are unable to recognize the inherent opportunities in an acephalous community in which influence is situationally based and an individuals ability to muster rhetorical resources is based on convincing others to follow (mostly your words). Instead of lamenting this fact you might be better served to consider the opportunities this provides. I have. You might want to read some history, maybe Abdur Rahman Khans bio as a starter to get a feel for how to create, manipulate and exploit solidarity groups.That is if you are actually into manipulating and exploiting solidarity groups.

When asked to provide the warfighter with TTPs you recoil and explain that it cant be done since social behavior is different everywhere, every time, all the time. Really, if this is the case why did we invent ritual? Your sarcasm i.e. "go build trust" educates no one. It is a shame that you are so partisan and angry. It saddens me that your approach to educating the warfighter if it has not already failed is likely to fail since I would assume many a warfighter who appreciates your intelligence and needs your help no longer looks to you for guidance. I could be wrong.

It is now your turn to smack me back and then I propose we call a truce and agree to disagree.

Man Hugs and Kisses,


Mac, if you think solidary groups are these nice, discreet building blocks of society that can be moved around, "exploited," whatever... this is just basically wrong and we only have to think of the ways people identify with various groups, simultaneously, in our own society to see that. Different overlapping groups which exist simultaneously and sometimes in contradictory ways, and individuals move around between them, sometimes feeling conflicted. Read a novel, that's what they're about. Pashtuns are also human beings who exhibit the same human characteristics as we do in this regard.

"(and yes, some type of hierarchy exists, even in an acephalous, headless, hydra Pashtun community)"

Now, see, right there you've made a statement that you have no evidence for--you're just assuming, off the top of your head. Whereas people who have lived for long periods of time in Pashtun communities in the east say that this is precisely what villages are like--acephalous political organizations in which influence is based situationally on individuals' ability to muster rhetorical resources. Meaning, even if you have a long white beard, you still have to convince everyone, and nothing is binding.

"As stressed by Outlaw 7, our smart folks need to understand the target village social structure, centers of social and martial power in the area of operation, key communicators and leaders, village motivations, ambitious individuals and groups, rivalries, stylized forms of fighting and peacemaking, internal and external communications, methods of mobilization, local and regional alliances, economic and trade relationships, and the social dynamics in play that makes it all work the way it does."

My detailed answer to this is: yes. This is exactly my problem when folks like Jim Gant say that they've got this stuff all figured out for all of Afghanistan, when he had one experience in Kunar. It ignores the fact that engaging a group in one village in a district in Paktika is going to resemble engaging a village in another district in no way whatsoever, like completely different. I could lie and say that there's an easy way to make a TTP for the warfighter, but in many cases the shape is going to shift before the ink of my doctrine dries. So, I guess the TTP should be: be ready for anything and act accordingly. I like some ideas of the tribe crowd, like "build trust." Okay, trust is good, but how is that specific to tribes? So, go build trust with people, it's better than distrust.

The major lesson to learn for anyone going out to rural Pashtun areas in Afghanistan is that locals will show you A) what they think you want to see and B) what they think will benefit them most and C) what will get rid of you fastest. Access to money and guns accentuate this truth.

Since you can never beat a dead horse enough, Ill respond one last time to this thread and promise to lay down my stick and bother you no more. "Book lernin" is good; applied "book lernin" even better.

Please riddle me how to apply the book learning. If tribal engagement doesnt work because tribes dont exist, then describe to me how we should engage solidarity groups. You could structure your description in the following manner so that your target audience will understand: Here is whats going on (situation); Here is what we need to do (mission); Here is how we are going to do it (concept of operation-execution); Here are the materials or funds we need to do it (service support), and Here is who should be the lead and how we communicate among ourselves (command and signal).

Here is some unsolicited info to get the s-groupers started. This is irregular warfare. As stressed by Outlaw 7, our smart folks need to understand the target village social structure, centers of social and martial power in the area of operation, key communicators and leaders, village motivations, ambitious individuals and groups, rivalries, stylized forms of fighting and peacemaking, internal and external communications, methods of mobilization, local and regional alliances, economic and trade relationships, and the social dynamics in play that makes it all work the way it does.

Our operational focus is on the relevant population (we determine relevancy). Our purpose is to gain the relevant populations support. Our objective is to exploit the legitimacy of a political or martial authority in order to influence or control the relevant population.

We might apply our understanding of the shame/honor, segmentation, patronage and territory cultural operating codes and the "what have you done for me lately, what are you going to do for me tomorrow" and "no stability without us" coordinating messages to manipulate and shape the social dynamics in play.

After we have identified the relevant population and its legitimate political authority (and yes, some type of hierarchy exists, even in an acephalous, headless, hydra Pashtun community) we can define our general engagement strategy. There are a number of different strategies from which to choose such as "pick a side and hold your nose", "blood in the water", "engage all sides equally" or a "combination of all three" (I am more than happy to explain the differences in strategies off-line). Our tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) might be to weaken, isolate, attract or integrate specific solidarity groups in support of one or other strategy mentioned above.

In closing: I am at a loss to explain this debate. Maybe this debate is really about the fact that some are uncomfortable that the social sciences are being exploited to kill people and break things; or that we must impose our will upon the underdog. Maybe its true that the concept of tribe is indeed a product of contact with a more complex society and particularly with the state and tribes really dont exist except in our imagination. Maybe it is something else all together. I dont know and frankly, I dont care. All I ask that S-groupers stop telling me what the problem is (most everyone knows what the problem is) and start providing me with alternative TTP. I actually believe that once s-groupers start doing so, we might find that the TTP to engage s-groups may be very similar to those advocated by the tribal crowd. Wouldnt that just be a kick in the pants.

Thanks for the rant.

MAC -Out

Just a side comment---for the Engagement teams to be successful there needs to be a new form of an intel support process in order for them to be capable of holding their own with a specific tribe in a particular AO. The intel needs to structured in such way as to provide 24X7 360 degree coverage especially if they are nested in one tribe and another TET is a couple of valleys over with another tribe.

Currently do not see that happening---anything else is totally relying on the tribe for intelligence, but that takes time to build especially via the respect and rapport routes.

Some will say---hey the Human Terrain can help with their reachback but after recently seeing one of their products:

"Please explain the differences between and the history of the Haqqani Network and Hezb-i
Islami, in doctrine, composition, strategy, and tactics, particularly in the P2K area."

Absolutely nothing on battle tactics, how they communicate internally and externally, their local support community/providers, how they have used media in the past/future uses, how have they evolved since 2007, what are their motivators, if any group member has left the group in recent months what were the reasons for leaving, etc.

The requested information read like a MA thesis taken from multiple quoted text books written in the last three/four years---

Is this the best that can be provided? Most TETs after six months with a tribe could have answered the questions listed above in depth as their survival depends on it.

But again the concept of TETs actually challenges current COIN thinking maybe that is why this discussion has broken out in the way it has.

Three thing leap out of this thread.

"MAC" McCallister said:

This discussion has evolved into a lose-lose situation for all. The s-groupies are as guilty as the tribal crowd when it comes to simplifying the narrative. Basically: I am right and you are wrong.

That's for sure -- all are also saying that there is merit to the other position, just not much of it. The truth is that METT-TC is the guide, pure and simple. A further truth is that there is no panacea or silver bullet in any war.

He also said:

Ive been accused of expecting our warfighters to think too much. I was told that the reason our warfighters cant ponder the complexities of life is because hey have no time and I should therefore focus my efforts on developing simple templates to guide their actions.

I had the same problem a long time ago. That generally was said by someone who really meant "I do not want them to think, I want them to do precisely what I say, no less and no more..."

There is little doubt that the desire for simple templates is most often heard from people who themselves do not want to think (I would never say are incapable of thought...) and believe others must want the same things. Egos get in the way of reality. The terrible thing is that we designed an Army training system that supports the idea that warfighters cannot and should not think. That's huge part of the reason we are where we are.

We did all this FID/SFA before and we did it fairly well. There was no need to go to Think Tanks and the Academy to develop TTP; the information was available in the DoD system. The problem lies far above the TTP level, however. Egos and the personnel system say one must be innovative and accomplish something, ergo, one cannot learn from past mistakes, one must commit new boo-boos...

Fortunately, the kids will generally do what works even (or especially) without guidance from above.

An anomymouse soul above said the CIDG effort in Viet Nam may have worked but arguably ultimately failed -- not true but the lack of a strategy made that effort all for naught. He or she goes on to lambaste a lack of strategy in current operations, a quite valid complaint. That problem is one reason for the disagreements on this thread -- there is no strategy or, more correctly, an operational goal that is publicly available or known, thus all are free to provide their own version...

Another reason for the disconnect is, as someone above said, poor intel and Outlaw 7 mentioned that the 2 in the 'Stan has said as much. It's probably noteworthy that the same thing was true in Viet Nam and finally got fixed only because MG Davidson was kept in the job and told to fix it. Korea also had some abject and very damaging intel failures. I think there's a message in that. There certainly appears to be a pattern...

Any competent strategy relies upon decent intelligence for its underlayment thus the intel problem has far reaching implications. The lack of an announced strategy by national policymakers creates a vacuum, no question, so everyone rushes to fill that void with their version and the failure of inadequate training and military education due to the dumbing down of the system in the late 1970s creates a service that is risk averse and not inclined to think through difficult problems while someone searches for metrics that apply.

Further, that service doesn't do the basics well; Outlaw 7 asked:

Just how many Army soldiers and for that matter officers can immediately when engaged recognize the type of ambush and instigate immediate countermeasures? How many even know the term "swarm" attack?

Better to avoid being ambushed which you can do if you're well trained and do things right but anyone can have a bad day -- and when it happens, one has to know what has happened and what to do. That applies at all levels from Joe to the NCA. I'm sure good units don't have a problem with Outlaw 7's question. I suspect not all units qualify as good...

In broad measure, we are not doing that know what happened and what to do thing at most levels at all well as nearly as I can see...

Mac, why do you go out on a limb when there is ample evidence to make a reasoned argument that goes beyond just a theory? This is my major problem here, I guess, and it probably won't go away anytime soon. I like evidence. There is a ton of it lying around with regard to Afghanistan, but the second anyone picks it up and examines it, this is derogated as "book lernin" that takes away from target practice time. What I am absolutely confident about is that "tribal engagement" will continue, will continue to crumble a la the Shinwari case, and officers will continue to be promoted regardless. Eventually the defense budget allocations won't bear it any longer and we'll fold up the tents and head home, unsure of why we were ever there in the first place.

Take care and stay safe, all.

Bill: Actually both topics are interrelated.

Articles on the Ecology of War are free:

Articles on open source warfare are free:


We share many ideas in common on political or psych warfare and the damage that the attack the network mentality Ttaken to the extreme) has done to our intell community (and plans). I will follow up with you on in the counsel area so we don't distract from this excellent discussion on an important topic. Due to business travel it may be a few weeks.

PS: in ref to the article how much does it cost? Bill

hello ian --

much as i appreciate your reference to my paper, as well as your other inputs here, and much as i'm interested in the tribal form and its dynamics, id like to clarify quickly that i have never advocated just a "'tribe-and-only-tribe idea" (and neither, to my reading, has gant). if you want to take a further look into this, i left earlier comments in the following places:

onward. -- david


The J2 for Afghanistan Gen. Flynn has already stated that the intel piece is broken.

It goes to say that intelligence is broken as it never really understood true UW and the JIEDDO theories of Attack the Network have been the intel focus for over seven years---it is nearly impossible to turn the battleship around and now point it against the UW concept of "open source warfare" (OSW) which is where the fight has been since 2004. By the way the term AtN is killing the system as no one seems to be able to define Attack the Network, Defeat the Network or CIED at a time that all insurgents seem fully capable of handling our CIED efforts and even match us on the evolution of technology cycle.

Unless the BCTS and big Army get their acts together and understands the drivers of an open source war and what the true ecological makeup of the insurgents are all is doomed as far as I see it.

To Anonymous:

You are right---VN was a loss, but a political loss as the NVN focused their war efforts on weakening the home front politics as a replacement for their loses suffered on the battlefield.

One of Mao's documented tactics in a Phase 3 guerilla war if I recall.

If you can get a number of tribesmen into defense groups at say a total of 3-5K in total strenght 1) it has to be matched by an equal number of Taliban/AQ, 2) it is one less BCT on the ground at a time when BCT assets are limited, and 3) it lessens the US population's perception of potentially high US losses (remember the war of perception as a guerilla focus).

IT still does not distact from the fact that the CIDG program was in fact successful and it had a transition to government component that many have mentioned here and it was also tied to "tribes" if one ties minority populations to the term "tribe".

I still maintain one of the major reasons we are faltering right now is the total lack of an understanding of what a true UW war looks like and believe me Afghanistan is a true UW war--there is no comparison to the Iraqi urban environment. BUT check the DEC 2009 article in Nature magazine titled "Ecology of Human Warfare" and they argue there is in fact 14 insurgency ecology charatericstics that are identical in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

Now if you tie tribal based defense units to intel driven off of open source warfare and the ecology of insurgents you start to control large areas of land thus denying them to the insurgents--remember the Mao concept of fish swimming in the ocean that he wrote about?