Small Wars Journal

Tossing the Afghan COIN

Tossing the Afghan COIN by Michael A. Cohen at The Nation. BLUF: "...what should really be taken away from the US military's experience over the past ten years is not that the United States understands how to fight and win population-centric counterinsurgencies but that counterinsurgencies are as violent and inconclusive as any other conflicts, and that the United States should avoid such wars at all costs."


Bob's World

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 9:20am

Wise words here.

While Secretary Gates argues body counts and siezed terrain as metrics of success, there are far more powerful metrics that give lie to claims of success.

GEN Petraeus is out to effectively suppress the insugency sufficiently so that victory can be declared and we can meet the President's time schedule. What will inevitiably erupt behind us is not his concern. He is a smart and effective General; but this is not "COIN" (as in, it is not addressing the causes of insurgency, rather it is suppressing the symptoms), and as this article points out, is not particularly "population-centric" either.


Thu, 12/23/2010 - 12:11pm

It's the eternal question, Robert: Are they measuring occupation? Or are they measuring pacification?

The two aren't the same, even if reporters (and not a few generals) think that they are.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 12:31pm


I read your posts when they pop, always with great interest and respect.

But it seems to me that the only way to achieve the governance that you are looking for is for the United States to become the government itself and by implication a full embrace of imperialism.


slapout9 (not verified)

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 2:51pm

From an LE perspective the problem I have always had with the COIN model is you are essentially putting the Population into Protective Custody (Jail) until you can brainwash them into thinking like you do. Not likely to be successfully in the long run but you can do it in the short run at least until you decide to let them out of jail.

Bob's World

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 8:05pm


Setting how to help a populace get to good governance aside for a second, I think we all do well to remember that the US mission in AFPAK is purely dealing with AQ. Applying an understanding of insurgency in general and the dynamics in the AFPAK region in particular, the key to our AQ mission is in working WITH the Taliban, not against them.

Neither the governments of Pakistan or Afghanistan have the influence with the Pashtun populace to expel AQ from the FATA. But the Taliban does. If the Taliban and the Pashtuns evict AQ, AQ must leave or die. (Though we really need to consider if it is better to have AQ disperse to new areas than it is to have them in the FATA until we start making headway on addressing the conditions that they exist to exploit).

So, how do we get the Taliban to help us out on this matter? One way, is to use our leverage with Afghanistan to "convince" Karzai and the Northern Alliance to surrender the total monopoly on government that they are working to implement behind the security we provide them (an effort that fuels the very insurgency we are guarding them against), and bring the parties together to hammer out how they work together to govern. This is a no-trust environment, so a strong constitution is going to be essential.

We need to get past seeing Afghanistan as a US war first though. What determines if something is combat or not is determined by physical factors at the soldier level. What determines if something is war or not is determined by political factors at the policy level. Those factors simply do not exist in Iraq or Afghanistan.

We are so worried that we will get into another Vietnam (our military trapped in brutal conflict while America as a whole goes on about its business) we over compensate by declaring every place our guys get into combat as a distinct "war" to be won or lost. We need to get over it. Afghanistan is not a US war, it is simply a place we went to protect Americans from AQ. We've really let this snow ball and have lost all perspective on what we are trying to do.

But I'm rambling...this is a conversation to have over a coffee or a couple of beers.

Happy Holidays,


<i>One way, is to use our leverage with Afghanistan to "convince" Karzai and the Northern Alliance to surrender the total monopoly on government that they are working to implement behind the security we provide them (an effort that fuels the very insurgency we are guarding them against), and bring the parties together to hammer out how they work together to govern. This is a no-trust environment, so a strong constitution is going to be essential.</i>

Our influence might be able to convince Karzai to negotiate, or at least to go through the motions, as in the recent "peace jirga". How do we propose to influence the Taliban to negotiate? It takes two.

A Constitution is words on paper. It has no inherent strength of its own. It is not and cannot be stronger than the principles of trust and basic consensus that it codifies. The strength of a Constitution lies in the will of the contending parties to respect it; without that will, and without agreement on base principles, there is no strength no matter what the words say.

Once there is some level of trust, and some consensus on basic principles, even a defective Constitution is adequate: a document can evolve. Without some base level of trust and consensus, no Constitution will achieve anything.

<i>Though we really need to consider if it is better to have AQ disperse to new areas than it is to have them in the FATA until we start making headway on addressing the conditions that they exist to exploit</i>

The condition AQ exploits is foreign military intervention in Muslim lands: nothing else has really worked for them. We can, of course, remove this condition by removing our forces. Unfortunately, they know they can force us to intervene again by attacking us. It worked for them once: 9/11 produced the intervention that AQ needed to survive. It will work again, and they know it.

Of course we might in the future be a little smarter with our interventions, but current conditions provide little reason to expect that.


I think you made several great points, and with hindsight being 20/20 I agree we let this snowball grow out of proportion. I also agree that the Taliban "could have been" part of the solution in the past, but I think we're past that point now for several reasons I won't drum out here.

The article was well written and intentionally provocative in a useful way. I want to follow through on one point the author made. We all know the populace is important in any war for a variety of reasons. This isn't new; what is new is so-called population centric strategies. The author argued these strategies are failing. One point he makes is our population centric approach actually results in more civilian casualties, yet we claim to be protecting the populace. We all hate it when the data conflicts with our preconceived notions.

Not sure what we expect when we define the center of gravity as the populace, because we just told the enemy where the battlefield is. IMO we're trying to implement the population centric approach too quickly over a broad area with "relatively" limited resources. We have to saturate an area with security forces to really provide protection, and then gradually spread out from those secure areas (we must create a contiguous secure zone, not scattered secure zones here). Yes I'm going back to the oil spot approach which an old technique that we shouldn't carelessly disregard. If we're going to do pop-centric, then let's do it more effectively and actually protect the populace instead of putting them at greater risk.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 12/23/2010 - 9:58pm

The war is widening as we speak---so what is next-EFPs against the MRAPs? We escalated from up-armored HUMWWVs to MRAPS they have raised the stakes by now killing MRAPs---moving to EFPs is the next step in the escaltion process. This would have been predicted using open source warfare and conflict ecosystem as the analysis tool for OSW.

Exclusive: ISAF captures Qods Force operative in Kandahar
By Bill Roggio December 23, 2010

Coalition and Afghan special operations teams have captured a Taliban commander who doubles as an Iranian Qods Force operative and helped ship weapons from Iran into Afghanistan.

The Taliban/Qods Force operative, who was not named, was detained during a Dec. 18 raid in the Zhari district in Kandahar province, the International Security Assistance Force reported in a press release. ISAF and Afghan forces are currently working to secure Zhari and the neighboring districts of Panjwai and Arghandab from the Taliban.

"The joint security team specifically targeted the individual for facilitating the movement of weapons between Iran and Kandahar through Nimroz province," ISAF stated. "The now-detained man was considered a Kandahar-based weapons facilitator with direct ties to other Taliban leaders in the province."

In the initial press release, ISAF did not identify the Taliban commander as a Qods Force operative. But, in response to an inquiry by The Long War Journal, ISAF confirmed that the target of the raid was indeed a member of the Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

"According to intelligence reports, the targeted insurgent is a member of the Qods Force," a public affairs official at the ISAF Joint Command press desk told The Long War Journal.

This is the first reported instance of the capture of a Qods Force operative in Afghanistan. US forces in Iraq captured several senior Qods Force commanders and operatives during operations in that country from 2006 to 2008.

Background on Iran's covert support for the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan

The Qods Force has tasked the Ansar Corps, a subcommand, with aiding the Taliban and other terror groups in Afghanistan. Based in Mashad in northeastern Iran, the Ansar Corps operates much like the Ramazan Corps, which supports and directs Shia terror groups in Iraq. [See LWJ report, Iran's Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq.]

On Aug. 6, 2010, General Hossein Musavi, the commander of the Ansar Corps, was one of two Qods Force commanders added to the US Treasury's list of specially designated global terrorists, for directly providing support to the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

ISAF and Afghan forces have targeted several Taliban commanders with known links to Iran's Qods Force - Ansar Corps. [See LWJ report, Taliban commander linked to Iran, al Qaeda targeted in western Afghanistan.]

In addition to Taliban fighters entering from Iran, Al Qaeda is known to facilitate travel for its operatives moving into Afghanistan from Mashad. Al Qaeda additionally uses the eastern cities of Tayyebat and Zahedan to move its operatives into Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Return to Jihad.]

A Qods Force-supported al Qaeda network is currently operating in the western province of Farah, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.

ISAF and Afghan special operations teams have been active in the remote province of Farah since early October. There have been five reported raids in Farah since the beginning of October, and 10 raids total since March 2010. In the course of the 10 raids, ISAF has killed three al Qaeda-linked commanders (Mullah Aktar, Sabayer Sahib, and Mullah Janan), and captured another. All of these commanders have been linked to Iran's Ansar Corps.

ISAF has refused to comment to inquiries about this network. "Due to operation security concerns we are not able to go into further detail at this time," an ISAF public affairs official told The Long War Journal at the end of November.

For years, ISAF has stated that the Qods Force has helped Taliban fighters conduct training inside Iran. As recently as May 30, 2010, former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal said that Iran is training Taliban fighters and providing them with weapons.

"The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran," McChrystal said at a press conference. "The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan."

In March of 2010, General David Petraeus, then the CENTCOM commander and now the ISAF commander, discussed al Qaeda's presence in Iran in written testimony delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Al Qaeda "continues to use Iran as a key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect al Qaeda's senior leadership to regional affiliates," Petraeus explained. "And although Iranian authorities do periodically disrupt this network by detaining select al Qaeda facilitators and operational planners, Tehran's policy in this regard is often unpredictable."

Iran has recently released several top al Qaeda leaders from protective custody, including Saif al Adel, al Qaeda's top military commander and strategist; Sa'ad bin Laden, Osama's son; and Sulaiman Abu Gaith, a top al Qaeda spokesman. [See LWJ report, Osama bin Laden's spokesman freed by Iran.]

In March 2010, a Taliban commander admitted that Iran has been training teams of Taliban fighters in small unit tactics. "Our religions and our histories are different, but our target is the same - we both want to kill Americans," the commander told The Sunday Times, rebutting the common analysis that Shia Iran and Sunni al Qaeda could not cooperate due to ideological differences.

Read more:…

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 8:41am


thanks for the response, I see your points.

Yes to be sure over beers or joe; enjoy your holidays, and thank you Robert for your hard service to the nation.


Bob's World

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 9:25am

First, to Anon:

Iran has far greater national interests in Afghanistan, their neighbor and former territory, than the U.S. does. That is reasonable. It is also reasonable that both informal (there is vast trading, from drugs to rugs, across that "border" and always will be) and formal transactions that support the insurgency will take place. This too is reasonable and to be expected.

The same is true with the 'Stans and China and Russia to the north, and of course, Pakistan to the East and South. There are many declared and undeclard players in this; and to be honest, the undeclared players are the ones with the greatest and most enduring interests. We should pause and think about that. We should also pause and ponder as to how the Ends as communicated by what is actually happening on the ground, not by what we say, might be interpreted by those undeclared, high-interest participants, and if it is likely to be perceived as supportive, neutral, or counter to their interests?

Iran is not the enemy simply because their interests do not mirror those of the U.S. So far both states are wisely "looking the other way" at the official level to avoid an escalation that no one needs. Expanding the war to Iran would be an ignorant, caveman type approach to the problem you describe. I would recommend that instead, we sit down with the Iranians and discuss our respective interests, find some common ground (of which there is plenty) where we can work together; neutral ground where we can each do our own thing with little excitement or reaction by the other; and conflicting ground, which we either avoid, or agree to disagree and do covertly or with the express dissatisfaction of the other.

Iran is a far more suitable partner than India, and we should explore the former, and shut down the latter.

Bill. I agree that "Ink Blot" is a solid approach to COIN. The problem I have with the historic application is that it was one of systematically extending the government's suppression of the insurgent and control of the populace across the land. Good Colonial COIN, where the goal is stability under the government of our choosing. I would offer the following modern modification. Address the government first.

Assess the populace, break down the insurgent propaganda to better appreciate what aspects of their message speak to the populace and why; and then make a concerted, and very public effort to make those fixes in the government. "We hear you and we are responding to your legitimate concerns." Then do your ink blot approach, standing upon that new foundation. The problem is that such an approach too often requires changes that the existing government is unwilling to make regardless of how proper those changes would be. Or they require relinguishing control of outcomes that a powerful intervening state is unwilling to relinquish.

We need to evolve. As I said, Pop-centric COIN was a half-measure evolution. A change of tactical focus without the requisite change of strategic perspective. The change of strategic perspective is that causation for insurgency radiates out from the government, and that in today's world the interests of powerful external states are better met by helping populaces have the governance THEY want, rather than forcing them to submit to the governance that WE want.

carl (not verified)

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 11:28am

Robert C. Jones:

You made this statement.

"Iran is a far more suitable partner than India, and we should explore the former, and shut down the latter."

This has me shaking my head in wonderment. Please explain to this 4 eyed, 4F, pencil necked geek civilian how favoring Iran, a little nation with a hostile government that has killed a lot of our people and with whom we have little trade, over India, a huge friendly nation getting bigger which doesn't try to kill our people and with whom we have much trade, please explain how this is to the long term benefit of the US.

You also stated that we should (I'm paraphrasing) give the Taliban a cut of the pie, through negotiations. That will make them more inclined to hand over AQ. There are problems with that. One being, who is the Taliban, so who do we negotiate with? Will it be MO's group, Haqqani's group, Gulbadin's group or one of the others or some or all? They aren't a cohesive group.

Also, the last time an important Quetta Shura guy indicated he might be amenable to discussions the ISI picked him up. This was an object lesson to others that you don't do anything important without the Pak Army/ISI approving. So this being the case, wouldn't any kind of sitting down and forcing people to hammer it out be fruitless unless the Pak Army/ISI were a formal party to the discussions? If they were, I think the Afghans might object.

Why don't we make a promise to Taliban & company that we will force the Afghan gov to give them a piece of the pie, various provinces, ministries, close all the girls schools, etc; if they give up AQ? That would be quick and easy for them to do and if we made a public promise that would at least insure that we bugged out of Afghanistan fairly quick. I think that would be a requisite show of good faith on their part since they were harboring AQ when it killed thousands of our people.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 11:51am

carl - I won't speak for Col. Jones but he has a point on Iran. Perhaps he meant "shut down India" in Afghanistan because it upsets the Pakistani (army, generals, whatever) elites we seem to take our cues from in the States as representative of the entire population.

I respectfully disagree with prior comments on India and Pakistan (no way will the two stop playing in Afghanistan, not with current trends. Even the Iranians, who have good relations with the Indians, will assuage their fears.)

We cannot assuage fears in the old way. The old Cold War deterrence of keeping Pakistan preoccupied with military aid and "free reign" in Afghanistan will no longer work because of the internationalization of "members" of the Taliban and because of political changes in India and within the Indian population - in my unprofessional opinion. Read the Indian papers. The public is rumbling. If another Mumbai happens, some will expect a more aggressive posture from the Indian government. We are playing with fire by throwing lost of money at the Pakistani regime. So are the Chinese.

Pakistani elites have China as a patron, too, and will merrily go on their way as before despite the dangers to their own internal civilian rule. Nothing has changed and nothing will change in that regard. It is not a deterrence in terms of low level conflict between the two. Look at the history of the region and the increasingly rapid pace of crises between the two: after Kargil, after the Parliament attack, after the train attacks in Mumbai and after Mumbai. It's accelerating.

One theory proposed by South Asia scholars is that Pakistan decision-making elites made bad assumptions in the past based - in part - on the tendency to think that the Americans will step in to run interference. It makes the military overconfident in its predictions.(Kargil, again.)

This has led to a variety of bad bets in terms of Pakistani national security. You only have to look at the state of the nation to see that decision-makers have largely got it wrong.

However, on the narrow question of Afghanistan and Iran, I tend to agree.

That's it for me for a bit around here.

Thank you, SWJ, for being such a wonderful educational resource. Happy Holidays to all.

Bob's World

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 12:17pm


Come on brother, this a problem we need to solve, not just pave over. The Pilgrims of Massachusetts Colony were not far different from today's Taliban, yet you celebrate Thanksgiving, right? Extremist positions are sometimes necessary to achieve change, but they never seem to endure exposure to the light of day. Today's Taliban, like Massachusetts, are exposed. One evolved, so will the other.

But to understand why Iran has such strong interests in both Iraq and Afghanistan, one has to look at a map and the history of the region prior to, and into European colonial interventions. Consider this link that shows a map and a quote regarding the Persian Safavid Empire of 1501-1722. This is not ancient history, this is modern, prior to the "Great Game" of Russia and Britain getting underway.…

Similarly the role of India in the region is critical to understand as well. Both the old and the more modern. What good can come of us facilitating an Indian envelopment of Pakistan? I mean, never has a few advisors grown in a major military presence, right??

We are just so focused on our own immediate concerns (as we currently define them, which I believe is very flawed) that we are not fully accounting for (or worse, not caring about) the longer-term ramifications of our actions.

As to who granted sanctuary to those who planned and attacked us on 9/11, look out your window. It was your fellow Americans, as that occurred right here in the good ol' US of A. AQ does not need the FATA, or Somalia or Yemen to ruin your day. And 9/11 is not the Taliban's fault. One could probably make the case that they understand our displeasure with their compliance in that event, and that they have been adequately punished for the same. They were, and are, the key to AQ. I simply suggest we use the key. Kicking in the door isn't working.

carl (not verified)

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 7:10pm

Ah Robert C. Jones, you are ever the shifty fellow, always ducking and weaving. You didn't address directly a single one of my points, but picked a tangent to each and argued that.

I asked which part of the Taliban & company we should negotiate with. You responded with Taliban & company are like the Pilgrims! I'll address that distracting point, but you have to promise to say which part of Taliban & company we should negotiate with.

Extremists can indeed change, but mostly if they are contested and it takes a long time. The Soviets and Chicoms did change but we contested them and during the time it took them to change, tens of millions, repeat, tens of millions of innocents died. Those murdered masses probably wouldn't have been consoled with assurances that 40-60 years after their death things will be just peachy. I doubt the Afghans Taliban & company will kill would be consoled either.

Now, which part of Taliban & company should we negotiate with?

I asked why tilting toward Iran at the expense of India will behoove us given the relative strengths and positions of the two countries. You responded with semi-tutorial on why Iran has interests in the area. I have looked at the map and I do realize that Dari and Farsi are quite similar. I know why they have interests in the area. I have also looked at the map and have seen where India is and have looked at GDP, population and trade figures and noted how many Americans have been killed because of Iranian machinations and how many have been killed because of Indian machinations. It is self evident who is the more powerful now and in the future, and who is more friendly toward the US. So I ask again, why will favoring Iran over India will benefit us in the long run?

Your last paragraph is a great radio talk show bon-mot. The audience would all nod their heads in approval. But you did not address the point. The Taliban was harboring AQ, the organization (sigh) on 9-11. They refused to give up AQ after 9-11. They show no signs of giving them up now. Why should they not make a show of good faith by giving up what is left of AQ, the organization, before we were to consider forcing our side to give them a piece of the pie?

I mentioned Pak Army/ISI in relation to negotiations. You came back with the Pak Army/ISI party line about "envelopment". I shouldn't be surprised at that though. Would you care to address the original point?

Your positions seem to have a common theme. That is-hurt the US and you will be rewarded, be foolish enough to line up with the US and you will be punished. Iran, Taliban & company and the Pak Army/ISI all have killed our people. They have hurt us. And yet you advocate our sympathizing with their positions and even furthering them. The people aligned with the Afghan gov and the Indians haven't hurt us and have tried to help us and you say we should shut them down. The world would probably notice behavior like this if we were to adopt it and act accordingly. I don't think we would like that.

Madhu: We are in agreement about the loonies in the Pak Army/ISI. The truth be told, Iran and us both have an interest in seeing Taliban & company being kept out. The "shut down" India part is, to put it very mildly, unwise. There are things that could happen that could cause us to really need the Indians on our side. Looking 20 or 30 years in the future, Iran could never do us as much good. Besides, it is just hard for me, emotional creature that I am, to get over the Iranian gov wanting to kill me.

Bob's World

Fri, 12/24/2010 - 9:53pm


I see the problem here. As a guy who has grown up fighting wild fires in Oregon; serving as an officer in field artillery, Infantry and Special Forces; serving as a prosecutor in the pursuit of justice under the rule of law; I tend to look for solutions to problems brought by others.

You, on the other hand look for problems. Problems that bother you and problems with the solutions brought by others. At some point one has to dive in, get dirty, and start working to solve these things. This requires a certain amount of common sense, leadership, and pragmatism.

Frankly, it does not matter which particular leader of the Taliban is willing to work with us. Those who are not will be rendered moot. Logic and human nature tells us that they will, and also that it should work far better than our current courses.

When I respond here on the discussion boards I use a signature that includes "Intelectus Supra Scientia" for a reason. Far too many of us are so constrained by what we "know" that we limit ourselves in how we think. Far more important is what we "understand." I suspect you rely far too heavily upon what you know. We live in dynamic and challenging times. I don't seek to trick people, but rather to encourage them to intellectually release what the "know" to be true (based upon what they have been told is true), and to instead release themselves from those confines to explore the facts free from those constraints.

My family has always been explorers, early to America, early to Oregon, etc. I am probably genetically inclined to look beyond the established horizon as well. Maybe where the majority comfortably dwell is the place to be. I don't condemn them for that, I just feel compelled to push forward for something better...

Just a gentle nudge to two very valued contributors here to not get too personal. It's Christmas Eve and I don't want to deal with it. Thanks, Dave D.


Sat, 12/25/2010 - 12:15am

<i>At some point one has to dive in, get dirty, and start working to solve these things. This requires a certain amount of common sense, leadership, and pragmatism.</i>

Do not common sense, leadership, and pragmatism also tell us that some problems are not ours to solve, and that if we impose ourselves as an uninvited "solution" to other people's problems we are likely to get very dirty indeed, leave matters worse than we found them, and make enemies along the way? It's sometimes wise to think well before diving in, specially when it's a long drop and you don't know how deep the water is.

<i>Frankly, it does not matter which particular leader of the Taliban is willing to work with us. Those who are not will be rendered moot. Logic and human nature tells us that they will, and also that it should work far better than our current courses.</i>

Logic and human nature tell me that no matter what we propose or do, the Taliban and Karzai will pursue their own interests and objectives, not ours. Logic and human nature also tell me that while either or both may go along with our program if it seems in their interest to do so, they will turn on us and each other the moment their own perception of their own interests suggests advantage in doing so. I see no reason at all to believe that either has any interest in sharing power, or that there's enough trust or base elements of consensus between them to build a functional power-sharing system.

Gotta wonder how and why we boxed ourselves into a place where we're trying to decide how Afghanistan ought to be governed. Mission creep is a b*tch.

carl (not verified)

Sat, 12/25/2010 - 7:00am

Dave D:

I apologize and am a bit ashamed that my behavior brought the gentle nudge. Robert, I apologize to you also. Sometimes my fingers get to tapping and I don't stop them as I should.


Sat, 12/25/2010 - 6:04pm

Carl, I think its worth thinking about Iran a bit more calmly. Iran is a well-grounded country and civilization with a real future ahead of them. If they have tried to "kill Americans", they can justifiably claim that the same has been done to them, many times (via proxies including Saddam Hussein). In my opinion, the US should treat Iran like a real country, with some degree of mutual respect. I am not a supporter of the so-called Islamic revolution, but I think even the mullahs in Iran are sane. They calculate outcomes and assess their chances. They can and do show the ability to coexist in the world pragmatically and within broad rules. I am not sure why Israel regards them as such a threat (I honestly cannot see why) but US policy should not be hostage to some Israeli calculation (or miscalculation).
Pakistan would be equally worthy of being dealt with fairly. Everyone deserves to be deal with fairly, but its always case by case. I think Iran has a fairly good case. Maybe a better case than "close strategic ally" Pakistan. If the US can be "pragmatic" about Pakistan, why not Iran?

Not sure a widespread alternative exists to pop-centric COIN. SOF can't train or mentor over enough area. Until the ANSF are trained, we can't leave. Karzai won't allow excessive SOF-directed civilian militias that are too much like warlord armies. UAS can't find all the Taliban and al Qaeda to support the SOF night raids or air force bombing.

On the other hand, counterterrorism and night raids may work in lightly populated sanctuary areas. COIN and ground combat obviously didn't work well in convincing lightly populated Korengal valley that the government was on its that central government simultaneously prohibited lumber trade with Pakistan thus threatening their livelihood. See any parallels in the poppy-growing areas?

The governance corruption/lack of legitimacy, and legitimate revenue problems remains even if we go the counterterrorism route. Perhaps the new Afghan Parliament, if allowed to convene on Jan 20, will provide an additional governing body with which we can collaborate. Find it to be poetic justice that questionable election results this time favor the non-Pashtuns.

With all the talk about strategy vs. tactics, can't imagine that we would ignore the strategic impact of being perfectly positioned to simultaneously influence events in Iran, Pakistan, India, the northern stans, China, and Russia. We don't need a nuclear war between India and Pakistan and if we leave, Pakistani terrorists likely become emboldened and attack India to provoke war.

Not sure it is pragmatic to choose to criticize our relationship with leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt who are benign dictators, while instead favoring Israel-bashing Iran (to include through Hezbollah), rejecting India, and comparing the Taliban to American pilgrims. Not a whole lot of terrorism propogated by pilgrims.

China wants to be pals with Pakistan, and Russia with India. Can't we stick around until at least 2014 to make sure that we squeeze into both spheres of influence? Now THAT is opposed to trying to chase groups of bad guys in the mountains where they have the advantage.

As much as we dislike costs in blood and treasure in Afghanistan, there is something to be said for attracting foreign fighters to distant AfPak rather than western airplanes and train stations. Wonder how the capture of a Haqqani son will play into this? A whole lot of attacks just occurred against Pakistan border outposts. Will Pakistan come around and realize that there are no good Taliban?

See that Sudan may split in two. The north likely will strengthen Shariah law while the south with its oil, looks likely to be a respectable member of world society and commerce. Seems like a better solution than cruise missiles against Sudan drug factories or Afghan training camps...which would be some of our few remaining options if we leave AfPak prematurely.

Maybe that coming Sudan split is a lesson for Afghanistan, as well, just as it was in the Balkans. Let like peoples control their own destiny. That's another strategic keep Pakistan from being surrounded by limiting Indian influence to the northern provinces while Pakistan influences the southern ones as a buffer?

carl (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 1:18am


I for the most part agree with you. What concerned me about the initial, and what I perceived as the severe tone of, the comment "shut down" India in order to favor Iran is this. We could not keep India out of Afghanistan unless we got very harsh with them, if then. This harshness would tend to make them hostile toward us. We are probably going to need their help in the next 30 years or so. We would be less likely to get it if we incurred their hostility. So we could potentially be trading India for Iran. Iran could not give us anywhere close to the help India could no matter if the Ayatollahs were in charge or not. That is not a good trade, especially looking long ways down the road.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 12/26/2010 - 12:22pm

An interesting comment concerning this topic and one that needs to be discussed here in far more detail than just simple comments. The regenerative ability of the Taliban--extremely close to what open source warfare predicts and extremely close to what two recent quantum research projects also indicated would be happening.

While regular readers know all about my lack of advocacy for the HVT campaign, I dont want to read too much into this report. Mujahids account isnt reason enough to abandon the HVT campaign if its working. My claim isnt (and has never been) that we are replacing bad actors with worse actors, or that the SOF operators arent highly qualified and useful warriors, or that it wouldnt be a good thing to have more Taliban commanders dead. My claim has heretofore been that it is a mostly ineffective strategy and misuse of highly skilled operators who should be matrixed to infantry Battalions (as in the Marine Corps, i.e., Force Recon and Scout Sniper).

Nor have I been a proponent of the ridiculous reconciliation program. There is absolutely no point of similarity between the Sons of Iraq program - implemented when the Iraqi insurgents were losing badly - and the supposed Taliban reconciliation program.

However, there is an interesting revelation that comports with a theme I have been following, that is, the increased religious radicalization of the Afghan Taliban given the protracted nature of the campaign and the prolonged exposure to foreign (Arabic) religious influences. The longer this thing draws out, the more we are facing (what was once) a national insurgency that has now become a transnational insurgency.

Think about it long enough and one hears Kilcullen's footsteps of "conflict ecosystem" getting closer to the truth than many want to accept.

Anonymous, not sure what the ground truth is but this article seems to indicate there is value in HVT attacks and night raids, and reintegration of some Taliban.…

Believe Greg Martin mentioned elsewhere how critical good leadership is for coalition and ANSF forces. It follows that it is equally critical to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

For those who don't like COIN, contrast the before and after description of the ANP in the above article. If we were treating Afghans with disrespect or killing them with little regard to civilian casualties, we would be despised the same way the ANP was/is despised when they do the wrong thing.

This article also provides some optimism that efforts across the border also may be succeeding. Again it supports that killing enemy leaders is both an effective tactic and strategy.…

Whether things change in the spring remains to be seen. But the Christmas scare that there could have been another Mumbai attack may be telling Pakistan leaders that they can't afford terrorists to lead them into war with India...despite what the above NYT article may imply.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 12/27/2010 - 2:19pm


And then there appears this article from today stating that the UN report counters virtually all previous reporting that things are improving.…

It is like three good reports and then a dash of reality.

The Taliban are reacting much like AQI did when pressured in one area move to other areas thus keeping the counterinsurgent force always on the move in reaction to pressure---standard AQI TTP which is now evident in Taliban TTPs.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 12/27/2010 - 6:00pm

I guess it may be inappropriate to discuss details outlined in "UN classified" (?) maps. One does note the comparison was between March 2010 when all surge forces were not yet in place and October 2010. That may mean the data was compiled in September. A lot of fighting has happened since then:

<Q>The U.S.-led coalition said 2,469 insurgents were captured and 952 were killed during the 90-day period ending Dec. 2. NATO maintains that a campaign to capture or kill key midlevel insurgent commanders has weakened the rebel command structure and may in time encourage lower-ranking fighters to leave the battlefield.</Q>

The above quote is from this article:…

Second, it is natural for Taliban activity to increase in areas not as well reinforced as southern Afghanistan has been. Those gains are less likely to hold in an area with non-Pashtun population. Some of those areas of enhanced activity also may be due to new northern lines of communication.

Third, the UN is the same organization that said the Karzai elections were fair and fired Ambassador Galbraith for saying otherwise. There's no clear indication the UN ventures outside Kabul to stay long on a regular basis. The criteria used to evaluate risk are clearly different for a UN aid worker subject to capture and targeting vs. an Afghan citizen simply trying to travel from point A to B unobstructed.

Maybe there is inaccurate optimism. I just seem to recall a damning intelligence report that said Anbar province was lost. Yet somehow, there was an Anbar awakening and surge combat outposts played a role, as well. Perhaps we can hope for a similar awakening or Blackwill-like partition in Afghanistan. COIN and economic development probably would be highly successful in northern provinces.


Tue, 12/28/2010 - 12:59pm

Anonymous, re your point about increased religious radicalization of the taliban. I disagree. I think this comment misses the fact that the religious radicalization you talk about has been running the show for a long time. And it is not headquartered in Afghanistan. There is a very real longer-term jihadist project that is more sophisticated than the taliban (who are used as tools, but are not the brains). I suggest a day spent reading Zaid Hamid, and so on...

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 12/28/2010 - 7:01pm


A quick trip to Wikipedia shows that Zaid Hamid thinks India's RAW, the CIA, and Israel's Mossad are behind Pakistan's ills...and 9/11. Believe I'll pass on your reading material suggestion.

The problem with the whole COIN-rejection syndrome in Afghanistan is that we don't have enough folks now, even with a surge, to cover the whole country. How could SOF?

The coalition has had some success in finding and targeting Taliban leaders partially due to Infantry force HUMINT by being close to the population...remember the whole company-level Intelligence-Drives-Operations?

Throw that HUMINT away before the ANA and ANP are ready, and you guarantee things get worse. You can't conduct enemy-centric operations unless you know who and where the enemy is (and can access them), and I really doubt that SOF and UAS alone can find the Taliban in the mountains or intermingled with regular Afghans. Would Pakistan continue to allow UAS strikes in Northern Waziristan if we pack up and leave Afghanistan too soon?

Multiple articles today say that Punjabi-based (country's ethnic majority) Lashkar-e-Taiba is joining forces with Pashtun-minority Taliban groups in Pakistan.…

Lashkar-e-Taiba is the group that has India on edge over a possible New Years attack. So again, is it worth it to believe there are good Taliban when they join forces with Lashkar-e-Taiba in attacking India and possibly bringing war between India and Pakistan?

I listened on C-SPAN to a very smart Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. who spoke of conspiracy theories in Pakistan. Other shows/articles I've read say the anti-American and anti-Indian bias is propagated by the Pakistan media. I read Pakistan articles every now and then and some are really out there. You guys are too smart to take that stuff seriously and see an Indian or Israeli behind every problem.