Afghanistan: It's Not Over

Afghanistan: It's Not Over

by Lieutenant General James M. Dubik

Download the Full Article: Afghanistan: It's Not Over

In May, 2007 I deployed to Iraq to become the Commanding General responsible for accelerating the growth of the Iraqi Security Forces in size, capability, and confidence. Prior to deploying, I made a series of rounds in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. I was met with more condolences than congratulations. The general feeling, no pun intended, was that the war was lost and it was only a matter of time before we would admit our defeat and withdraw. I am getting the same "all is lost" attitude about Afghanistan from what I read and hear around the Washington, D.C. Beltway. We were too quick to declare defeat in Iraq then, and it's too soon to declare it in Afghanistan now.

We are at a crossroad in Afghanistan, no doubt about that, but the future—success or failure—is not predestined. Our enemy may have a vote, but so do we. What we do, primarily in Afghanistan but based upon decisions in Washington and other Capitols, in the next 12 months will determine our future direction.

Afghanistan is not a "war of choice" as some have recently declared it. It is a war of necessity derived from our self defense. The choice has been how we execute the war that came to us with the 9/11 attacks.

Unfortunately, the war was characterized as a "Global War on Terror." It was never that. The war that was thrust upon us is a war against Al Qaeda, their ideology, and their affiliates—one of whom had been, and may still be, the Afghan Taliban.

Download the Full Article: Afghanistan: It's Not Over

Lieutenant General James M. Dubik, U.S. Army (Ret.), is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Study of War. LTG Dubik assumed command of Multi National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I) on June 10, 2007. During this final command, he oversaw the generation and training of the Iraqi Security Forces. Previously, he was the Commanding General of I Corps at Ft. Lewis and the Deputy Commanding General for Transformation, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. He also served as the Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division. Dubik has held numerous leadership and command positions with airborne, ranger, light and mechanized infantry units around the world. He was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry from Gannon University as a Distinguished Military Graduate in 1971, and he retired from service on September 1, 2008.

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This is a very interesting discussion. On the one hand we have the position that the elite want power and use religion to motivate the masses- but that we shouldn't concern ourselves with this internal-to-the Islamic world struggle because to do so doens't make us more secure.

On the other, we hear that "insurgency is about politics and challenging governance that is out of touch with its governed populace" and that the religious aspect of the conflict is overblown by Christian groups and capitalists.

I'm not so sure either theory is right- or wrong for that matter. Surely religion matters to some in this fight- in ways that the Western mind finds incomprehensible. Surely the religious aspect is overblown at times by leaders in the West attempting to exploit populace fears (just like they do in the Middle East).

At the strategic level it must matter- for at least our Western minds to comprehend I guess. But if insurgencies are- like politics- inherently local, what kind of generalization can you make that will bring strategic coherence to our challenges? Outside of selling our strategy for political support- do we really need to?

Some have suggested we really face a narco-state in Afghanistan. Others suggest a religious-inspired insurgency. Still others a populace upset about corrupt governance.

At the tactical level I don't think we can afford to dismiss any of these possibilities. At the strategic level I am afraid we may lack the capability to influence much- even if we could agree on what we face. We seem to still struggle for a strategic Center of Gravity- a universal "theory of everything"- to borrow a physics term: something that explains everything we face and allows us to understand it, sells action to our constituents, and then concentrate our actions at the decisive location.

So- regardless of whether we can ever do that- we still lack the capability to apply decisive "whole of government" efforts at that decisive location. As some in the military call it: the diMe model exists: wherein the military (the big M) dominates the other efforts in the Diplomatic-Informational-Military-Economic paradigm of governmental capabilities.

I would argue that the U.S. government (and the Coalition just complicates things) lacks a fundamental ability to adjust at the strategic level- across the board. Our systems are codified and bureaucratic, slow to change and risk-averse, and are rewarded regardless of their performance.

Surely something as complex as a multi-state/religious-influenced/narco-funded/tribal-based insurgency requires a flattened-hierarchical/strategically flexible/locally-empowered/multi-disciplined/and tactically independent group of military and non-military forces in order to be successful.

Because in the end it wouldn't matter if you got it right or wrong at the strategic level- you could establish assumptions, act, and then learn- adjusting if you discover your assumptions are wrong.

Grant Martin
MAJ, US Army
NTM-A/CSTC-A

Opinions are the author's own and do not constitute a position of DoD, the US Army, or NTM-A/CSTC-A.

Thanks, Dayuhan. Id rather someone asks those questions in the Tank or at the EOB. Nonetheless, I gave some alternative strategies some thought last spring. See 20 May edition of FSM, an essay entitled; "What is to be done?" I let you read the documentation and recommendations for yourself, but for the moment, Ill give you the bottom line:

"Aside from the low probability of success, Afghanistan has the same "distraction" potential that Iraq had. For the moment, Iraq and Afghanistan are still secular states; Iran, on the other hand, is a theocracy about to go nuclear. Our inability or unwillingness to prioritize the targets in the Islamist threat matrix is the most alarming and dangerous development of the new century."

http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/id.6266/pub_detail.asp

As for the "existential" threat from Iran, I too realize the IC has been dithering on the nuclear program call. After the 2002 Iraq NIE analytical fiasco, we might appreciate their reticence. Nonetheless, others have made the call. British Intel for example. Indeed, Tony Blair made the call for the umpteenth time this AM on the Sunday gab circuit. I guess we could wait for the first detonation and then become believers, but I for one think one "ground zero" is one too many.

Another Holocaust is just the table stakes in the Middle East, and surely existential for Israel. The "secular" and religious leadership in Tehran make no secret about their intentions. If you have a grip on intentions and likely capabilities, how hard is the analytical call?

And I dont think that insurgency is the problem with Iran; rather, Im trying to argue that insurgency isnt the problem, period. The problem is much larger and its global. The problem is a politically correct strategic myopia. And unfortunately, its our problem not theirs.

Great discussion! For those of you, outside the wire, God speed. For the rest of us, enjoy the last weekend of summer. And Bob, thanks for your service to our country. Best of luck.

.

This is really a first rate discussion with Robert Jones et al leading and firing the debate.

But I wonder why LTG (Ret) Dubik does not chime in on things since it would be good to hear his thoughts.

Moreover I wish more General Officers (active and retired) would participate in these debates on SWJ blog, especially if they are following them. Their insights would be of interest and probably of significance too.

gian

To all:
"Instead of trivializing the issue with cheap shots about "sheets and hoods," we might want to wake up and smell the cordite. A different point of view is not bigotry, Bob. Invective isn't an argument either."

G. Murphy Donovan with this comment has placed a core question into the discussion but it seems to get constantly ignored as many on this comment chain seem to want to run from the discussion of religion as both a core element and driver of say the Sunni Salafi insurgencies. Even in the entire IC just pick out any analyst and ask them to define the difference between the Salafi and Takfiri factions of Islam or even better ask them to give you a thumbnail description of the forces behind those movements from a historical perspective! Do not even ask about the Sufi development or influences on Islam.

We came close in this comment blog at really opening a discussion of "conflict ecosystems" when Mr. Jones came in with the two tier system which is really how both the Iraqi and Afghanistan insurgencies work and then if by command it stopped-just when it got interesting as there are not only strong similarities between the two there are strong religious aspects of the two especially if one looks at the upper tier and that fact cannot be disputed.

This is what Donovon is talking about---I have not heard or seen any deep discussion in any SWJ blog concerning the question --just how is it possible that what was apparently 65 Sunni jihadi groups in 2005/2006 located in multiple countries has now climbed to over 90 in 2010?

AND Dayuhan to argue that the discussion does occur at other sites in SWJ is a simple cop out by not bringing into the current discussion then those comments.

If someone would finally do a thorough analysis using "conflict ecosystems" one would seen a striking number of actual similarities-too many to be a "fluke"---but it is like do not wake up the masses and show them there is a problem.

AND yes Dayuhan theories are important as they are indicators of what one is looking at even if they show one something one does not really want to see as it might just not match the institutional image. Look at how fast the blog comments on the article about Che's foco insurgency concepts disappeared from the SWJ discussion in a couple of days-I guess there are not to many that understand foco insurgencies and the discussion died.

This whole discussion really is dancing around the two main theories of current Salafi insurgencies---drivers and evolutionary paths both now and in the coming years.

Drivers and the evoluntionary paths are answered simply using "conflict ecosystems and open source warfare" --- I suspect many run from them because no one seems to understand them. NOW if one could then understand them we might then in fact get into a great discussion of 4GW and eventually what some are hinting at that namely we might in fact be into a 5GW environment but that would take us to Lind's work that many also run from. 4GW/5GW discussions tend to separate the men from the boys as you cannot discuss them without walking the walk and talking the talk-again Dayuhan one must know the theories.

So in my opinion these type of blog comments seem to always go in a circle and nothing ever gets fully discussed without it falling into a she said he said kind of dicussion.

Again the comments by both Jones and Donovon are worth some deeper discussions--as they are pointing to the true reality on the ground and what is facing us in the coming years-- whether we like it or not Salafi movements are simply not going to go away as Islam has not had it's 14 century Reformation period.

G. Murphy Donovan:


And these notions of "occupation" or neocolonialism are more than a little pernicious. These are echoes of Edward Saids world view - i.e. Muslims irredentism is the logical consequence of racism, oppression, and imperialism. This is the kind of analysis we get when English majors write history books.

Sad to say, rather than Said, it is more common in some Asian countries to encounter the use of Henry Ford's historical analysis to buttress conversational points of the real or perceived persecution of Islam. His book is readily available in bookstores in the region. Whether this use of Ford is serious or just an exercise in bloody-mindedness, I'm not sure.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_International_Jew

1. KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - U.S. commanders in southern Afghanistan are adopting a strategy that increasingly places the priority on fighting the Taliban even if that means tolerating some corruption.

2. We have decided to go pop centric which indicates that the insurgency sanctuaries are not being attacked.

3. We attacked initially the opium production and then backed away.

4. While pop centric we have really given up on the outlying villages and rural areas-conceding them to the Taliban and the extensive shadow government they are maintaining.

5. The single main bank in Afghanistan has totally failured due to corruption and we are bailing it out.

So what is it that we are really doing in Afghanistan---? As it is certainly not COIN.

Murph,

You employ invective against an entire region and its believers without blinking, yet when someone calls you on it personally you call foul.

The Middle East is one of the last regions of the world to yet shake off the mantle of Western Colonial influence. Price of having all that oil. The fact that they are also Muslim and apt to apply an Islamic ideology to rally the boys to stand up to such unwanted external influence and control is logical and natural. That does not make this an Islamic agenda, it merely means that Muslims are pushing back against what they perceive as improper manipulation and influence over their governance.

The U.S. runs the risk of waking up on the wrong side of history on this one if we continue to let U.S. corporations and religious lobbyists shape and drive our foreign policy. The irony is that these same corporations have no loyalty to the U.S., but only to their quarterly profits, which, btw have gone up considerably as we wage war to protect them. Sad. Sadder still are those who blame this on religion.

GMD:

I'm curious... when and how did Iran become an "existential threat"? And where has anyone ever referred to it as an "insurgency"?

As for this;

And we will never "stabilize" anything if we ignore state actors (Iran, Saudia Arabia, and Libya just to name a few) who continue to work both sides of the jihad street in the name of God.

What exactly do you propose that we do about these countries?

Certainly there's a global problem, and certainly it has to be addressed on many levels. One level has to be specifically targeted at individuals and groups that have attacked us or are trying to attack us. This will be a law enforcement problem in some environments, a problem for targeted military ops in others, always low key and intel driven.

On another level, it is important to try to address and resolve specific insurgencies on which our opponents thrive. In this sense, I personally believe that our decision to occupy and attempt to install governments in Iran and Afghanistan was a mistake: "expel the infidel from the land of the faithful" is the most compelling narrative our opponents can muster.

On a wider level, our opponents draw much of their impetus from a culture of what Bernard Lewis has called "aggressive self pity", which prevails in much of the Muslim world. Addressing the sources of that culture is important, but it's likely to be a generational enterprise, no quick easy solutions there.

It's easy to speak of "winning the war of ideas"... but what do you see as the specific fronts on which that war must be fought, and what specific strategies to you propose for winning that war?

Were getting lost in the weeds here. Pashtun xenophobia is about as relevant as Irish fear of Polish immigration. Tribesmen of South Asia do not resent outsiders per se. They resent non-Muslims in particular. Indeed, Pashtun Omar provides sanctuary to Arab bin Laden because they are co-religionists with shared values, a similar world view. Arab Al Qaeda finds sanctuary and runs joint operations with the Pashtun Taliban because they have religious ties. And they might even run ops for us for a while if we pay them enough. Such are the tactical considerations that overcome fear of outsiders or tribal differences.

At the strategic level, religion is the El Camino Real, the holy road in a holy war that links most cells in an otherwise decentralized movement. If you read the pre and post op attack manifestos of jihadi attackers at Luxor, Beslan, New York, London, Islamabad, Kabul, Lisbon, and Mumbai, you will read nearly identical incantations about the West, Israel, blessings to the prophet, and condemnations of "infidels". To what do we attribute this - internet connectivity? The hate speech, anti-Semitism, and Luddite rhetoric are invariably set in a pudding of religious dogma. How is any of this not relevant? And why immunize Islamic bigots?

When the threat is atomized by pretending all phenomena are local we are indulging in the worst kind of wishful thinking. If the Iraq war of "choice" was a distraction from the war of "necessity" in Afghanistan, how is Afghanistan not a distraction from the existential threat from Iran? And when does NATO stabilize that 'insurgency?

While the Afghan operation is important; it is only one front among many - and 'insurgency is even an arguable tag there. When al Qaeda decamps from Arabia to South Asia, how do such transnational maneuvers qualify as insurgencies? Were the attacks in Mumbai, over Lockerbie, or in Manhattan the work of insurgents? Or how about Beslan - where 200 grade schoolers were killed in the name of a "Caucasus Emirate?"

Islam is not a monolith, nor is it a monoculture; yet, for too many, it aspires to be both. And surely not all Muslims are terrorists, but just as surely most terrorists are Muslims. The longer we keep our heads in the weeds about the tactical and strategic significance of religion and ideology (one that has been hijacked by a toxic political agenda), the easier it will be for them to kick our azimuth. Were I an Islamist strategist, I wouldnt see the next couple of years as a window of opportunity; its more like an open barn door.

What I have argued here and elsewhere, is that the various assaults (60,000 attacks worldwide in 2009 alone, more than half attributed officially to Sunni groups) is a global problem that requires a global strategy. And we will never "stabilize" anything if we ignore state actors (Iran, Saudia Arabia, and Libya just to name a few) who continue to work both sides of the jihad street in the name of God.

Instead of trivializing the issue with cheap shots about "sheets and hoods," we might want to wake up and smell the cordite. A different point of view is not bigotry, Bob. Invective isn't an argument either.

Maybe looking to the bottom tier makes sense to me because I live in the middle of a historic example. From the late 70s through the 80s the area where I live was a hotbed of insurgency, fueled by government plans to dam rivers, flood villages, and introduce large scale resource extraction enterprises that would have fundamentally altered (destroyed, really) the local way of life. The Communist NPA gained huge support because it was seen as an ally against a common enemy.

When the dams and the mining and logging projects were shelved, local support for the insurgency gradually evaporated. The NPA leaders are still out there, frothing at the mouth and shrieking incomprehensible 70s vintage socialist mantras. They still draw a few people, they still have some residual tolerance left over from the days of occupation by abusive military forces, but the mass appeal is gone.

On a larger scle, the NPA never really recovered from the loss of Marcos. They still exist, primarily in areas controlled by petty regional despots, but they've never again come close to the near strategic parity they achieved during the late Marcos years. If there's ever any success in clearing up the regional despots, they will simply evaporate: the leaders will still be there, but there'll be nobody left to follow.

Whether that example is translatable to Afghanistan I really don't know. It makes sense to me though, that if the people doing the actual fighting are motivated by concrete local grievances, addressing those grievances could remove their motivation to fight. Since the insurgent leadership is primarily motivated by a desire to achieve personal power and control, it's difficult to address their motivation without surrender. I question whether the Taliban have any interest at all in being one party in a multi-party system... doesn't seem to suit their style. It's a solution that would suit us, but I don't know that it would suit them.

Dayuhan,

(Mr. Jones here btw, formally retired from the Army as of the 1st). I hear what you say about wondering why would the Top Tier revolutionary insurgency leadership be willing to settle. I see two reasons off the top of my head as to why they would:

1. To cut ties with Pakistan. I think we can play on this. What kind of victory is it if you end up in charge, but still must dance to Pakistan's tune? The US is far away and is willing to largely run things free from day to day interference so long as they keep the AQ camps out and steer clear of the excessively conservative Islam as a matter of mandated state-wide practice. These guys are smart enough to see that that is a low price to pay for autonomy.

2. Once in, they will have a chance to epxand their influence through legal means within GIROA. The current government does not represent the entire populace well, so inclusion of that segment of the populace represented by the Taliban currently will give them a base. Could be the beginning of a healthy two-party system that wages their battles within the law.

As to going after the bottom of the insurgency? I just don't see any historic examples of that ever working. Ever. Success demands that the government evolve and that the insurgent leadership issues be adequately so as to get them to stop fueling the massess to join in. Key is really the evolution of governance, IMO.

Col Jones:

Completely agree on the two-tier structure... every insurgency that I've witnessed or studied shows the same feature to some extent: politically driven leaders framing their politics in terms of ideology that can easily pitched to the masses; followers motivated by local grievances that can be (often loosely) fit into an ideological framework.

I'm not fully convinced that the upper tier is more vulnerable, or that resolving their issues is practical or possible. When you write that "These men are political, and they do not accept the legitimacy of the Karzai government, and they seek to change that government in whole or in part to one that they believe better reflects the will of the Afghan people"... isn't it possible that these men are less concerned with "the will of the Afghan people" than with their own desire to take power themselves and impose their own will on the Afghan people? Of course they won't preach it that way; revolutionaries never do. But what's it really about, for the leadership... the will of the people, or personally taking power? I don't think they are any more concerned with the will of the people than we are, I think they want to get back in the comfy chair.

I also wonder how practical a reconciliation program aimed at this tier is going to be. Do they have any interest in it at all? Why should they want reconciliation, especially if they think they're winning? Why should they take a deal that gives them partial power if all they have to do is hang on a few years, watch us leave, watch the Karzai government collapse, and take it all for themselves? You can't have reconciliation unless both parties want to reconcile... do they?

It's often very difficult to address these matters by working with core leadership. They are personally ambitious, they want to win, they think they will win, and they aren't likely to accept a compromise unless they see it as a step toward full victory. They are committed, personally invested, and often believe their own propaganda (a problem our leaders also display at times).

Might it not be easier and more effective to focus on the followers? Not by destroying them or defeating them, but by trying to resolve the grievances that led them to fight in the first place? Take away the leaders, new ones will arise... a large body of armed men willing to fight will always find a leader; would be leaders don't always find followers.

I just think it's worth asking why these people fight... not the leaders, not the ideologues, not the people who fancy themselves running the show, but the guys planting the IEDs, holding the rifles and the RPGs. Take away that reason, and the leaders are nothing bit a bunch of toothless old men howling in the wilderness.

If the grievance that gets them fighting is our presence, maybe we need less presence. If the grievance is intrusive central government, maybe we need less of that... a centralized government that gets out there and governs may be our definition of good governance, it ain't necessarily theirs.

I know, once again I speak blasphemy, heresy, and sacrilege... but I remain unconvinced that more US force and more and better Government is going to solve the problem... or that a peaceful settlement short of surrender is going to be possible with a Taliban leadership that sees itself on the brink of victory.

Sir,
I just addressed that same issue in a paper I'm trying to get through ISAF PA so I can submit here. The gist of it is that while we focus solely on the KTDs and RC-S and S/W, we are further separating GIRoA from the population because of our local command policies here in Kabul. In doing so, the heart of the COG who will determine the future of GIRoA's viability is being lost through our own actions. In the time it takes to perform any kind of COIN success in the southern and eastern provinces is the time it will take for the residents of Kabul to make up their minds about the current incarnation of GIRoA. And if Kabul goes, it doesn't matter that District X, Y, and Z are stable because the populations in the districts will not care (for the most part) what the macro political future of their country is as long as their micro needs are met through traditional Afghan mechanisms at the local level (Kabul has always been separated from the Provinces and that suits Kabul and the Provinces just fine). The viability of GIRoA will be determined by the residents and government apparatus of Kabul, not in the outlying provinces through our efforts there. That is a strategic disconnect which is being intentionally overlooked because of the investments do date.

The views expressed here are the author's own, and do not in any way reflect those of the US Army, ISAF, or the DoD.

Murph,

Exactly on the count that you cannot separate religion and politics in Islam, yet you do just that when you cast this as an ideological religious struggle. It is politics, but politics inseparably wrapped in their religion, as is every aspect of their lives.

Those who rail on and on about Caliphates and Islam really need to get down off the horse, extinguish their torches, take off the hooded sheets, and stop fearing something simply because it is different than you.

This is not about Islam taking over the world, this is about Muslim people taking control of their own destinies free from external manipulation. It does not matter if we see our influence as good, or benign; it only matter how they feel about our influence.

This is insurgency, and insurgency is rarely rational, but it is very real, and it is rooted in how a populace feels about its governance. Right now the lower tier is "feeling" invaded by foreigners; and the upper tier "feels" that Karzai is illegitimate. We need to "feel" that. Are you feeling me?

If we lose the war of ideas, the shooting war doesnt matter. And underestimating the power of ideas, as we do when we dismiss Islamic religious beliefs, is a kind of unilateral disarmament. In the West, we may consign religion to superstition or some quaint anachronism, but that is not the view of Muslims, especially the zealots who would be "martyrs" at our expense.

We have managed to put religion and politics into separate compartments in the West; no such separation exists or is desired in much of the Muslim world - separation of church and state is an axiom of the European Enlightenment thinking that has yet to take root in dar al Islam - after 500 years of exposure. This and other ideological differences are at the heart of the conflict. Talking about the ongoing jihad, struggle, or war without discussing Islam is a little like trying to cure malaria without mentioning mosquitoes.

And these notions of "occupation" or neocolonialism are more than a little pernicious. These are echoes of Edward Saids world view - i.e. Muslims irredentism is the logical consequence of racism, oppression, and imperialism. This is the kind of analysis we get when English majors write history books.

Bernard Lewis and many other legitimate historians have discredited these notions. The oxidation of Islam and the caliphate was and is a function autocratic incompetence, religious irredentism, and pervasive illiteracy. In short, a world ruled by Sharia was and is a world where political pathology is a both permanent affliction and self-fulfilling prophecy.

And we might also note that portraying Arabs as "victims" is a an argument used by critics of Israel, the only functional democracy in an otherwise dysfunctional neighborhood.

My assessment that I came to during my recent tour in Kandahar and Kabul was that the insurgency in Afghanistan is best viewed and understood as a two-tier system. The lower tier, as Dayuhan pointed out, is absolutely a resistance insurgency. This is made up of the rank and file fighter who joins the ranks of the various insurgent organizations; they fight us because we are there; because they are Pashtun, and pragmatically, because they get paid an honest wage for an honest day's work. This is why "fighting season" follows poppy harvest season as it moves from SW to NE, starting in the lower Helmand. Migrant workers are a ready and available work force, and with cash in hand from the Poppy sales, the local commanders simply hire them out to work the insurgency for the next few months. These fighters then mostly "reintegrate" back into their villages every fall, and come back start the cycle all over again the following year as the poppy come into bloom.

But this is the lower tier, it is the one we see and feel, it is the one we engage, but it also the one that is completely self-regenerating so long as certain conditions exist, which are: Our very presence (the surge doesn't help much on that count), and the continued commitment to the cause of the upper tier of the insurgency. Note also that reintegration is also aimed at this tier of the insurgency. In Afghanistan this tier is largely apolitical. They are, and have always been, largely self-governing, and do not expect much from, nor care much about the government, so long as they can live their lives and feed their families.

To attack the base of a two-tier insurgency such as this one is like attacking the base of a sand dune. Be prepared to dig for a long time...

(Come to think of it, the same dynamic occurred in Vietnam, except the there the upper tier were given an official sanctuary in the form of the state of N. Vietnam. The lower tier were the Vietcong in the South; with the upper being the leadership and the NVA in the north.)

In Afghanistan the upper tier is the Taliban leadership, such as the Quetta Shura and many other such bodies, which also take sanctuary behind the legal protection of a sovereign border in Pakistan. This is best described as a Revolutionary movement. These men are political, and they do not accept the legitimacy of the Karzai government, and they seek to change that government in whole or in part to one that they believe better reflects the will of the Afghan people (which to them means the Pashtun people, as influence heavily by Pakistan and Pakistani interests in Afghanistan). This is a group that is also denied the "hope" of having any legal recourse to address their concerns, so must resort to illegal insurgency in order to participate in the political system. This is the aspect of the insurgency the pays and encourages and directs the lower tier to act. This is also the tier of the insurgency that Reconciliation is directed at. This is why reconciliation is so important, and so much more important than any program that is directed at the lower tier of the insurgency: If you reach a settlement at the top, then they will stop fueling the bottom, and we can draw down our overt foreign military presence as well.

This, IMO, is the key to Afghanistan and our mission there. Those who dwell on ideology, those who dwell on sanctuary, and those who dwell on the thousands of perspectives as to how best engage the lower tier of the insurgency (from the "kill them" to the "Develop them" to the "secure them" to the "govern them" and all shades in between) are all tilting at windmills in large degree. No amount of energy directed at the bottom can do more than suppress the insurgency for some small period of time. True victory, true stability, comes when the top tier issues are resolved. Focus there.

Dayuhan, you're speaking blasphemy! Could you be saying that the worst of the worst, our nastiest enemies over here, the Haqqanis, and the Taliban themselves are simple, modern-day muj/freedom-fighters? Because that would force us to reframe everything. And that's unacceptable. We're fighting for freedom dammit...and the good ol' US definition of freedom to boot.

I suspect that the primary force driving the fight in Afghanistan is neither religion nor "governance that is out of touch with its governed populace", but rather resistance to foreign occupation. Can't forget about the elephant in the drawing room, even if we have to look in a mirror to see it.

Well, personally I think the religious aspect is insanely overblown to degrees that it distracts us from the politics, the basic human dynamics at work, and the responsibility that the West needs to take for generations of manipulation of governance across the region.

But it helps to soothe our conscience to blame it on mass mental disorder of "radicalization" or on the evils of Islam as a bad religion. We did the same thing with Communism back in the good old McCarthy days.

No, I'm not buying the "blame it on Islam" line; and those who sell it the most typically don't have a deep grasp of the nature of insurgency. Ideology is critical in any insurgency, not for the content of the message applied, but rather for the ability to take a position that speaks to the masses in a manner that motivates them to join, and that also takes positions that the opposition is either unwilling or unable to accept. Blaming GWOT on Islam is like blaming the IRA on Catholicism; or the 30 years war on Protestantism; or etc., etc. Religion works, and smart insurgents understand this, and they use it. But insurgency is about politics and challenging governance that is out of touch with its governed populace.

Bob Jones touches a key point. Afghanistan is not the Cold War nor is it Vietnam, although there are some creepy similarities to SEA. If I hear another euphemism for winning "hearts and minds," I may have a hot flash of deja vu.

Those rational actor models that served us so well during Vietnam & the Cold War no longer apply. The new enemy is not guided by any kind of reason as we understand it. The new paradigm is religious irredentism, a political ideology that serious scholars have labeled "theofacism." Indeed, some of the best analysis of the new threat has come from the political Left. (See almost anything written by the likes of Paul Berman or Chris Hitchens.)

There are two great flaws in the assumptions that underwrite current strategy. First, we ignore the dimensions of the threat, knowing that it could get worse in a hurry. And then we compound the illusion by assuming democracy is fungible, like a taste for cheeseburgers. Democracy is a bottom-up aspiration, not a top down graft. There is no evidence of a ground swell of support for reason or democracy anywhere in dar al Islam.

No Muslim country is likely to be grateful for anything we do either. Edward Said set this paradigm with ORIENTALISM, the 1978 classic which established victimology as the bedrock of Islamic complaints against the West.

We have gone from a certainty of "there's no substitute for victory" among our generals to the kind of incoherent optimism in Dubik's essay. You don't have to be a pessimist to understand that 'they' are unlikely to change a winning strategy; and things are likely to get a lot worse for us before they get better - if we continue to play by their rules.

It appears that LTG Dubik is by all measures a "good Cold Warrior." By the criteria under which he developed as an officer and served his nation well, he is correct. There is an old adage though that "nothing fails like success," that may be appropriate here

The problem being, of course, that the Cold War is long over, and measures of success once valid now find themselves to be sadly outdated. "Sanctuary" was once (and by many still is) seen as "ungoverned spaces." The fact is that sanctuary much more accurately comes from a combination of legal status (a national border, or being an outlaw non-state organization provides this very well) and the support of a poorly governed populace. Legal status and popular support attained, the space one employs it in is largely moot. AQ could employ their sanctuary in an apartment building in NYC, Paris or London as well as they can in a village in Afghanistan. We are chasing the ghosts of Conflicts past, and it is arguably making the threat of terrorist attack against the United States and her populace worse, not better.

No, it is time to retire the Cold War perspectives along with the Cold Warriors, and look to the world that is emerging around us, rather than the one we were so comfortable with that recedes behind. There are indeed lessons in history, but they must be applied with open eyes to the current situation. I constantly seek these lessons and applications and encourage others to as well. Now is the time to move forward in thought and action and to seek once again to outcompete those around us for influence; not the time to fall back on military might to attempt to force others to stay in the places we have chosen for them.

Afghanistan is the wrong war, in the wrong place, focused on the wrong things, regardless how right the reasons. America's Ends are ok, but Ways and Means need a fresh coat of paint, and we're still fumbling for what those might look like. We've not found them yet though.

The problem being, of course, that the Cold War is long over, and measures of success once valid now find themselves to be sadly outdated. "Sanctuary" was once (and by many still is) seen as "ungoverned spaces." The fact is that sanctuary much more accurately comes from a combination of legal status (a national border, or being an outlaw non-state organization provides this very well) and the support of a poorly governed populace. Legal status and popular support attained, the space one employs it in is largely moot. AQ could employ their sanctuary in an apartment building in NYC, Paris or London as well as they can in a village in Afghanistan. We are chasing the ghosts of Conflicts past, and it is arguably making the threat of terrorist attack against the United States and her populace worse, not better.

No, it is time to retire the Cold War perspectives along with the Cold Warriors, and look to the world that is emerging around us, rather than the one we were so comfortable with that recedes behind. There are indeed lessons in history, but they must be applied with open eyes to the current situation. I constantly seek these lessons and applications and encourage others to as well. Now is the time to move forward in thought and action and to seek once again to outcompete those around us for influence; not the time to fall back on military might to attempt to force others to stay in the places we have chosen for them.

Afghanistan is the wrong war, in the wrong place, focused on the wrong things, regardless how right the reasons. America's Ends are ok, but Ways and Means need a fresh coat of paint, and we're still fumbling for what those might look like. We've not found them yet though.

"Afghanistan is not a "war of choice" as some have recently declared it. It is a war of necessity derived from our self defense."

Wrong answer. Afghanistan is war of choice. However, our self defense in view of the current attempts to destabilize and economically imperil us is the effort of necessity. No question on that.

Our staying in Afghanistan, though, was a choice. As the Dubik article says "The choice has been how we execute the war that came to us with the 9/11 attacks" and as G. Murphy Donovan points out above, a sustained effort in Afghanistan was not a particularly wise choice on several counts. The general bankruptcy of that approach is shown by another statement from the article:

"Our initial operations in Afghanistan did evict the Taliban and force Al Qaeda into Pakistan, did not finish the job. The eviction was temporary. By itself, it could not accomplish the strategic goal of self defense because inherent in eviction is the notion of prevention.

Prevent what, though? First, prevent Al Qaeda from returning to use Afghanistan as a base to attack the US and our allies. Second, and a necessary consequent, prevent the formation of an Afghan government that would allow such a return--otherwise, we will have to be there in some capacity much longer than we want or is necessary."

The first flaw is that al Qaida did not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the US -- they attacked the US from within its own borders; Afghanistan was merely one of several temporary lodgings used by them after our failure to eliminate that threat as soon as it was known. We had several other options and those were not used due to political ans strategic ineptitude.

The fact is that that our failure to act against a known threat caused us to later decide to expend lives and funds in a futile effort to change a society which we do not understand well at all. The second flaw is that to achieve the stated goal we will be there in some strength for fifty or more years. That does not really pass the common sense test...

I do not question that we needed to take action -- I strongly question the fact that we did not take action due to a lack of political will when we should have and I know that lack of will existed both inside and outside DoD. I also question the action that we did belatedly take; I have no objection to the intial entry and effort in Afghanistan, strongly support it, in fact. I also support the invasion of Iraq as an undesirable but necessary effort to counteract the failure to respond appropriately to probes from the Islamists from 1979 through 2001 -- failures by four and quarter successive US Administrations. The responses were very necessary -- the execution was just poor. That execution, regrettably, does not at this point seem to be much improved.

Near the end of the article, Dubik states:

"But this much is clear: with respect to our national self defense, all is not lost until we give up."

That is true as far as it goes. What is also true is that with respect to our national self defense, ignoring a problem until it blows up in our face and then attempting to apply short sighted, not well thought out remedies by forces poorly structured, trained and equipped for their ill understood roles, all can potentially be lost by playing to the opponents strengths on his turf...

The basic strategic, operational and tactical problem is that our current approach allows the opponent to maintain the initiative. That isn't militarily sound. Not politically smart, either...

We should all be grateful for Jim Dubiks long service to his country. However, his analysis of the Afghan front is dead wrong on many levels, beginning with his strategic view.

This "defensive" war did not begin with 9/11. The attack in NYC was merely a very obvious escalation of a war that we refused to recognize for decades. And the enemy is not limited to al Qaeda or the Taliban. Islamism is now a global phenomenon. In 2009 alone, 90 distinct terror groups attacked in 83 countries, inflicting nearly 60,000 casualties. Over half of these casualties are attributed to various Arab sponsored Sunni groups.

Indeed, global jihad might be the Arab worlds most infamous export these days. And this would include the shooting and propaganda wars. It is Islamists, not NATO, who are on the offensive. And we operate in Afghanistan much as we did in Vietnam, from defensive cantonments - remote base camps marinating in a miasma where we do not control anything outside the wire or understand the language and culture.

Indeed, our tactics are at odds with Dubiks professed strategy. If we, or the central government, do not control the roads, we control nothing. We have out-sourced LOC security to Islamic warlords who neither respect nor support a central government. Thus, our local tactics, of bribing locals and bypassing regional and national authorities, are at odds with any serious notion of nation building. Poor tactics always illuminate bad strategy.

And this idea that we can take a semi-literate tribal society and mould a loyal national police and loyal militia force in "12 months" is simply delusional.

Lets try an analogy. No one calls an escort service looking for a mate or a permanent relationship. Such an alliance only lasts as long as your money. You cant buy friends or allies. You must have shared values. But, Dubik might argue that this is the reality of Afghanistan. Indeed! So the real question is; do they become more like us or do we become more like them - as we "defend" ourselves.

General Dubiks great fear, like every other politically correct analysis of South Asia, tells us that neither Muslim Pakistan nor Muslim Afghanistan should be allowed to fall to Islamists. Why not? Surely any merger of non-state and state actors in dar al Islam would simplify the targeting problem. Tactical simplicity often provides for strategic clarity.

General Dubiks analysis is a mirror image of every other administration argument. Such "talking points" dont answer two strategic questions. Why should NATO save Islam from itself? And if radicals are more of a threat to Muslims than they are to Europe and America, why do we not see "moderate" Muslim armies at the front or "moderate" Arab treasuries financing the fight?

Agree that outcome of Afghanistan is far from predetermined, but I don't think the current strategy is that effective. The enemy that the author refers to is mostly in Pakistan. This is why I hesitate to use the term war, if it was a real war I think we would have marched into Pakistan long ago to kill our primary foes. Of course going into Pakistan would be tough for several reasons, just like the D-Day invasion was tough for many reasons. War is tough, and tough decisions have to be made to win it. You can make a tough decision now, or a tougher decision later.