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How Afghanistan Ends

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How Afghanistan Ends:

A Political-Military Path to Peace

by Linda Robinson

Download the Full Article: How Afghanistan Ends

This paper presents a scenario for resolution of the Afghan conflict in a manner that achieves U.S. objectives in Afghanistan. This scenario takes the current U.S. approach as the starting point and adds 1) a more detailed theory of the conflict that highlights the political effects that must be achieved; 2) emphasis on bottom-up measures that can produce momentum in the short term, and 3) a political diplomatic strategy embraced and pursued in concert by the Afghan government, the United States and key international partners. Finally, the paper identifies requirements for a smaller follow-on military force to pave the way for a long-term advisory and assistance effort.

Download the Full Article: How Afghanistan Ends

Linda Robinson served as Senior Adviser to the Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence at US Central Command in 2009-2010. This paper draws on open-source research and over two dozen interviews with current and former officials from Afghanistan, the United States and other countries and organizations, as well as South Asia and functional experts. Special thanks are due to Clare Lockhart, Michael Semple, Simon Shercliff, Mary Beth Long, Michael O'Hanlon, Jim Shinn, Adib Farhadi and John Nagl.

About the Author(s)


carl (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 11:02pm

I watch some of the Sunday morning talk shows because I like to hear intelligent people discuss things. I learn things. This series of comments is even better.

The problem that whoever is running the show in Pakistan, and I accept the point that it is a shifting set of actors not necessarily holding uniform views, has to face is that the kid next door that they've never liked and fought with in the past, is getting bigger and faster and bigger and faster and there is no telling how big he may get. They may be able to beat that kid now if they get in the first punch in but in the years coming nothing will enable them to beat that kid. So, they have to decide whether they want start cooling things off or keep at it and eventually chance getting their brains beat out.

I think that other countries have faced this in the past, maybe Poland is one (please correct me if that is a bad example). Maybe Mexico is another. Various Italian city states during Rome's rise may be others. Being antagonistic to the giant is not wise.

Two questions for all, first do you think that, at this moment and say ten years out, China could materially aid Pakistan if a navy or combination of navies decided to block the sea lanes between the two countries? It seems a long shot to me.

Second, and MAC made me think of this; what if the ISI did something completely unconventional and put OBL and every AQ person they could get their hands on into gunny sacks and then delivered them to the deck of a US carrier. What would we do then? How would that affect our efforts in Afghanistan, especially if MO went along with that?

MAC: I'll defer to you on the sequence of events involving MO and the cloak, since I can't get to the library because my car is in the shop, and I'm probably wrong anyway. But I think the main point, that his assumption of the title indicates there isn't much give in his position, is still good.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 7:30pm

... no OUCH intended...

Omar is right... "enabling the worst facets of Pakistan's so-called strategy (training fanatics to blow up things and turning them loose on India, Afghanistan, the world)" is wrong.

Instead of changing the neighborhood, maybe we should better pressure the handler instead. My heart goes out to all those working the handler.

Yes, this problem set sucks... Change the problem set?


Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 5:40pm

@ omar - I don't know about India, either, but I've read some pretty crazy things on Indian blogs too. Yes, the passions do run high. I really honestly think people ascribe too much power to Americans. As if we can snap our fingers and solve any problems. I did the same above, in a way, didn't I?

@ "MAC" McCallister: <em>OUCH.</em> That's what I get for arguing with professionals. Points taken. Points very well taken.

In the short term, we are stuck.

In the long term, if we keep spending the same amount of aid, we are giving tacit approval for the same behaviors to continue. I think I stole that either from the CNAS or Levine paper. Or some other paper.

Sigh. This problem set sucks.

Time for more reading....

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 5:11pm

Brother Omar... yes, all you say makes sense to me...

The cure is related to its causes. Different causes will lead to different cures.


"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 4:50pm

Express passion and absorb passion...

... ok... Pakistan is nuclear capable and its professional forces are trained and U.S. equipped... and yet an Army of Islam emerged from out of the frontier and advanced to within 5 kilometers of Peshawar. The patron worries.

The cure is related to its causes. Different causes lead to different cures.

If as you suggest there exists a "psychological desire, need, and compulsion to kill Indians"... what policy recommendation do you propose... Stopping the madness is a laudable goal but not a method.

While I very much appreciate the insight that Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka all have to deal with the emerging hegemon... I am currently more interested in how Pakistan deals with it... and by extension how Persia deals with how Pakistan is dealing.



Thu, 12/09/2010 - 4:37pm

Mac, to your first question: yes, they exist, but not on this blog. Every society has some. Some of them visit blogs at places like Jihadwatch and Java report in the case of American society, in Pakistan they can be found at brasstacks or paknationalists, in India, I dont know..maybe on Bharatrakshak.
Madhu put the point much better than me. I was trying to get you to explain to us why enabling the worst facets of Pakistan's so-called strategy (training fanatics to blow up things and turning them loose on India, Afghanistan, the world) should simply be accepted as a valid response to a "rough neighborhood"? Wouldnt it make sense to move the neighborhood towards being less "rough"? It can be done. Not really by outsiders,but by permitting already existing healthy trends (economic, social, cultural) to advance and by not paying the army to carry on with its counterproductive trends. Does that make sense?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 3:59pm

I meant the logistics to Afghanistan are brutal in the above comment.

<em>It is a rough neighborhood and I trust that it is probably in Pakistan's best interests to antagonize India now and into the future... a vital, national survival interest maybe... in light of how the Pakistan state is constituted and by whom. Interesting choice of words "antagonize India" as if Indias got hegemony in the bag or is innocent of frontier statecraft... Not stupid men but stupid strategies... but what are you going to do?</em>

Is it now considered American statecraft to perfectly balance out two parties in a conflict - in the most post-modern of senses - even when the two parties partake in very different regional activities? One, post Cold War, counters our national interests and has led to direct American deaths. The other does not partake in such activities.

As for the nuclear detente question, the blowback is just as likely to cause a conflict as any "buffer" zone in Afghanistan.

We cannot control the detente. We lack the leverages.

Here is a link to the RUSI .pdf I mentioned above:…

"Afghanistan/Iran/Pakistan cross border security symposium."

My apologies if I am too strident. I am often accused of being too strong in my opinions and I am trying to behave better. Thank you all for a very interesting and educational thread.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 3:26pm

<em>Simply, we want the PakA to accept that they cant beat India and then to accommodate India/</em>

No. Pakistan has enough capability to deter Indian aggression given its nuclear capabilities, American trained army, and client-state relations with China and the United States.

It does not need to arm and train largely uncontrollable and unpredictable jihadis to deter Indian aggression.

The psychological desire, need, and compulsion to kill Indians is causing blowback, has facilitated killing Americans in Afghanistan, Mumbai, and New York, and destabilizes Pakistan while preventing a democratic and peaceable self-rule.

Stop it. Stop enabling this madness: it will NOT end well for the Pakistanis, Afghans, Indians, and most importantly for an me (sorry, I'm American), Americans. I know American military and intelligence communities are used to working with Pakistan but step back for a moment and look at American interests and stop trying to accomodate everyone. It cannot be done (please see Amy Levine's excellent review paper "Competing for Kabul":

Omar is likely referring to the fact that Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka all have to deal with regional Indian hegemon too. When dealing with a regional hegemon, there are good options and bad options. Please don't enable the bad options. It's killing Americans.

Oh, and to my "desi" friends that may be lurking: it's not enough to complain that the Americans "mollycoddle" the Pakistanis. The logistics are brutal. We are doing the best we are able and our security concerns are somewhat different than yours. Each country must look after its own interests. That's life.

Col. Jones - I found a RUSI paper on joint Iran-Pakistan border patrolling. Will try and link it here later. It speaks to a previous conversation we have had here at SWJ.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 2:46pm

... well... the North-West Frontier isn't Canada...

Myanmar? Are you kidding me? What does Myanmar have to do with this conversation? Bangladesh? Maybe Bangladesh doesn't share a frontier with Afghanistan?

Riddle me this Omar... what constitutes a rough neighborhood in Kandahar, Herat or Kabul? I remember the "rough" parts of town in Dayton, or the small village I grew up in... How do the locals deal with the neighborhood bully? How did they deal with bullies before the rise of the bureaucratic-state? How do the locals deal with the neighborhood bully in Pakistan? I read somewhere that the neighborhoods in Baghdad during its classical period deployed their own watch groups... had their own walls and everything... Do you think that classical Kandahar, Herat or Kabul shared a similar city plan? How about today?

I'd venture that if you gain an appreciation for how it is done at the local level... you might be able to recognize kinda-sorta how the behavior is expressed at the national or regional level...

Tell me Omar.. who constitutes the Pakistan state.. I am an American with kith and kin in Germany... Pakistan is shared by Punjabis, Pashtuns and Baluchis to name just a few.. but everyone is a Pakistani first.. correct?



"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 2:26pm

Do these... "blood-thirsty" psychopaths, bullies, mindless anti-Muslim fanatics, single-minded supporters of Israeli expansionism who see everything through that prism"... actually exist? And I mean actual people who would and have pulled triggers...

If so... where?



Thu, 12/09/2010 - 2:21pm

Mac, "It is a rough neighborhood and I trust that it is probably in Pakistan's best interests to antagonize India now and into the future... a vital, national survival interest maybe... in light of how the Pakistan state is constituted and by whom."
I wonder why you say that? What exactly is this benefit? and why is it not in Bangladesh's benefit or Myanmar's benefit to do the same? (there may be good reasons, I am just curious to hear what your argument is).
And what exactly is a "rough neighborhood" and how did it become that way? can it become a "not-so-rough neighborhood or is there no path from A to B?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 2:11pm

... Mullah Omar Mohammed is a spiritual leader and a military commander. Notion of "command" differs in thinking and in practice.

Where are our American Muslim religious scholars who stand ready to refute the message of the Taliban movement and responding immediately with fatwa after fatwa condemning its excesses... We have an entertainment industry second to none... and we cant disseminate our story in the bazaar? I personally respect the power of the Taliban message to motivate fighters and would like to weaken its power before announcing myself outside the compound gate.

Mullah Omar better not compromise his status as movement leader. I personally would lose all respect for the man. More importantly, we would have no one person to hold responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen in his area of operations and influence.

Mullah Omar was presented by his disciples, followers and supporters with the cloak of the Prophet Mohammed. His fighting credentials are solid. The narrative that surround the man is hagiographic. The same ritual is conducted for our figureheads and personalities.

The Amir al Muminin is not a tool... he is a rational and sometime emotional actor engaged in reading, reacting or anticipating public sentiments. Frontier diplomacy and statecraft are an extension of war (style of warfare).

History is replete with clients and allies going wobbly.

We should forget nothing when we negotiate, arbitrate, or compromise.

Reference Pakistan...

It makes your head hurt. Simply, we want the PakA to accept that they cant beat India and then to accommodate India. Military pride is hard to swallow... it is akin to conceding defeat... and all the gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands this entails. Obviously win-win scenarios dont resonate with the locals. China seeks to check India and sides with Pakistan. Pakistan pushes in the Kashmir. India responds indirectly through Kabul and exploits Pashtun nationalism to threatened the Pakistan frontier (turning movement). Kabul government exploits Indias largesse for its own purposes... and we cant convince the ISI to give up Mullah Omar who checks the Kabul government and to an extend Pashtun naitonalism. Id think that the ISI will give up Osama bin Laden before they give up what Mullah Omar represents.

It is a rough neighborhood and I trust that it is probably in Pakistan's best interests to antagonize India now and into the future... a vital, national survival interest maybe... in light of how the Pakistan state is constituted and by whom. Interesting choice of words "antagonize India" as if Indias got hegemony in the bag or is innocent of frontier statecraft... Not stupid men but stupid strategies... but what are you going to do?

Please note that the terms PakA, GHQ, ISI are abstractions of specific actors and groups and imply much political, ethnic, family or solidarity group maneuvering at any given time.



Thu, 12/09/2010 - 1:51pm

Carl, GHQ is no longer one monolithic unity. Pakistan's ruling class is fractured and these fractures do extend to GHQ. Some India-centric BS is almost unanimously accepted in GHQ (though not in Pakistan's elite as a whole) but there is still substantial disagreement about what that "strategic necessity" logically entails.
But meanwhile, your description of the relative strengths of India and Pakistan is a bit off. GHQ's policy regarding India was a bad idea that has given rise to many worse ideas (like arming and training half a million fanatics and setting them loose) but it would be a mistake to say its a bad idea because India is so much stronger. First of all, India is not that much stronger; if it were, things would probably be simpler because the people in GHQ are not crazy. They have bad ideas but they are not crazy. There is just barely enough plausibility in the jihadi faction's dream (you must factor in the role of a rising China and the fact that its easier to destroy than to create) to make it seem do-able to otherwise intelligent people. That is what makes it dangerous. If it was completely baseless it would be less dangerous.
I dont want to give the impression that I think India is about to fall apart or that the jihadi dream is realistic. I think the odds are against the jihadis, very much so. But there is enough there there to make it a possible outcome (though not a probable one).
I am generally on the side of those bemoaning well-intentioned Westerners who act as GHQ's enablers instead of helping to set them straight. But I am also aware of the uncomfortable fact that most of the enablers have the best of intentions while some of those who do not like the enabling (I am not thinking of you), do so for reasons that I would consider equally undesirable (literally "blood-thirsty" psychopaths, bullies, mindless anti-Muslim fanatics, single-minded supporters of Israeli expansionism who see everything through that prism, and so on).
My hope is that more and more American decision makers will see that the kind of things they used to say just for propaganda (support democracy, peaceful coexistence, human rights; oppose all terrorism, fascism, authoritarianism, etc) happen to be things that will actually help. They may be the best and most cost-effective thing to do, with military force backing up those objectives when violence has been unleashed against the US and ...when the military action makes rational sense.

Bob's World

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 8:28am


You, my friend, are a dangerous man. I envy you the certainty of right and wrong that you possess.

carl (not verified)

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 4:01am

Thank goodness the comments are beginning to drift away from Robin Hood. I don't like that type of analogizing because everybody starts arguing about whether the thing being discussed actually fits the analogy or does it need to be hemmed or taken in at the waist should we put a dart in it. The situation in Afghanistan is unique unto itself.


Regarding this statment

"Mullah Omar Mohammed is the Amir al Muminin, the Commander of the Faithful and not some simple fakir wandering the countryside teaching Islam and living on alms. He should be treated with respect."

That is an extremely important point and I am surprised more people don't recognize that. However, I don't think MO should be treated with respect from a theological standpoint. It is my understanding he proclaimed himself Amir al Mu'minin by wrapping himself in the cloak of the prophet and he was able to do so because he had an armed force to back him up. But from a political standpoint he should be treated with great respect. That was a bold move and one that would only be taken by an extremely determined man who had no doubt at all about his place in the Afghan world. That place would be at the head of that world. He is not likely to compromise that point with anybody, ever.

Which makes him the perfect tool of the Pak Army/ISI. The interests of the two have aligned from the beginning and the boys at Pak Army GHQ know they don't have to worry about MO ever going wobbly on them.

We should remember this whenever talk of cutting a deal with MO comes up.

Robert C. Jones:

Regarding your statement

"As everyone knows, there was little in the way of nationalist insurgency in Afghanistan for a few years; and it was only once we enabled Karzai to steal the seat of power under the guise of "Democracy" and to produce a constitution that vested all power in him personally under the guise of "centralized government" that the revolutionary insurgency against his government by the Taliban and Haqqani network really began to build up steam."

I don't think everyone knows that at all. I am much more inclined to go with what Eagleberger suggested; that we scared the hell out of the ISI in 2001 and the scare lasted for a few years. The we sort of ignored the place and didn't do what Forrest said-"Keep up the scare." So the Pak Army/ISI noticed and started pushing a little more and a little more. Jason Thomas states "I thought (but please correct me) that the insurgents are those who make up the foreign, Pakistan based trans-national Islamic extremists who infect the local Taliban." The guys he is talking about are creatures of the Pak Army/ISI and they push them over the border because we let them lose the scare.

Sorry, I don't buy "legal status" or sympathetic boosters as being the things that keep us from getting the real high guys in AQ. We would not consider for a moment any international legal nicety if we knew where they were and could get at them. We can't do that now because they are being covered by a strong army. Nor would we care if the populace they were amongst liked us or not...UNLESS that populace was able to effectuate its dislike through a strong army that felt the same way, like in Pakistan.

Well, yes "A 2-3 man team on a mission to conduct an attack in Holland" does indeed need a lot of space for a sanctuary. They needed the space and time to plan, train, finance, digest recce info, rehearse etc etc; so that place had better not have a police force that would actually do something about their presence. If they were sneaking around Holland, they would be hiding and breathing shallow hoping not to attract attention. The farmhouse you mentioned would be not be a sanctuary, it would be a temporary hidey-hole.

Finally, one of our prime disagreements. We should not speak of the government of Pakistan. The putative shape of that is immaterial. We are speaking about the Pak Army/ISI; so we are speaking of what that body considers Pakistan's national interests to be. I see no reason at all to have the slightest sympathy for what they consider their nations interests to be for this reason. They live next to India, which in a few years is projected to have the largest population of any country on earth. India has an economy that dwarfs that of Pakistan and which will only get bigger. Plus India has beaten them up in all the wars between the two nations. So, a mature person would recognize that Pakistan can't beat India now and will be even less and less able to do so as the years go by. This mature person would then conclude it be in Pakistan's best interest to come to some kind of accommodation with India, even if you had to swallow your military pride.

But the Pak Army/ISI has not come to this conclusion. They believe it is in Pakistan's best interests to antagonize India now and into the future. Some of the fallout from their attitude include the twin towers falling down, an insurgency in Pakistan itself that they aren't controlling and God only know what will happen next. We should pay attention to Pak Army GHQ's view only insofar as we should publicly point out how stupid it is and try our best to get them to change. We should not sympathize with such a bone-headed outlook.

Robert c. Jones.

"When we can say that we are also dedicated to protecting the people from the government, we will have turned the corner. When we recognize that causation for insurgency comes from the government (and yes, the presence of those foreign intervening powers - like the US- there to preserve and protect such governments), we will be well on the path to success."

Afghanistan is starting to have touch of Animal Farm about it.

Time and time again we have all directly and indirectly witnessed actions by the government or by those who represent it inflict great harm on the people.

Time and time again we have also directly and indirectly observed ISAF more focused on protecting the government and not the people.

Improving governance, tackling corruption, delivering security and stability is not about helping to keep the jobs of those in government it is about helping to improve the lives of those they claim to represent.

When the UN and other entities involved allowed the Presidential election in 2009 to collapse to Karzai sent a message to all that authority in Afghanistan is bad to the bone.

Winston Churchill said that "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Therefore, placing the worst form of government (except all those other forms that have been tried) in the hands of flawed individuals will inevitably lead to decay that turns rotten.

There is nothing fancy about this fundamental premise. The principles have been around longer and are far more important than any COIN doctrine to explain a functional or dysfunctional society.

Ask yourselves, if you were a local in a village in Afghanistan right now who would you take your chnces with? Dont answer the question from a Western based mindset and rationalise the decision beyond anything other than basic human motivations.

Bill C. (not verified)

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 6:43pm

COL Jones:

"We need to relinquish control of the outcome and adopt greater flexibility in working with whatever powers might emerge. We then must set clear red lines on behavior and let people know that we will allow them to operate without harassment so long as they stay within these lines; but will act to protect our interests."

The problem with such an approach is that it would seem -- on its surface -- not to be consistent with our interests.

These interests have been broadly defined, yesterday and today, as having other states and societies of the world become (1) more open, (2) more accessable and (3) better organized and configured so as to provide for our society's wants, needs and desires.

"Relinquishing control" would seem to invite other outcomes (more closed/less accessable/more-adversely organized and configured states and societies; states, societies and regions that come under the exclusive influence and control of other great powers).

a. Are these reasonable concerns and

b. Is it possible that they might be overcome via a better understanding of the "relinquishing control" method and "red lines?"

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 2:08pm


How about... our COIN doctrine's historical legacy is our frontier experience and American Progressivism... COIN doctrine embodies a drive to modernize frontier regions and to control the process. It isn't about possessions... it is about control.

This is what happens when outsiders stay too long in Afghanistan to help the locals build a more perfect union for the common defense.

It never fails, some local dignitary rebels and insists on renegotiating the social contract. This in a country/culture where rebellion against tyranny is an obligation and fighting a form of negotiation...

What international law or procedure and who exactly keeps us from supporting a "friendly despot" to maintain order and stability? It isn't like we are actually going to support someone like Nasrullah Khan, the Emir of Bukhara who it is said murdered his father, his elder brother and for good measure his three younger brothers to seize the throne.

We might be conceding too much power to public opinion(s) and the current "information age"... The nation-state just got whacked with some massive information age volley fire and seems to have absorbed the initial impact... When push comes to shove... even as the narrative praises free elections... and laments the unfairness of it all... shouldn't we support the one that can do the job? Shouldn't we support the imposition of order and stability or is there another way?

What I learned from a Pashtun story is that smarter does not necessarily make you stronger... Oh, to be lucky.


Bob's World

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 12:27pm

Bill C.

We cannot escape the fact that our current COIN doctrine is derived from doctrine developed by European colonial governments to maintain stability and control over their colonial possessions, typically though some illegitimate local governing body/agent.

We also cannot escape the fact that containment strategies are implemented through the establishment of influence and control measures in the regions surrounding the problem we seek to "contain."

That is all a matter of historical fact. Where the US gets off track is that we hold ourselves in such a positive light ("we are not an empire like England was" or "we bring the rule of law", etc) that we have a hard time seeing us as others do.

The fact that we make the preservation of the Host Nation government as a criteria of success shows that we are still tied at the hip to this old colonial model. What I argue is that in the current information age the tried and true TTP of employing "friendly despots" to secure national interests within their borders is as obsolete as the Battleship and horsemounted sabre charges.

We just need to relinquish control of the outcome and adopt greater flexibility in working with whatever powers might emerge. We then must set clear redlines on behavior and let people know that we will allow them to operate without harassment so long as they stay within those lines; but will act to protect our interests if they choose to ignore them.

This isn't rocket science, all it really is is treating people with the same respect we demand for ourselves, and recognizing that old models (ways and means) of securing interests need to evolve with the times. To do so doesn't make us look weak, it makes us look smart. And in the long run, smart makes us stronger.

Bill C. (not verified)

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 11:40am

COL Jones:

"... it does not recognize the role of the government in causation ..."

If the primary role of the government, as seen through the eyes of the population, is to:

a. Act as the agent of a foreign intervening power and to, on behalf of this foreign intervening entity

b. Fundamentally transform the indigenous state and society such that it might (1) cause the foreign intervening power less trouble and (2) become much better ordered, organized and configured for use by this (and other) foreign societies,

Then should we not see this "role of the government" (to wit: to transform the indigenous state and society so as to better accommodate a foreign society) as the root cause of the rebellion?

In such cases as these, who, indeed, protects the population from the local government?

It cannot be the foreign intervening power, whose only real problem with "its" installed and/or supported local government, is that this local government is not carrying out the "transformation program" of the foreign entity in the exact manner that the foreign power requires; thereby (in the eyes of the foreign entity) jeopardizing the project.

Thus, when we correctly discuss the role of the governement re: causation, should we not focus:

a. More on the overall mission of foreign power's installed and supported local government (forced state and societal transformation) as the cause of the rebellion.

b. And less on the fact that this forced state and societal transformation project is not being carried out -- by our agent -- exactly as we desire?

Bob's World

Wed, 12/08/2010 - 8:10am


You persist in mixing facts to fit your positions, but I am sure we are all guilty of that to a degree.

One key fact is that the US did not "cause" the current insurgency. True, we picked the side of the insurgent and enabled the Northern Alliance to prevail against the Taliban. At that point in the time the roles were of the Taliban as John and the Northern Alliance as Robin. The day the Northern Alliance prevailed is the day those roles reverse physically, but it then falls to the populace to assess how it perceives the new governance.

As everyone knows, there was little in the way of nationalist insurgency in Afghanistan for a few years; and it was only once we enabled Karzai to steal the seat of power under the guise of "Democracy" and to produce a constitution that vested all power in him personally under the guise of "centralized government" that the revolutionary insurgency against his government by the Taliban and Haqqani network really began to build up steam. At that point the US changed its mission from one of defeating AQ to one of defeating AQ AND defeating the Taliban insurgency to preserve the Karzai regime. Mission Creep. We then surged forces and began going after Pashtuns waging insurgency as well as those supporting AQ. This led to the growth of the lower tier of the insurgency, the resistance insurgency that fuels the majority of the rank and file fighters who largely expect little and care little about government and government services.

None of the facts of the situation of this ONE insurgency in anyway invalidate the value of the Archetypal Hybrid of Robin Hood formed from popular perceptions of right and wrong over hundreds of such movements. It's a model for assessing roles and understanding the dynamics of insurgency. It does not grant a blessing that all insurgent organizations are inherently "good", only that they are inherently "right"; nor does it assess that all governments are inherently "bad", only that they are inherently wrong when conditions of insurgency exist in a land.

RH also highlights that Insurgency is natural when certain conditions exist.

RH also highlights that causation for insurgency comes from the domestic policies of the government, rather than from some ideology or rogue challenger among the people (Ideology without poor governance is just noise; and rogue leaders who challenge good governance are not insurgents as such coups are not supported by a broad belief that illegal change is needed by the people.)

Yes, the US has a heavy hand in the creation of the Karzai regime and the enabling of the poor governance. We protect the government from the people, and we also attempt to protect the people from the people.

Who, however, protects the people from the government? This is perhaps the biggest flaw in current US COIN Doctrine. It does not recognize the role of the government in causation, it does not protect the people from the government, and it is committed to the preservation of the government. This is a left over position from the roots of US COIN doctrine in the European Colonial COIN doctrine it is derived from.

When we can say that we are also dedicated to protecting the people from the government, we will have turned the corner. When we recognize that causation for insurgency comes from the government (and yes, the presence of those foreign intervening powers - like the US- there to preserve and protect such governments), we will be well on the path to success.


Sadly despite all the rigorous analysis and debate your last para could well be right...

What if we looked at Afghanistan in the context of the Speluncean Explorers.

The Case of the Speluncean Explorers is a famous hypothetical legal case used in the study of law, which was written by Lon Fuller in 1949 for the Harvard Law Review.

The hypothetical case, tells the story of a group of spelunkers (cave-explorers) in the Commonwealth of Newgarth, trapped in a cave by a landslide. As they approach the point of starvation, they make radio contact with the rescue team. Engineers on the team estimate that the rescue will take another 10 days. The men describe their physical condition to physicians at the rescue camp and ask whether they can survive another 10 days without food. The physicians think this very unlikely. Then the spelunkers ask whether they could survive another 10 days if they killed and ate a member of their party. The physicians reluctantly answer that they would. Finally, the men ask whether they ought to hold a lottery to determine whom to kill and eat. No one at the rescue camp is willing to answer this question. The men turn off their radio, and some time later hold a lottery, kill the loser, and eat him. When they are rescued, they are prosecuted for murder, which in Newgarth carries a mandatory death penalty. Are they guilty? Should they be executed? Or should their acts be considered from a perspective conceived by cultural, religious, economic, tribal and trans-national influences which determine a different measurement of what is right and wrong, what is success and in the end what is acheivable from outside parties.

Are we all guilty of continually judging Afghanistan in the context of our own long held principles that fit within a world view that simply does not equate to the view of world from and Afghanistan perspective (which there are multiple).

No matter how much we cut, dive, weave and apply formidable mental acumen we will simply never resolve the Afghanistan riddle and the only objective is to ensure trans-national terrorists do not use Afghanistan as a base to wage war on our own interests.

<i>one finds far more strategic understanding of insurgency in the legend of Robin Hood than one finds in any of the PhD products on the topic produced of late. Largely because it is free from the inevitable bias of believing one's own side to be right and one's own cause to be just. It merely lays out the players and the dynamics between them.</i>

The legend does a bit more than lay out the dynamics among the players. Just as our preferred view imposes the assumption that "Robin Hood" is wrong and unjust, the legend imposes the equally fallacious assumption that RH is right and his cause is just. Both omit the historically likelier proposition that nobody in the picture is remotely concerned with what is right and just.

<i>If we feel a bit uncomfortable that it casts the US in Afghanistan as some external party coming in to protect the government of Prince John, and protect him with our own army as we build the capacity of the Sheriff of is only because it reveals truths of the situation we are more comfortable ignoring.</i>

That view seems to conceal more truths than it reveals. We didn't go there to protect the government of King John, we went there to throw Robin Hood out of power, because he pissed us off. We (the King) put the Sheriff in power with the assumption that he would do our bidding and that we'd protect him until he was able to do our bidding without help. Robin Hood liked power and wants it back. While many in this picture are interested in stealing from the rich (that would be us), ain't nobody giving to the poor.

Before we impose models and rules for COIN and FID that are built on the assumption of intervention to protect an allied government threatened by insurgents, we need to consider the possibility that we're not doing COIN or FID: we're still doing regime change, a quite different thing. What seem to be flaws in the models and rules may be flaws because the models and rules are being applied to a situation other than that for which they were designed.

Before we assume that "the issue" is the governance or legitimacy of the Karzai government, we need to consider the possibility that "the issue" is us and our presence.

Before we assume that the Taliban are motivated by perceptions of illegitimacy and misgovernance, we need to consider the possibility that they don't give a rat's a$$ about governance. Maybe they just want power: they had it, we took it away, they want it back... and they would fight any government we installed, no matter how it was structured and how it governed.

Before we assume that the populace wants good governance, we need to consider the possibility that much of the populace assumes bad governance, and is largely concerned with not being on the losing side when the dust settles. In their position, would you support the side likely to provide good governance or the side you thought most likely to win?

Maybe there isn't any Robin and there isn't any King... just a bunch of nasty would-be Sheriffs fighting over the right to stomp and squeeze the populace. Legends aside, it's a scenario that has been known to occur, and to occur rather more often than the black hat/white hat scenarios imposed by legend and propaganda.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 7:44pm

I finally read Ms Robinsons work. "How Afghanistan Ends" is a well written technical blueprint. Anyone interested can actually use the paper for a mission analysis. You'll find a mission statement and specified tasks. The paper is so good that you can tease out the implied and essential tasks as well... Intent: No terrorist safehaven.

Here are some of my take-aways...

The mental model is "individual and state" instead of "family and community" centric.

The papers tone is scientifically authoritative when it tells me that the current programs are an improvement upon earlier experiments with other programs. Social experiments? ... I get it... but we are not talking about lab-rats... Here is where I challenge the narrative style...
Id recommend the term adventure learning. It humanizes the effort and better hides the white-lab coat wearing technician behind the curtain...

The paper discredits earlier attempts at frontier diplomacy in which tribe was pitted against tribe and employed as offensive strike forces. Community based groups are now vetted by local leaders and overseen by Afghan government officials. Ok... but no matter what we call it ... whether tribe against tribe or community group against solidarity group... there will be gun-play and someone is going to get his feelings hurt...

I like the use of labels. It is safe. The term community group can define anything... as long as we accept a shared consensus for its usage. For instance a community group could also be a social movement organization (SMO) or civil-society organization (CSO). For sake of discussion we can establish and assign a newly classified SMO or CSO to a specific social movement. We can monitor this specific SMO as it competes within a given social movement industry (SMI) and sector (SMS)... Call it what you want (phylum, class and order).... it doesnt change the fact that village security are the sons, uncles, and cousins of the village. It is a kith and kin thing... It will be interesting to see how family and community will fare against the intended Afghan Local Police feeder function to "increase and broaden the recruitment base for the permanent security forces". It is imaginative and briefs well...

I am a bit confused when I read "Afghanistans centralized security forces have never reached down to the local level"... Is this a statement of historical fact (with which I agree) or a statement of a potential future. If statement of a potential future... how are we going to sustain the effort and support our allies from afar when we depart?

The way to eliminate terrorist safehavens is to eliminate government corruption and abuses. In support of this endeavor, we will assist in the creation of appropriate conflict resolution mechanisms... guided by encompassing inclusivity as operational principle at the village/valley level. Sounds great... and I am all for it... but lets not forget that vendetta obligations already exist... Some are still outstanding... not to mention those vendetta obligations against us... Vendetta obligations serve a vital social function and predate our current efforts at conflict resolution. Sometimes you cant invite or include one or the other to a party because of these obligations. But maybe imposing operational principles and procedures to get to "win - win" will resonate with "all" the locals. I bet there exists a group somewhere in Afghanistan that is very good at meeting vendetta obligations.. and why would we want to strip them of this ability and honored status in society? How far are we willing to push? Think about it...

I find it interesting that we still dont understand who the insurgents represent and what they want to join the political process... its been 10 years? I know this... Mullah Omar Mohammed is the Amir al Muminin, the Commander of the Faithful and not some simple fakir wandering the countryside teaching Islam and living on alms. He should be treated with respect. Doesnt mean you have to kiss his hand. Remember the powerful send messengers... and merchants have a habit of asking the price of all goods that they see in the bazaar, whether they intend to buy them or not...

It is a good paper for what it is...


Bob's World

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 2:03pm


You are getting sucked into the ideological / counter-ideological narratives used to both attract bystanders to the cause on one hand and to discredit the political causation on the other.

People fall for the same thing with communist and islamist narratives as well. Look behind the narrative; that is where you will typically find a populace subjected to poor governance.

But frankly yes, one finds far more strategic understanding of insurgency in the legend of Robin Hood than one finds in any of the PhD products on the topic produced of late. Largely because it is free from the inevitable bias of believing one's own side to be right and one's own cause to be just. It merely lays out the players and the dynamics between them.

If we feel a bit uncomfortable that it casts the US in Afghanistan as some external party coming in to protect the government of Prince John, and protect him with our own army as we build the capacity of the Sheriff of is only because it reveals truths of the situation we are more comfortable ignoring.

slapout9 (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 12:35pm

Robin Hodd.....rob from the rich and give to the poor. So very Strategic Stuff there.

Bob's World

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 12:35pm


I figured the moral was "beware of beautiful women, as they will leave you dead and homeless and take all your money."

Keep up the good fight.


"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 11:33am

Robert... you are a man after my own heart... archetypal hybrids such as Robin Hood as well as local proverbs, tales and stories contain something far more powerful and accurate than a hundred examples of insurgency we dredge up to justify a technical template/blueprint approach to irregular warfare, insurgency and COIN, state building and indirect rule...

In the Pashtun story "Luck and Intelligence" we are told that in frontier diplomacy/fighting luck plays a tremendous role. ... "without waiting for an explanation, the king ordered his guards to cut of the servant's head. And without delay, the executioner cut off his head with one stroke of the sword. Intelligence said nothing. "Now do you admit that I am superior" said Luck triumphantly. Read the whole story... quite humorous and insightful.

In "The King and the Clever Vizier" we are provided with three CCIR to measure the king's subject's strengths and weaknesses and learn how to initiate contact with a family or community along the frontier... "the vizier offered some advice: 'When you approach your house, you should clear your throat. Then, when you reach the door of your house, you should clear your throat a second time. Then, when you enter the house, you should clear your throat a third time.' Maybe we can translate this advice into... Announce yourself at the frontier. Announce yourself at the city wall or family compound and finally announce yourself after you enter the domicile.

In "Merchant and the Parrot" we hear the story of a rich merchant who would buy goods in one town and sell them in another. We further learn that is was "the custom in these city bazaars for men to stand about and gossip" and that "merchants have a habit of asking the price of all goods that they see in the bazaar, whether they intend to buy them or not"... Makes me ask if a given commander knows the merchant families in his AOR... especially since they travel from town to town... and are assumed to ask questions and gossip. Read between the lines... read between the lines.

Don't understand the snake thing? Irregular warfare, frontier politics and statecraft requires imagination... Maybe type A personalities and really smart people are not the best fit for this style of warfare... Send in the clowns (sarcasm... humor)?


Bob's World

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 8:17am


All quite reasonable, though I will add a point of clarification and one of concurrence.

Sanctuary. The conventional wisdom is that all successful insurgencies require a sanctuary, a place, where as you say, "a man can go for respite or derive support." I have no problem with either the conventional wisdom or your basic description. Both work.

Going to the next step is breaking down what the true critical components of such a sanctuary are. For AFPAK we have to first "unconflate" (deflate?) the insurgent threat to Afghanistan, whose senior leaders take sanctuary in the FATA (though probably 90% of the rank and file take sanctuary in Afghanistan, in their own homes and villages in the off season, and in the mountains or green zones during the fighting season) from AQ. Afghan insurgents and AQ are two very different things with very different requirements for sanctuary.

For their international mission AQ draws its greatest sanctuary from its legal status. Where/how does a state strike back at an enemy who acts like a state, but is outside the law and has no state of their own to be held at risk?? This has been the great frustration of the US for the past 9 years. The many violations of sovereignty, abuses of legitimacy, mixing of criminal law enforcement with warlike abandon against an organization with such a "sanctuary of status" (a similar example of sanctuary of status is what diplomats enjoy with their immunity based on their status) has served to fuel the second part of AQ's sanctuary: Support of poorly governed populaces.

Now, AQ has no populace, but draws members and support from populaces around the globe, to include our own. Some support because they see their own government as being illegitimate, or based on the conditions of insurgency in their own countries. They buy into the message that they cannot be successful at home until they first break support of the US to their governments at home. AQ plays this card in the FATA, and Pashtuns of both Pakistani and Afghan nationalities can buy into quite easily that their lot would be better at home if the US were to withdraw from the region. AQ draws similar support in HOA, the Arabian Peninsula, the Maghreb, and in certain communities in Europe and perhaps North America. Another component of this sanctuary are those who have some emotional or physical tie to a region or people where they see their own government abusing the sovereignty of a people; that government abuse may be in the pursuit of profits, the pursuit of AQ, or some combination of the two. These people are then declared "radicalized" when they shift their loyalties to support either indirectly or directly the AQ movement. AQ is a network, and nodes of their network find functional and physical sanctuary virtually everywhere.

Only the final and least important component of sanctuary is related to "space." A 2-3 man team on a mission to conduct an attack in Holland does not need much "space" for sanctuary. It can be a farmhouse in the countryside, or an apartment in the city. If a community is even more sympathetic with the cause, as in HOA, AP, the Maghreb and tri-state region of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines; this sanctuary can support even greater presence and activities.

My point is, that to become too focused on the physical "space" sanctuary occurs in certainly makes AQ's far more important functional sanctuary greater elsewhere. Which brings us back to asking what is our priority mission in AFPAK: Defeat of Afghan insurgency, or denial of AQ sanctuary??

I argue it is the latter. I would then argue to shift the focus from denying the least important component, to denying the two critical components of sanctuary. Ask:

How can we take away some of AQ protections they find in their status? How do we "deny" that sanctuary??? The lawyers should be working hard on that. Instead we race to add new organizations to the terrorist list, expanding the sanctuary of those now outside, and thus unconstrained by, the law.

How can we take away some of the popular support in the region? How do we deny that sanctuary? Leading the fight to suppress Pashtun quests for inclusion in government and opportunity in Afghanistan does not help. Leading the push to force the government of Pakistan to violate long-standing agreements to allow the FATA to be largely self-governing in the name of CT against AQ (and the Taliban) does not help.

By focusing on the smallest component of sanctuary we make the actual physical and functional sanctuary larger and stronger.

As to your final point, I agree. The government of Pakistan has a very strong national interest to maintain control over an unstable Afghanistan through the Taliban. (We should pay more attention to the tremendous conflict of interests we have created for their government, who also needs to maintain strong ties with the US, and how this is tearing their governance apart when we ask them to support us on an activity that they must also act contrary to our desires upon). I believe the roll-up of the Quetta Shura was very much to deliver the message to the Taliban senior leadership that quitting, that reconciliation, is not an option.

The implied diplomatic task is that we need to find a compromise that allows reconciliation of the issues that keep the Pashtuns in insurgency in a manner that does not also threaten Pakistan's need for influence in Afghanistan. Again, increased efforts to deny the physical aspect of sanctuary found in the FATA does not help much with that either.

But I agree that sanctuary is a simple and critical component of a movement like an insurgency, or one like that of AQ. Breaking down the components and focusing on the major ones, makes our efforts more successful. The old cliché of "ungoverned spaces" only leads us deeper into the morass.

I support contributions that challenge current thinking and operations. It is why SWJ is an awesome forum.

However, this paper reads more like a mixture of the latest situation report and generally held views on Afghanistan.

One area in particular that I was looking forward to reading was the emphasis on "bottom up." Yet, it did not really go to that level. Still too much focus on a distant leadership with little to no interest in local issues and wishful thinking about a President who is beyond reform in this way.

Given the sophisticated COIN language and dialogue (it was almost like being teased), it was surprising to read the Taliban being refered to as one group.

I thought (but please correct me) that the insurgents are those who make up the foreign, Pakistan based trans-national Islamic extremists who infect the local Taliban. When we can convince this local Taliban that we have intention of disturbing local village way of life or replacing Islam, then this is where localised, pragmatic ideas will work. Given the right guarantee the local Taliban and tribal networks will eliminate foreign insurgents, if it is in their interests.
The foreign Taliban demand adherence to no ethnicity, no nationality nor necessarily have the same reasons to fight. Some are religiously motivated such as the Madrassah students from across the Pakistan border in the NWFP.

While mainly from the Pashtun belt being a local Talib is not about being a classic insurgent with revolutionary zeal to replace the government. Local people are fighting for other reasons. We all know the profile, dissatisfied or angry at the Afghan government, deprived of any ability to sustain themselves and violent, life threatening intimidation from the foreign Pakistan based Islamic extremists who infiltrate the villages and communities claiming to be the defenders of tradition.

The inclusive local goverance section refers to activities that have been happening for quite some time. Perhaps former military personel who contribute to SWJ took part in endless Shuras with local leaders.

Major Gant was correct in stating that "a strategy in which the central government is the centrepiece of our counterinsurgency plan is destined to fail. It disenfranchises the very fabric of Afghan society." Kabul and President Karzai are so far removed from the local socio-ecosystem that current negotiations are unlikely to succeed because the tyranny of distance is not just physical it is also psychological. Even at the beginning of negotiations, Karzai and his Kabul based NATO advisers appear to lack enough emotional intelligence to recognise the local Taliban state of mind could actually be turned into a psychological ally against foreign insurgents.

At the end of the day in dusty villages pragmatic service men and women who are out there in the field, at this present time, who still need to implement recommendations and directives. It would be good to hear from them as to what is working and what can be improved even if it does not fit into the perfect symmetry of current COIN doctrine or actions that reinforce our strongly held beliefs.

carl (not verified)

Tue, 12/07/2010 - 2:48am

Robert C. Jones:

My definition of a sanctuary is a little simpler than yours. A sanctuary is someplace an enemy can go to for respite or derives support from because we can't (or won't-VN) put a man with a gun in his hands and blood in his eye on the ground to kill him, a man on the ground, not a Pred in the air. That man can be our man, an ally or a neutral actually enforcing their neutrality. That sanctuary cannot exist for AQ in an apartment in Paris, London, New York or anyplace else in the world now matter how adept they are at tron moving; because we can get there or somebody who is equally intent on killing them can get there or is already there.

That sanctuary exists in the FATA for the reasons I cited, the most important being the support of an army/intel service that won't let us in and won't go after AQ. If they had to leave that sanctuary, created and maintained for them primarily by a powerful army, they would be in serious trouble.

"...Carl was Pashtun", snakes and sheriffs and forests-you guys are confusing me.

And I would indeed "argue that the FATA is a critical staging area for running operations into Afghanistan...", not only FATA but the rest of borderlands too. As far as the rest of your fore cited sentence " prevent the US from establishing a Northern Alliance-based government that largely excludes the historic Pashtun base for Afghan government...", I would say that is a bit of editorializing that doesn't jibe with what the Taliban say they are. I thought they were always quite careful to speak of themselves as Afghans, not just Pashtuns. If they were to refashion themselves as champions of Pashtun perqs, I think a deal could be done. But the Pak Army/ISI will never allow that.

Bob's World

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 10:49pm


First, the legend of Robin Hood is not an analogy for anything. It is, as I mentioned, an Archetypal hybrid.

Now, if I was going to look at the insurgency in Afghanistan and consider how it compares to this Archetypal hybrid, I would assign roles and lessons considerably differently than in your example.

I would cast Karzai is in the role of Prince John, though I would argue that Prince John had greater legitimacy in the eyes of the populace than Karzai does. After all, he was appointed by the legitimate King to serve in his absence, and if in fact the King were not to return, would be the legitimate successor. Karzai has no such claim to legitimacy, as he was put in power by a foreign invader and sustained by the protection of that foreign army.

King Richard? Sadly there is no King Richard, no inherently legitimate leader that can come back and establish good governance once again for the people of Afghanistan. Perhaps the idea of Mohammed Zahir Shah and the relative stability under his reign fills that role.

The sheriff is the ANSF. The horribly inept and corrupt ANA and ANP out enforcing the will of our Prince John. The Coalition? This role does not exist in Robin Hood. To write it in one would have to have perhaps a French King bring Prince John under his control, perhaps under the guise of bringing pressure on some gang of pirates operating out of Scotland or Ireland. That French King bringing in his own military to England under that auspice, to go after those pirates directly, and also to help augment and train the Sheriff's men as the insurgency grows in intensity relative to the growing perceptions of the illegitimacy of the Prince and the discontent at the presence of the French Army that protects him.

Who is Robin Hood? This is where the harsh reality of Insurgency raises its head. The conditions of insurgency are created by the poor governance that radiates from the government as perceived by the populace. That is causation. Exploitation of that causation is another thing altogether. Sometimes a noble character comes along, a Robin Hood in legend, or a George Washington in real life. All too often it is someone without the best interests of the populace in mind. Sometimes it is a Pol Pot as in Cambodia; or a Mullah Omar as in Afghanistan. These men don't create the conditions of insurgency, but are happy to exploit them to their ends.

The FATA is Afghanistans Sherwood Forest. It is where the Taliban hide, but it is not their sanctuary. They find sanctuary in the support of a poorly governed populace. They find sanctuary in their illegal status. They find sanctuary behind the sovereign border of the AFPAK border. If the FATA were denied, they would perhaps have to reduce down to Phase I operations for some time, as Mao recommends in his model for insurgency, only to surge again when the time is right; perhaps once the French King has tired of chasing pirates and returns home...

No, Robin Hood is a tremendously insightful Archetypal Hybrid for insurgency. What is not so tremendous perhaps is when one realizes the roles they have fallen into.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 9:56pm

Robin Hood is a completely inaccurate analogy. Not sure I understand the snake thing.

The Sheriff (Karzai) is supporting Robin Hood (his brother and other Pashtuns). King John (U.S./Allies/Tajiks/Hazaras) see things reasonably and want things fixed.

The Sheriff can't do a thing about Sherwood Forest (southern provinces, Pakistan, and Taliban) even if that was his desire. He won't accept advice from King John but will try to steal his money with help from Robin. The Sheriff won't yield to the true majority NOT from Sherwood Forest.

This Robin Hood and company are drug dealers, and zealots. The real Robin Hood never studied in a madrassa and his aim was to help the poor, not kill King John who is actually trying to help the poor, has zero imperialist aspirations, but is thwarted by the dishonest Sheriff nonetheless.

Bob's World

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 8:12pm

Mac, I didn't realize Carl was Pashtun... :-)

The genre we are working with in these seemingly simple children's tales is known as "archetypal hybrid." Author Dan Brown employs and discusses what these are and why they are insightful on page 167 of the paperback version of "The Lost Symbol." He explains how they are:

"Recounted across generations and exaggerated over time, borrowing so heavily from one another that they evolved into homogenized morality tales with the same iconic elements -- virginal damsels, handsome princes, impenetrable fortresses, and powerful wizards. By way of fairy tales, this primeval battle of 'good vs. evil' is ingrained into us as children through our stories: Merlin vs. Morgan le Fay, Saint George vs. the Dragon, David vs. Goliath, Snow White vs. the Witch, and even Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader."

I see it like a long-sitting jury made up of entire societies and cultures weighing over time what is just. I am not sure what exactly the snakes and the princess are getting at, but the archetypal hybrid of Robin Hood goes straight to the issue of insurgency.

I was at a USAID planning event, and a guest speaker from the National Security Council presented on the current administration's desire to move beyond "arguing by analogy, and instead argue with evidence." Meaning to stop saying "This is what we did in Iraq, so this is what we should do in Afghanistan." To develop bodies of data gathered over much time and many situations that provides empirical data as to what is the best practices to apply.

This brings me back to the Jury. In courtrooms around America juries are determining if cases are proven "by a preponderance" (over 50%) for civil trials, and "beyond a reasonable doubt" for criminal; converting the subjective into objective. What I've learned is to trust the jury. Numbers, data, SMEs all "lie" or rather contain the bias of their presenter (as I am often told myself, and agree). But the jury gets it right.

In archetypal hybrids such as Robin Hood we have something far more powerful and accurate than a hundred examples of insurgency over the past hundred years. We have thousands of examples over thousands of years merged in this one tale that has taken the form of Robin Hood for us of Anglo descent. In fact, a recounting of this little legend would be a great add to the start of the new FM 3-24...

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 7:16pm


I am not sure this is about us shoving globalization down anyone's throat.

As you have noted in the past, globalization appears to being doing that quite well all by itself.

What we believe that stability operations are designed to do is to help states and societies change (to transform) so that they might better be able to ingest this potentially (and actually) destabilizing globalization meal.

Thus, we see globalization as representing a massive "round" meal, which we note is not always able to fit down the present "square" gullets of various states and societies (particularly those of "fragile states") without causing problems -- for these states and societies, for their regions and, potentially, for the more-globalized world as a whole.

This, I believe, is what making the world safe for globalization -- via proactive stability measures if possible and reactive stability activities when necessary -- is all about.

It is within this context that I see our present approach in Afghanistan (and as re: this paper), in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Could we say that Chapter 1, The Strategic Context, FM 3-07, concurs somewhat with this perception?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 6:01pm

The Robin Hood metaphor ... I like it... but it might get lost in the cultural translation...

A local metaphor follows...

In the Pashtun story "Sweeter than Salt"... a princess overhears two black snakes on the top-most branch of an old knotted tree talking to each other. One snake tells the other that there is buried beneath the tree the biggest treasure in the world but as long as the snakes are alive no one will ever be able to cut down the tree, dig up the roots and loot the treasure... The other snake agrees and explains that the only way to destroy the snakes is for someone to set fire to the tree and being helpless they would themselves be burned to death. The princess sets fire to the tree. The snakes beg the princess for mercy... They plead with her but the princess doesn't listen for she knows that they are snakes and that they can not be trusted... The princess digs up the roots of the tree and finds the treasure...

Maybe no sheriffs or hoods... but lots of snakes? Someone is always trying to burn someone else's tree...


Bob's World

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 8:41am

All of your points are true; however I doubt any are as material as you assume them to be.
What is your definition of sanctuary, "ungoverned spaces"? This is the one we are all taught, the problem is that it is more cliché than fact. Beyond that, there really are very few "ungoverned spaces" on the face of the earth, and none of them are suitable for any kind of sanctuary, other than for penguins.

Now, if you want to argue that the FATA is a critical staging area for running operations into Afghanistan to prevent the US from establishing a Northern Alliance-based government that largely excludes the historic Pashtun base for Afghan government ("Afghanistan" is after all Persian for "Land of the Pashtuns), then fine, but that is a very different thing than going after AQ and the goals of the Global War on Terrorism.
When one breaks "sanctuary" down from the cliché one finds that it much more accurately consists of:

1. Legal Status (be it a sovereign border one hides behind; be it an "outlaw, or "terrorist" labeling by some formal body that frees one from the constraints of the rule of law; or be it simply the fact that one is a "non-state" entity with none of the consequential baggage that is leveraged by states to keep each other in line, and to keep weak states subjugated to the will of strong states.)

2. Support of a Poorly Governed Populace (This is critical, as without people one has nothing in a populace-based movement. Much of AFPAK is fairly what I call "self-governed spaces" relying far more on historic systems and processes than on any need or even desire for the products of our efforts to expand Western style governance and nation building upon).

3. Lastly, yes, it requires some favorable terrain/vegetation for physical cover, concealment, and tactical advantage against government security forces.

AQ for their mission can find this in an apartment in Paris, London or New York. They do not need the FATA. The FATA is a product of our mission creep in taking on the protection of the Karzai government. Once we get our mission cleaned back up, many of the problem-sets associated with the current mission statement fall away. A sad irony is that the harder we go after the FATA (drone strikes, civcas, pressure on the Pak government to act contrary to their own national interests, etc), the more strength we lend to sanctuary for AQ and like organization all over the world. Squeeze the FATA too hard, and the balloon does not just pop up elsewhere, it may well make multiple balloons.

Think about it. If the Sheriff burns down Sherwood Forest does the problem of Robin Hood go away, or does he continue to find protection in his outlaw status, the support of a poorly governed populace, and the continued existence of that very source of poor governance?

<i>"Gen. William "Kip" Ward said that on any given day there are 3,500 service members working on the African continent in stability operations. Ninety percent are guardsmen and reservists ....</i>

I think this demonstrates my point rather well. If we were really out to transform the societies of "outlier states" and shove globalization down their throats, don't you think we'd have a somewhat more robust force commitment on the continent where most of these states are located? Don't think we're going to do a whole lot of transforming with a force of 3500, 90% of whom are reservists and Guardsmen.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 12/06/2010 - 4:16am

Robert C. Jones:

About your statement

"AQ is a pain in the ass, but they can operate from dozens of places, the FATA is just handy..."

I know a lot of people think that but I don't think it is true. I don't think the FATA is just handy, I think it is vital and irreplacable.

There is no place else in the world that I can think of that offers them the unique set of advantages they have in the FATA.

1. It is a long way from the sea. If it is a long way from the sea, the American navy can't get at them.

2. The area is very mountainous with lots of places to hide plus it is subject to harsh winter weather making it even more difficult.

3. It is difficult for us to get in, but it isn't all that difficult for them or their recruits to get in, or out. They drive their Hi-Lux up and down the mountain and there are excellent airports with reliable service to anywhere in the world available to them.

4. It is in a Muslim country with a fairly strong tradition of religious radicalism. It makes for a sympathetic environment.

5. Because of this there are powerful radical groups in the country that they can count upon for support.

6. AQ has been operating there for years and they have ingratiated themselves with the locals, whose culture, I believe, offers them protection that might not be duplicated anywhere else.

7. The FATA is in a country run by a powerful, sophisticated military and intelligence service that runs cover for AQ and has for years.

Far from being "dozens", there is NO place else in the world that offers AQ this set of advantages. No place.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 11:36pm


Last sentence/paragraph: "nothing new," ...

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 11:32pm


I am a fellow dinosaur with the same credentials (Vietnam; Cold War) and have the very same misgiving. I often think that we will have to "contain globalization" in order to get back on the right track. I just try to point out (1) where we appear to be heading and (2) what looks to be driving the train.


Saw something in my AUSA newspaper this month that I thought you might be interested in:

"Gen. William "Kip" Ward said that on any given day there are 3,500 service members working on the African continent in stability operations. Ninety percent are guardsmen and reservists .... (He noted that) the reserve components play an invaluable role that will pay dividends not only today but 20, 50 years from now in allowing the United States access to the continent."

Certainly not a full court press and probably, as you would say, "noting new," but seemingly consistent with the "opening" and "access" concepts and arguments often heard re: making the world safe for globalization.



Sun, 12/05/2010 - 10:36pm

The whole "modern silk road" idea remains largely a matter of hype. You might - emphasis on <i>might</i> - in a few decades develop a modest regional trade network that could be of substantial benefit to Afghanistan and the neighboring states. Impact on and benefit to China, Russia, and India would be negligible to nonexistent. It's simply not economically relevant to globalization.

We don't need to make the world safe for globalization. The world is already safe for globalization: the wat is over, globalization won. The so-called "outlier states" do not pose any significant drag, and unless they get obnoxious and start attacking people or sheltering those who do, the globalized states are quite content to let them be, assuming (reasonably) that they'll come around in their own good time. In some cases even a fair degree of obnoxiousness (eg piracy based in Somalia) is shrugged off, simply because the cost of intervention would exceed the benefit.

There is no economic payoff in a state like Afghanistan that is even close to being worth the cost of the war. The same holds true of most "outlier states". Nobody intervenes in Zimbabwe or Chad, Myanmar or Somalia. Even in resource-rich "outliers" like the Sudan or the DRC, there's no real interest in trying to transform: the effort wouldn't be worth the cost. These states pose no real threat or obstacle, and the very hypothetical gains of an attempted transformation would not justify the very real costs.

Your whole hypothesis seems built around the notion that these "outlier states" are of vast importance to the progress of globalization... and there's really no hard evidence to support that hypothesis.

Publius (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 10:02pm

SWJED: In the future, if you find it necessary to excise a comment of mine, I'd appreciate it if you would excise the entire comment. Simple soul that I am, although I'm from that school that abhors censorship in any form, if it's going to practiced on me, I'd rather my comments disappear entirely than be subjected to an editorial process.

Bill C.: You do understand that a lot of folks, including us dinosaurs who went through Vietnam, the Cold War, etc., have serious misgivings about all of this, right? Stifling the misgivings of a few nonbelievers does nothing to alter that.

I'm sorry if I'm impatient with all of these tra-la-la studies that always conclude that my country still has to "bear any burden and pay any price" for the rest of the world. And I'm not going to stop expressing my belief that this nation has no national security strategy worthy of the name and is accordingly thrashing about in futility. With the logical corollary--this being a capitalist society and all that entails--that many are, shall we say, making hay while the sun shines.

Curiously, the sun never seems to shine on the troops or the taxpayers. And that's where I'm coming from: the corruption inherent in "small wars." Our nation can't afford these wars, economically, and more importantly, morally. Those who feel the need to "make the word safe for globalization" need to find a better way.

This whole small wars enterprise is a classic cui bono exercise. Damned if I see where the American people benefit.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 7:07pm

Publius, et. al:

I think the key to understanding all of this (this paper: How Afghanistan Ends; FM 3-07; emphasis on pop-centric COIN, state-building and "fixing" less-integrated states and societies; the "Modern Silk Road" concept endorsed by GEN Petraeus, etc., etc., etc.) is that the mission is no longer seen so much as "making the world safe for democracy."

Rather, today's mission is seen more as making the world safe for globalization.

Within this concept, increments and aspects of -- not only democracy -- but also sovereignty (much as with the integration process of the EU) must, at times, give way; so as to accommodate globalization's (the perceived "greater good's") requirements.

Thus, globalization demands that:

a. Not only that the state and society of Afghanistan (and other such less-integrated entites) transform to accommodate globalization's needs,

b. But also the state and society of the United States and the rest of the developed world.

Herein, witness how such modern and powerful kingpins as the United States have had to adapt, for example, their foreign policy focus and their military forces posture and doctrine; so as to accomplish globalization's requirements (one of which is: the transformation and integration of outlier states).

Thus, these changes would seem to transcend 9/11 and Al Qaeda and have more to do decisions made in the 1990s and re: 11/9 (the fall of the Soviet Union/end of the Cold War).

Guys: I think this explanation may help "answer the mail" as to what we are seeing today and why; with regard to the changes both we (the United States, et. al) and they (Afghanistan and its ilk) are being required to undergo.


a. While I am not saying that this is a good thing,

b. I am saying that is the course that we appear to be on.

Post Script:

Present economic crisis?

Some see this as reason to drive on even harder along this course. The belief being that this "adaptation process" -- and the enhanced economic growth that it might provide -- is what we will need to pull us out of the current "great recession."


As a counter to my own comments, I do think your comment about reader responsibility is very well taken and one we should all keep in mind but I do stand by my support of Gian's point that the linkages and agendas are part of the whole issue. And all that said you are right in that there is still a lot to discuss and debate in the paper. And glad that SWJ influences your posting in a positive way. :-)

Bob's World

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 1:49pm


It is often a fine line between "peace-keeper" and "war-starter" when one jumps into the middle of a complex problem they really don't know that much about, and are frankly really motivated by something entirely different to begin with. A Blind US focus on CT is not likely to naturally facilitate the same factors consistent with peace between India and Pakistan.

We'd do better to keep an eye on the bigger problem. Afghanistan will sort out over time, and we really don't have national interests there. AQ is a pain in the ass, but they can operate from dozens of places, the FATA is just handy (plus our presence in Afghanistan makes it a great draw for foreign fighters who have issues back home and a general ax to grind with the west; much as AQ followed us to Iraq).

My most simple advice would be that we shoul step back a couple steps and relook this whole thing with a broader perspective. After all, while protecting the Afghan populace from the insurgent is a noble act; the other half of the equation is equally noble and largely overlooked: Protecting the Afghan populace from the Government of Afghanistan.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 1:35pm


Like brother Slap, I am feeln' ya too. No need to apologize, please, I got your post and understood that parts of it were written with tongue-in-cheek. I actually kind of liked the play on words with "inquiry" and "inquisition." Ha! We know from hard service that humor of things and especially at oneself is a good tactic for survival.

Dave M: Good point about the other "anon" post and the slippery slope that it was possibly leading down. I saw that too in terms of potential, but some of the facts brought in it were important. Again it is a tough line to walk.

very respectfully

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 1:10pm

This is an exceedling polite corner of the blogosphere. I've improved my online commenting quite a bit because of the examples set. Kind of sad, but true.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 12/05/2010 - 1:01pm

"In closing... Dave D, Dave M, Gian, et al... apologies all around... but you have to admit.. the "Attica, Attica, Attica" chant was a little funny... you see? I can't help myself :-/

Humbly... mean it... " by MAC

I'm feeling ya man!