Small Wars Journal

Front Row Seat: Watching COIN Fail in Afghanistan

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 3:56pm

Front Row Seat: Watching COIN Fail in Afghanistan by Evan Munsing, War on the Rocks

… Current counterinsurgency doctrine presumes a national solution to local problems: that a national army, usually with the aid of local police or militias, can come into a fractious area and convince unfriendly locals to ally themselves with the state by bringing security and certain amenities like electricity or economic programs.  This strategy requires a functioning and legitimate government and a skilled and disciplined military that can effectively target insurgents who hide amongst the civilian population without causing collateral damage.  It assumes that all enemy strongholds must be retaken and that unless the insurgency is defeated in all its parts, the nation cannot survive.

Rather than allowing the Afghans to find their own solutions to the insurgency, the United States bequeathed its ally a reductionist approach.  Thus, “the insurgents” were identified with the “Taliban” and the “Taliban” with those who most closely resemble the Taliban of Mullah Omar’s failed state.  Although the insurgency is strengthened, fueled and spread partly through religious networks, it is fundamentally a localist and anti-government movement.  Conservative rather than radical and tribal rather than religious, the insurgency is less a religious or political organization and more a classic peasant revolt of isolated, anti-modernist and largely landless individuals. These individuals’ only familiarity with the central government comes from being taxed and subjected to its military force.  The dispersed and decentralized nature of the insurgency is not, as is sometimes argued, evidence of what is fashionably termed “chaoplexy” or otherwise indicative of an advanced cell-based structure.  Rather, the insurgency is dispersed and decentralized because there are too many actors with too many different personal agendas dispersed over too large an area with too few communication tools for it to be a unified or coherent political opponent—and it is precisely this that makes it so durable and so difficult to defeat using our current policies…

Read on.


Bill C.

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 12:40pm

"Current counterinsurgency doctrine presumes a national solution to local problems: that a national army, usually with the aid of local police or militias, can come into a fractious area and convince unfriendly locals to ally themselves with the state by bringing security and certain amenities like electricity or economic programs."

Current COIN theory, one might suggest, is based on the understanding that:

a. Insurgencies, in the modern world, are often considered to be problems for the world at-large.

b. Insurgencies, today, are often considered to be pathologies of states and/or societies that are not adequately organized, ordered and oriented along modern western political, economic and social lines. And that, accordingly, in order to "cure" and curtail these unnecessary maladies,

c. One need only step in and help organize, order and orient -- along modern western lines -- these outdated, malformed (and, therefore, malfunctioning) states and/or societies.

Now to the question: Should what has been portrayed by me above, if correct, be properly understood as (1) "local problems" requiring (2) "a national solution?"


Mon, 02/03/2014 - 7:12pm

In reply to by carl

Re this:

<i>A win would be Taliban & Co gone and an Afghanistan not ruled by them or any other bunch of takfiri killers, nor by a Pak Army/ISI proxy.</i>

Why do we need to care who rules Afghanistan?

Imagine this... what if we had gone into Afghanistan committed to using all available means to kill everybody associated with AQ or those who sheltered them, with a limited duration, say (arbitrarily) one year. Wreak havoc, take revenge, and leave, before we settle into occupation and the other guys can start taking initiative. The principle here is that we don't need to care who rules Afghanistan, as long as whoever does knows that attacking us has horrible consequences. We don't need to dictate who rules or doesn't rule in Afghanistan (none of our bloody business, really) as long as they know that provoking us is a bad idea.

Obviously a little late for that, but possibly instructive.

If a "win" means determining who rules or doesn't rule in Afghanistan, we are automatically backed into a corner, because the determination of who rules is a protracted and messy business in which we have no inherent interest beyond assuring that they don't attack us or shelter those who do.

I understand your feelings about the Pakistanis, but there's a bit of a catch-22 in play. If the US is going to run a military campaign in Afghanistan, we need supply routes through Pakistan. Our deployments carry a lot of tail, and the northern routes are controlled by capricious and avaricious regimes with no love for us and close connections in Moscow: not people you want sitting on your logistic arteries for any length of time. Of course if we draw down the major force in Afghanistan and stop trying to determine who rules the place, we would then be in a much better position to confront Pakistan... but if we stop trying to determine who rules Afghanistan, we no longer need to confront Pakistan.

If the only way we can control who rules Afghanistan is a full-blown war with Pakistan, is it worth it? Is the question of who rules Afghanistan really that important to us? If so, why?

Ideally we'd have walked away while people still feared us, and before anyone could claim to have chased us out, but that's water under the bridge. If it's a choice between an escalated war and walking away, I'd walk away. It's a $#!thole anyway, nothing there we want or need


Tue, 02/04/2014 - 4:23pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C Jones:

Councilor, you are trying to mislead the jury again. Notice that I asked if AQ central, as represented by al-Zawahiri, could operate in those various places. I didn't ask if some local wanna-be or maybe is takfiri killer with an internet cafe near his house could operate in those places. Since you chose not to answer the question posed, I will take that as your agreeing with my premise that an organization of takfiri killers that has aspirations to international status and goals, as does AQ central, cannot operate for an extended period of time, as AQ has, in a country where it not given a pass by the government of that country, as has AQ by the Pak Army/ISI.

I will say this though, you sure do talk pretty when you obfuscate "Real estate is something one rents or borrows, but never owns." That's real pretty.

I will leave contentions about %s and polling to RantCorp. He's better at it than I am. I must comment on this thing you said though.

You said "Go to the other 70-80% of the country that are unsecure and talk to the people there. One probably gets a different result."

Now that is a remarkable thing you say. So what you are implying is the results of the polls would be much more reliable if the pollsters, who can't safely interview people in the contested areas of the country because Taliban & Co might kill them, could interview people who live in parts of the country that are contested, contested because if the people living there say or do something Taliban & Co don't like, Taliban & Co might kill them. That's kind of like saying the poll results in the Warsaw Ghetto indicate the Germans aren't popular but the poll results would be different if only the Jews in the camps could be asked.

Yes indeed, let's get back to the original point of the paper, which is poppycock. Any paper that purports to talk big picture about Afghanistan and the conflict there without prominently discussing the Pak Army/ISI is worthless.


Mon, 02/03/2014 - 6:42pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

RCJ wrote:

'Also driving bias in polling is that pollsters go to safe areas, which are where those who are largely supported by (and supportive of) the current government live. Go to the other 70-80% of the country that are unsecure and talk to the people there. One probably gets a different result.'

I understand what you are saying and it is a very important point but do you have any evidence that contradicts what these supposedly mislead natives have gleaned from their fellow countrymen? Their research suggests your proclamations of 50% are a magnitude of more than ten fold out of step with the 4200 Afghans in 11 provinces that they interviewed.

One thousand percent is no small error in gauging the political mood. In the US a mere 5% is considered a landslide so on that marker one side of the argument must be completely lost when it comes to the question of the Taliban's appeal.



Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 2:49pm

In reply to by carl

Carl asks: "Tell me how he could set up in Cairo, Paris, Tokyo, Mumbai, Cape Town or Ames, Iowa. He can't"

Actually, they already are and have been for years. This is the nature of a networked, non-state operation. Sanctuary comes from the support of people who believe to some degree in your cause, even if they disapprove of your tactics. Sanctuary also comes from their status as a non-state actor. Real estate is something one rents or borrows, but never owns.

Carl says: "He demonstrates how Taliban & Co have just a tiny % Afghan support and how suggesting they have anything more than that, as you do, despite the evidence is a sure path to defeat."

Revolution is rarely to bring good governance. Revolution is to force change upon governance perceived as bad. The question is not how much of the population believes in or wants to be led by the Taliban; the question is "how much of the population perceives the current government needs to change in part or whole, and that no effective legal mechanisms exist to drive that change."

Governments, like smart prosecutors, never ask a question that they don't want to hear the answer to. But these are the answers in this case that need to be heard. Also driving bias in polling is that pollsters go to safe areas, which are where those who are largely supported by (and supportive of) the current government live. Go to the other 70-80% of the country that are unsecure and talk to the people there. One probably gets a different result.

So back to the original point of this paper. One can indeed successfully resolve insurgency through smart government action, but those actions are not captured in our current COIN doctrine, and those actions are not what we are employing in Afghanistan. Develop a COIN campaign you'd be able to get away with in Maryland or Ohio, and one would be much closer to an effective approach. So long as we apply an overseas standard that allows far more aggregious approaches than we would apply at home, we are wasting our time, and largely making the problem worse, even if we succeed in suppressing the symptoms for a few weeks, months or years.


Tue, 02/04/2014 - 7:02pm

In reply to by carl

Carl, I think you're missing the point again.

First, "we haven't had the moxie to try" because as long as we have a large scale military deployment in Afghanistan, we need access to Pakistani soil to move supplies. Take away the military presence in Afghanistan and we are free to confront Pakistan... but then of course we wouldn't need to.

Pakistan's obsession with controlling Afghanistan isn't just about "strategic depth". this article:…

discusses the Pakistani fear that a strong, independent Afghanistan dominated by Pashtuns not under Pakistani control could develop designs on a "greater Pashtunistan that would involve a large piece of Pakistan. A possible Afghan-India alliance would be perceived as a huge threat... so naturally they want Afghanistan under their thumb.

The question, of course, is why Afghanistan is so important to us that we need to fight a counter-UW campaign over it. The only US strategic interest in Afghanistan is the need to assure that it isn't used as a base for attacks on us. Does that require us to dictate who will or will not govern Afghanistan? If the Pakistanis want it so badly (and they certainly want it more than we do), is it worth considering letting them have it, under the condition that an attack on us from that source would be considered their doing, with an appropriate package of penalties?

We need to consider the assumption that "winning" means control of who governs Afghanistan, because all that gets us is a generational embrace with a very messy tar baby. What do we really need here, and what's the most effective way to get it?

As far as where AQ can operate, it's worth noting that AQAP has been responsible for more recent attacks on the US than AQ in Pakistan. Those attacks haven't been large scale, of course, but there's no real reason to suppose that a 9/11 scale attack couldn't be planned and executed from Yemen or Somalia. They may not be able to operate from there in the same way they operate from Pakistan, but they can operate in other ways that are as much a threat. It is even possible (though speculative) that AQ under a Pakistani thumb is less a threat: I do not think the Pak Army/ISI would be comfortable with the idea of a major attack in the West being traced back to Pakistan.


Mon, 02/03/2014 - 2:20pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09:

You are a military man so I ask you a question. You say the Pak Army/ISI needs Afghanistan as a fallback area if India invades. Now it is my understanding that in order for a fallback area to be useful it has to have a base of supply to fall back on, supply meaning material or human. There is no supply to fall back upon in Afghanistan, no munitions factories, no abundant food supply, no fuel, no nothing. Nor are there any human resources to recruit from and build the army back up. There aren't many Punjabis living west and north of the Durand line. I suspect also that a broken Pak Army retreating into Afghanistan would be looked upon by Afghans of all persuasions as a starving animal is looked upon by vultures-dinner! So my question is, do you think the Pak Army view of Afghanistan as a viable fallback area is a credible one or is it just so much wishful thinking?

I do not accept that we cannot control the Pak Army/ISI. I think we could exert rather a lot of control, but we don't have the moxie to try. They have never rejected our money and actually stopping the money supply would be a fine way to pressure them. Also all those general sahibs have to keep their money somewhere and given that they are enemies of the US it would be useful to go after their offshore bank accounts. Then there are the spare parts for US equipment. Lots of things actually. But the least we could do is to stop buying them ammo they use to kill us. Stop giving them money.

You are wrong. AQ central can't operate anywhere in the world. They can send some individuals here or there or just about anywhere, but AQ central can't operate anywhere. You ever been to Bangui? It ain't an easy place to get to or from. al-Z and the boys, if they desire to have a place on the international stage which they do, need a place to operate from that has good international airline connections. That eliminates an awful lot of the world. Indonesia? The Indonesians have proven to be very proficient at small wars and hunting down terrorists. AQ central camping out in some Balinese town would get noticed rather quickly. People are fond of saying AQ central can operate anywhere. It sounds so sophisticated. But the fact is they can't. They can only operate where the established gov will allow them to, to my knowledge that being Sudan, then Afghanistan and now Pakistan. They had to leave Sudan and Afghanistan when the established government no longer wanted them. They would leave Pakistan when the Pak Army/ISI decided they should. If that happened they would have nowhere else to go. We should try to get the Pak Army/ISI to do that or at least stop giving them money if they won't.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 1:41pm

In reply to by carl

Regardless of all previous comments---the most interesting development is the capping or tossing of ISIL out of AQ by al Zawahiri---will be interesting to see how al Baghadidi reacts to being tossed out of AQ.

Normally the jihadi's who fight with ISIL do in fact listen to what AQ central normally has to say regardless of what the leadership does.

Not sure why we spend time discussing the Pak Army/ISI connections while they have always been playing us as they have always needed AFG as a fall back area if invaded by India--so why waste the time discussing something that is a given.

Now that we know we cannot "control" Pakistan why spend the time discussing a "given".

What is far more interesting and I think Robert will agree is that AQ central can be anywhere in the world and why does it have to be in the ME, or Pakistan when in effect it could function nicely in Indonesia, Nigeria or for that matter in the CAR. Do not think for a moment that AQ personnel are restricted from travelling ie penned up in Pakistan---where there are drug smuggle routes worldwide so goes AQ personnel---travel has never been an issue for them.

It is the affiliates that are of interest not the central---because in fact al Zawahiri maybe capable of "tossing" ISIL out of AQ verbally-- ISIL is still in the fight and on the ground in Syria not al Zawhiri and AQ central.

By the way AQ central has over the last ten years tried to control their field units with little success.

In a number of occasions it is AQ central that is throwing themselves in front of the various "parades"---check all current overseas affiliates---events started in a particular country first, then resistance groups formed- then they went "radical", and only then did they finally go "AQ".

AQ central has always been the "leading light" philosophically speaking and the locals always have joined later in the process.


Mon, 02/03/2014 - 12:32pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C. Jones:

Surely Councilor you can do better than a 'Oh yeah! Well you're just a sorehead, wrong and warped to boot! Besides, they like me better.' response. (the suggestion that Einstein figures RCJ is a genius is a nice touch). Ok, enough fooling around.

Please sir, tell me how AQ, you can use al-Zawahiri as an example, can operate anyplace other than Pakistan under the protection of the Pak Army/ISI. Tell me how he could set up in Cairo, Paris, Tokyo, Mumbai, Cape Town or Ames, Iowa. He can't.

On another point refute for me the points made by RantCorp over at the Peace, Art and Special Operations article on the Journal (… ). He demonstrates how Taliban & Co have just a tiny % Afghan support and how suggesting they have anything more than that, as you do, despite the evidence is a sure path to defeat.

Please too address the point I never get tired of making about how the Pak Army/ISI is the enemy and the point, made by RantCorp, that they are waging UW against us in Afghanistan.

I could go on but sufficeth to say that setting up straw men and swatting them mightily is not persuasive argument. It does feel good though. Where was I? Oh yeah, addressing the points would be much more helpful.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 8:30am

In reply to by carl

Hopefully our leaders can continue to step away from the warped world view, delusional self-image and victim mentality you express so well here.

To set out to punish half of the world that disagrees with you, while attempting to "fix" the rest is a bit of a fool's errand that I hope we are about done with. Because the facts do indeed support exactly what I laid out. I find little rational support for your "facts" though; or rather your analysis of what the facts actually mean. I think Einstein said it best:

"Any intelligent fool can make things larger, more complex or more violent; but that it takes a touch of genius and a great deal of courage to move things in the opposite direction."

So far the intelligent fools have been in charge of our 9/11 response; and we are still waiting for the touch of genius and courage necessary to put us on a better course.

Or, to take your approach, the old adadge that Gen Zinni rolled out for my War College class back in '05 comes to mind, "We don't know where we're going, but we're making good time."


Mon, 02/03/2014 - 12:24am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C. Jones:

Given that your givens are not given, but are mere arbitrary suppositions, weakly if at all supported by fact; it is therefore a given that whatever givens derive from your givens are not given at all. Or more simply, garbage in-garbage out.

AQ can operate literally thousands of places around the globe-this square foot of Pakistan, that square foot of Pakistan and that other square foot of Pakistan. Or they could operate in say Vanuatu or some oasis in the Sahara or maybe in Kisangani...well they could go there and be very quiet and hope not to die too soon. But they can only operate effectively, in an international sense in a place where the government security forces are either asleep or give them a pass. Since 2001 few governments have been asleep. But there has been one that has consistently given them a pass, and that is the Pak Army/ISI. al-Zawahiri doesn't stay there now because he can't live without the chapatis, he stays there because he can't live without the Pak Army/ISI.

I seem to remember that on the evening of September 11, 2001 the US had a truly vital interest in the AfPak region. Remember that? I thought we had a pretty vital interest in the area. A lot of flyover people did.

Mr. Jones, in this court the jurors are allowed to take notes. And they have noted that the argument you are rebutting in point 1. was never made. They will scratch their heads and say 'Hmm. Didn't that other guy argue that the Americans should wake up and recognize that the Pak Army/ISI is the enemy. He didn't say anything about when or if the Pak Army/ISI will change their minds about what their interests are. He said they didn't like the Americans and the Americans can't seem to get that. This Jones guy, he's trying to change the subject.'

Look at the part of my parody about the clever American who thinks the Pathans are a homogeneous group with Taliban & Co. speaking for them. That was..., well, that part is pertinent. They aren't homogeneous. They differ quite a lot from region to region, valley to valley and even village to village. Taliban & Co speak for themselves. And of course they speak for the people they've cowed through threat, often carried out, of violent death. That is what night letters are all about, do what we want...or else.

I'll tell you what, I'll see your artificial infusion of US power that stopped Taliban & Co from completely subjugating more than half of the Afghan people who didn't want to be subjugated by them; I'll see that with the artificial and illegitimate infusion of Pak Army/ISI power that brought Taliban & Co into dominance, a dominance that allowed AQ a haven they used to kill people.

My gosh, have the inside the beltway crowd and their associates so cluttered their minds with minutia that they can't even figure out what a win looks like? I guess so. A win would be Taliban & Co gone and an Afghanistan not ruled by them or any other bunch of takfiri killers, nor by a Pak Army/ISI proxy.

Look the jurors are nudging each other and whispering 'There he goes again. Where did talk of massive slaughter come from? What the heck is that guy on about?'

I would dearly love to bring Genghis and Subatai and Jebai back. First thing I would do is give them a course on the UCMJ and keys to a Ferrari. Them I'd tell them that things have changed a little in a thousand years and they are going have to make the adjustment or we take the Ferraris back and send them back to where we got them. No massacres! Then after making sure they got that I would give them each a shoulder full of stars and let them run things for awhile. We need some multi-stars who know more about war than about career advancement. They would see right off who the enemy was. That would put the fear of God into the Pak Army/ISI. No fooling Subatai, no sir. The general sahibs in 'Pindi I expect would get real cooperative real fast. Just think how excited our troop, NCOs and junior officers would be to be led by Genghis and company too.

I have a theory about why that canard about how AQ can operate anywhere hangs on year after year. It is, like so much, a matter of bureaucratic dynamics. If you say AQ could be anywhere, it allows you to ask for a bigger budget. Anywhere is a lot more expensive to cover that just the few places they can survive. Second, it allows a convenient excuse for failure to get much done about the places they actually are. The bureaucrats can say that doesn't matter so much because after all, they can operate almost anywhere.

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 02/01/2014 - 7:47am

In reply to by carl


Given that AQ can operate from literally thousands of places around the globe;

and given that the US has never had any truly vital interests in the AfPak region, a couple of questions for you to ponder:

1. When exactly do you suppose that Pakistan will stop seeing it as being in their vital interests to exercise influence into Afghanistan through their shared population?

2. In the 'all or nothing ' patronage culture of this region, when do you suppose it is that the half of Afghan society who were deposed of patronage power through our actions stop seeking to wrest that power back from those who gained the power from them due to the artificial and illegitimate infusion of US power into the mix?

3. Lastly, just what do you think there is for the US to "win" in Afghanistan?

Sure we could deliver a massive slaughter onto the people of that place that make our efforts to date look like warm up and stretching drills. What does that prove (other than validating the claims of our opponents and critics everywhere). Do you really think that would make America safer?

the days of Genghis are over, do you really think we should try to bring them back?


Sat, 02/01/2014 - 5:54am

In reply to by carl

Carl, you had me rolling!!! But everything you said is true, which is not funny. For 12 years we have been eating soup with a knife or pounding our head against the wall, whatever you want to call it. Until we make the commitment to win, we never will. No matter what whizbang toys they buy.


Thu, 01/30/2014 - 2:31pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert C. Jones:

Once more I am driven beyond the bounds of reasoned argument into parody. I mean, how many times can you point out things before you just have to give up?

Hey look say the Americans, there are some Pathans over there. We should go talk to them. So the Americans start out to talk to some. They start with Abdul Haq. Too bad, they can't talk to Abdul Haq, the Taliban killed him. That is sad, say the Americans but we will talk to some other Pathans. There are many to talk to and we should because we have heard and read that there are many groups of them and they are all a little different depending on where they are. So the Americans go talk to a Pathan elder in that village over there. They had a good talk. The Americans were happy and the Pathan elder was happy. Then the Americans decided to talk to that elder again. They couldn't because another sad thing had happened, the Taliban killed him. The Americans were sad, not as sad as the elder's relatives but still sad. But being Americans and being go-getters they figured they would talk to some other Pathans. They were very surprised when none of the other Pathans wanted to talk to them. The Americans were determined however and they strong armed some of those Pathans into something called a Key Leader Engagement (the Americans talk funny sometimes). They were very surprised when the Pathans didn't want to talk to them even though the Americans like tea too. They were more surprised when the Pathan elders always said security was good even when some of them had recently been killed by the Taliban.

The Americans thought of something, maybe we should do something about the Taliban killing Pathans. So they did. They chased the bad Taliban hither and thither and they killed many of them. But something funny happened. When the Americans thought things were going well the Taliban ran and hid in Pakistan which was a different country and the Americans were too polite to go there unless they were invited. Which they were not. But things would quiet down for awhile.

Now Pakistan was ruled by the Pak Army/ISI and they didn't like the Americans. So they helped the Taliban very much with very many things in addition to giving them a place to hide from the Americans. The Taliban didn't like the Pak Army/ISI but they liked dying less so they took what they gave them and took orders from them too. Because of this they were able to survive to keep killing Pathans they didn't like and other Afghans too. Then things weren't so quiet.

Now the Pak Army/ISI was very smart but they didn't have so much money and giving things to the Taliban was expensive. What to do? They came up with the idea that they should ask the Americans to give them money to give to the Taliban to use to kill Pathans and Americans too. This was a crazy idea somebody said. Nobody in their right minds would go for that. But the Pak Army/ISI was not only smart they had nerve and so asked the Americans. Wouldn't you know it, the Americans agreed! (The Americans not only talk funny, they think funny too.) So the Pak Army/ISI was very happy that the Americans were giving them money to give to the Taliban to kill Pathans and Americans. The Taliban were happy too. The Americans weren't happy. They were a little sad but they couldn't figure out exactly why, after all the Pak Army/ISI took their money and said they were friends. (Like I said, the Americans think funny.)

This went on for many years but the Americans kept trying very hard, the same things over and over again. But these things never seemed to work. So one day the Americans decided to themselves that nobody could ever solve this problem. After all the Americans had put a man on the moon and if they couldn't do it nobody could. Some of the clever Americans came up with clever ideas about why, such as peasant revolts. One of the clever Americans even thought that the Pathans were a homogeneous group who spoke with one voice and the Taliban represented them, even though the Taliban killed any of them who didn't toe the line. But ultimately none of it mattered, the Americans gave up and went home convinced that they had really after all, when you look at it the right way, won.

The moral of this story is the Americans think funny. But that makes the Pak Army/ISI and Taliban & Co happy and a lot of other people sad, and dead.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 01/29/2014 - 7:12am

The problem is not that Coin does not work, the problem is that we think of insurgency as something an insurgent coerces or brainwashed a population to do rather than recognizing insurgency as a natural condition that grows within a population when certain negative perceptions of the governance affecting their lives grow to an intolerable level.

COIN works fine when done by the actual system of governance at fault, and when focused on curing (rather than punishing or bribing or suppressing the symptoms) the actual drivers of those conditions.

Products like the recent RAND study that define "winning" as government remaining unchanged and the insurgent organization defeated are counterproductive at best.

The problem for the US in Afghanistan is that the conditions we established up front as best for us, and then dedicated ourselves to preserve are also the primary drivers of the current conflict. We are trapped in a Catch-22 of our own design.

What this author offers is merely a different route into the briar patch, not a better one.


Thu, 01/30/2014 - 1:31pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


My hope is that once we bug out of Afghanistan, we can finally see the Pak Army/ISI for the mortal enemy they are because the logisticians won't be around to throw a hissy fit if anybody so much as suggests that. There won't be any big bases left to hang as chains around our necks the other end held in the hand of the general sahibs in 'Pindi. Maybe then we can open up our eyes and see the sun in the sky. But maybe not because to do that would mean Mr. Gates, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama, Mr. Mullen and many others would have to own up to the fact that they been had, and that their being had resulted in thousands of American and Afghan deaths. That would never do.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 1:09pm

In reply to by carl

You are both right because you are talking about different things. Robert is talking about a local insurgency arising due to local conditions, that of the Karzai government and the US as an outsider.

You are talking about state support for transnational groups and proxy groups in a proxy war with a neighbor.

The Pakistan elite--both military and civilian--are a viewed as a sort of "pet" project by the West, and they pretty much have been since Pakistan existed. It started slow, haphazardly, and in reaction to the Soviet Union and fears of its expansionism, but it developed into a thing of its own: a lobby within various Western capitals to socially engineer the state or control its strategy so that it could be used within a variety of other strategies such as that of NATO, the US, Saudi Arabia, the Chinese, and so on.

Okay, that's too strong, what I mean is that at various times bright people had bright strategic ideas about the place that never worked out. Plus the aid givers meant well, but they always failed. Yet, it's an ideology with the aid givers so they always want to hand out money.

Aid givers, arms sellers, retired intelligence operatives, various immigrant lobbies, (for the US) outside powers with their own reasons to support the elite that set up their own lobbies in the US, old Cold Warriors that fell in love with the idea that we finally paid back the Soviets for Vietnam and thanked the Pakistanis for it, Atlanticists and Natoists and the "get Iran" crowd. Basically, the same mess of folk that any other international issue drags in with it, all sort of professional meddlers, some for money reasons, some out of friendship and fellow feeling because of once working together, ideologues.

This is the poison pill inside of alliances and networks. Not that alliances are bad, but that over time they develop some drag and that drag hollows things out.

I never believed in the surge or big population centric COIN in Afghanistan (which, old blog friend, you favored, although good people can disagree :) ), because of the drag that came with our complicated relationships.

It's a reason for failure that no one ever talks about, until recently with Hussain Haqqani's book, Magnificent Delusion. And yet, his ideas added to that drag which is curious. Robert Gates too missed out on this aspect, judging from reading his book. Somehow he thought that if no "rider" was added, the bribe known as Kerry Lugar Berman would work.

Given the history of the CIA, maybe it's not so much missing as refusing to give up a strategic asset. And all while our people are on the other side of it and we paid for the bullets on both sides. It makes no strategic sense, it's all fantasy. It's not just the Americans, either.

A smaller footprint based on CT with some hard headed diplomatic work focusing on the elite and their money and family connections in the West might have worked early on, but it's too late. Plus, everyone was afraid of what would happen with the nukes, and, yet, the same crew through money in which is fungible and just pays for more nukes.

Don't look for logic in it. There is none.

Commentaries like this about 'COIN' failing or 'peasant revolts' or whatever fool thing the intelligentsia dreams up have driven me beyond the edge of rational argument and politeness. The only thing left is parody.

There is wounded Afghanistan, gravely torn and barely clinging to life. The noble American doctor performs surgery using all of his skill and even some things never thought of before, brilliant things the result of inspiration. The surgeon struggles long, without rest or pause. The patient's will to live is incredible. He should have died repeatedly but his strength and the doctor's skill and determination combine to keep him clinging to life. But alas, despite the heroic struggle of both doctor and patient, Afghanistan expires. The doctor is crushed but realistic. He draws the obvious conclusions and, as he steps away from the table, he says to the Pak Army/ISI surgical assistant who stuffed 3 socks in the patients mouth at the start and has worked up a sweat pinching shut the patient's nostrils throughout the procedure, "Well, I guess surgery doesn't work."