Small Wars Journal

The Gentile-Yingling Dialogue: ISAF Exit Strategy - Neither International nor an Exit nor a Strategy

Sat, 10/15/2011 - 8:11am


Thanks for your insightful questions, and for your careful reading of "A Failure in Generalship."

If I may, I'd like to challenge the underlying premise of your questions. Your focus on strategy after 2009 presumes that Afghanistan was "winnable" at a politically acceptable cost.  I respectfully disagree.

The fiasco in Iraq (2003-2007) and the collapse of the US economy (2008-present) have exhausted the patience of the American people. Regrettably, a rigorous civil-military dialogue did not identify this limitation before the commitment of additional troops.

In Afghanistan, the die is cast.  In Pakistan, state failure looms darkly on the horizon.  It may be too late to change the former, but now is the time to address the latter.

I elaborate on these points below in "ISAF Exist Strategy: Neither International nor an Exit nor a Strategy."

I look forward to discussing these matters further and am grateful to SWJ and its readers for hosting this dialogue.

Best Regards,


SWJ Editor's Notes:

A Few Questions for Colonel Paul Yingling on Failures in Generalship - Small Wars Journal

A Failure in Generalship - Armed Forces Journal


ISAF Exit Strategy: Neither International nor an Exit nor a Strategy

Colonel Paul Yingling, U.S. Army

Based on remarks delivered at

International Security Assistance Force, Afghanistan: 2001-2011-2014, the Roles and Capabilities of South-East Europe Countries

Zagreb, Croatia

October 12, 2011

Willy Brandt famously said of the former German Democratic Republic that it was neither German nor democratic nor a republic.  When I was asked to comment on the exit strategy of the International Security Assistance Force from Afghanistan, I had a similar reaction.  The events of the next three years in Afghanistan cannot properly be described as international, an exit, or a strategy.  The so-called transition to Afghan lead by the end of 2014 is a timetable driven largely by American domestic politics. When this timetable is complete, Afghanistan will still be at war.

Before going further, a few caveats are in order.  First, I want to acknowledge that many countries have contributed blood and treasure to the war in Afghanistan, and that the Afghan people have suffered terribly during decades of nearly constant fighting.  My argument that American domestic politics will drive the events of the next few years should not be interpreted as minimizing the contributions of other ISAF nations or the sacrifices and suffering of the Afghan people.  Second, my argument is predictive, not normative.  I will not describe what should happen in the next few years, but what will.  What will happen in Afghanistan will largely be determined by ISAF’s largest contributing nation - the United States.  As I will demonstrate, we passed up “should” long ago.

My argument consists of three parts.  First, I will describe both the aims of American policy and its underlying rationale.  Second, I will review the competing but deeply flawed ways to achieve these aims – a fully resourced counterinsurgency effort and a more limited counter-terrorism approach.  Finally, I will describe the most likely outcome of events in Afghanistan and Pakistan beyond 2014.

The Aims of Policy

In December 2009, President Obama described both the ends of American policy in Afghanistan and the ways those ends would be achieved:

…to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future. 

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.

The most striking feature of Obama Administration policy is the treatment of al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single and uniquely dangerous threat.  This region is not uniquely dangerous because it is an ungoverned space.  Large regions of Somalia and Yemen also fit this description.  This region is also not uniquely dangerous because the population has ideological sympathy for al Qaeda. Pockets of sympathy for al Qaeda can be found elsewhere, including in the West.  Finally, this region is not uniquely dangerous because it serves as a staging ground for attacks on the West.  Indeed, al Qaeda’s affiliates in the Islamic Magreb and the Arabian Peninsula have in recent years proven more lethal than the core of al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan.

This region is uniquely dangerous because of the confluence of the two most dangerous phenomena of the 21st century – radical ideology and nuclear weapons.  Pockets of radical ideology exist throughout the globe and at least nine states have nuclear weapons.  However, only in southern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan do we find deep sympathy for al Qaeda’s radical ideology less than a day’s drive from the world’s least secure nuclear arsenal.  Moreover, sanctuary in Afghanistan is neither necessary nor sufficient for al Qaeda to achieve its goal of acquiring one or more nuclear weapons for use against the West.  Even if Afghanistan were perfectly stable, the danger of al Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons in Pakistan would remain.  Even if Afghanistan were to return to civil war or Taliban rule, these conditions alone do not pose a unique threat to the West.  Without the threat of nuclear terrorism, the insurgency in Afghanistan would be no more important to the West than similar threats Yemen or Somalia.

Competing and Equally Flawed Ways to Achieve These Ends

While the ends of American policy in Afghanistan have been remarkably consistent since 2001, the ways to achieve those ends have not. The strategic blunders of the Bush Administration from 2002-2008 are well documented and need no elaboration.  The first opportunity to reassess our strategy in Afghanistan occurred in the Obama Administration’s policy reviews of 2009. During this period, two broad strategies were considered.  The first was a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy and the second was a more limited counter-terrorism strategy. 

The first approach was based on the tenets of COIN doctrine – protect the population, develop the capabilities of Afghan security forces and most importantly strengthen the legitimacy of the Afghan government by improving its capacity to provide security and other essential services to the population.  This approach would have required ISAF troop levels of approximately 140,000 or an increase of 40,000 over 2009 levels.  Most importantly, changes to future troop levels would be based on battlefield conditions.

This approach would have been a fine idea in 2001, but was politically infeasible by 2009.  Consider an ideal alternative history beginning in 2001.  With broad domestic and international support, a robust U.S.-led military coalition could have toppled the Taliban, captured or killed Osama bin Laden and other key al Qaeda leaders and provided post-conflict security to the Afghan people.  The U.S. military could have reformed its doctrine, organization, equipment and personnel policies to focus on irregular warfare, including the vital task of developing host nation security forces.  A robust civilian component could have assisted in the development of a legitimate Afghan government capable of providing essential services to the population. Skillful diplomacy could have convinced Pakistan that a stable Afghanistan was in its interests.  Enlightened security assistance could have assisted Pakistan in denying sanctuary in its northwest territories and discrediting extremist ideology nationwide.  Even in this ideal alternative history, denying sanctuary and support to al Qaeda and other extremist elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan would have been the work of a generation.

Alas, these events did not come to pass.  The U.S. low-balled troop estimates, allowing bin Laden and other key al Qaeda figures to escape to Pakistan and security within Afghanistan to deteriorate.  The U.S. squandered credibility at home and good will abroad with a disastrous unnecessary war in Iraq. The U.S. military failed to adapt to the challenges of irregular warfare until late 2006, and still does not devote adequate resources to security force development.  The civilian component to this day is unequal to the challenges of assisting in the development of a legitimate Afghan government.  Most importantly of all, elements within the Pakistani government continue to foster chaos in Afghanistan.

Those advocating a robust COIN effort in 2009 behaved as if these events either didn’t happen or don’t matter.  The reality is quite different; a decade’s worth of blunders and misrepresentations has exhausted the patience of the American people.  For nearly a decade, American political elites insisted that our Afghan policy was succeeding.  They did not ask the public to fight the war or pay for it, and did not tell the public of the deterioration in security on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.  The plausibility of these policies collapsed at approximately the same time as the global economy.  In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, unemployment is the public’s top policy concern. Even more importantly, public trust in the U.S. Government has all but evaporated. Devoting hundreds of billions of dollars into an open-ended conflict in Afghanistan would have been difficult even in 2001.  By 2009, such a policy was politically impossible.

However, the alternative counter-terrorism approach was scarcely better.  This approach called for an increased emphasis on capturing or killing key insurgent and terrorist leaders and accelerating the development of Afghan security forces.  However, this approach is better described as a collection of tactics to disrupt al Qaeda than a strategy to defeat it.  It does not address the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan Government or Pakistan’s explicit support for the Taliban or its tacit support for al Qaeda.  Worst of all, it does nothing to address the political conditions inside Pakistan that fuel the growth of extremist ideology.

The policy that emerged from the Obama Administration’s 2009 debate was worse than either of the alternatives proposed.  It increased troop levels through the summer of 2011, with a transition to Afghan lead set for the end of 2014.  It failed to take into account that al Qaeda was all but gone from Afghanistan, and that the overwhelming majority of those fighting ISAF in Afghanistan were locals with very limited ambitions beyond the country’s borders. Increased troop levels allowed for increased fighting but time limits prevented that fighting from producing enduring political results.  It left largely unchanged the military’s failure to focus on security force assistance and the civilian component’s inability to address the corruption and incompetence of the Karzai Government. It relied on drone strikes to disrupt al Qaeda in Pakistan but did not address the toxic political conditions within Pakistan that make it a danger not only to itself and its neighbors, but much of the world.

Of course, policy makers must set priorities in domestic and foreign affairs and evaluate military advice through the prism of domestic politics.  Effective civil-military dialogue assists in this process by identifying gaps between the ends of policy and the means available to achieve them.  Civilian leaders have the final say in this unequal dialogue, but the product of such dialogue must be a coherent strategy – one that reconciles ends, ways and means.  It’s unclear that such a dialogue took place during the policy reviews of 2009.  If our goal is to end the war and focus on domestic priorities, then no additional forces were needed in Afghanistan.  If our goal is to prevent the Taliban from seizing power in Afghanistan, then time limits on troop commitments undermine our efforts.  If our goal is to defeat al Qaeda, then we’re focusing our resources on the wrong country.

A Return to Strategic Thinking After 2014?

Over the next three years, the U.S. and other ISAF nations will continue to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.  This withdrawal will be driven largely by American domestic politics and fiscal constraints.  No matter which political party prevails in the 2012 U.S. elections, the domestic political calculus will be the same: spiraling costs for entitlements and interest on the debt, deep divisions about what mix of spending cuts and tax increases will solve the problem, heavy pressure to cut defense spending and foreign aid, and little political will to continue the war in Afghanistan beyond 2014.  The best case scenario is that ISAF’s transition to Afghan lead will occur according to the timetable ending in 2014.  However, another financial shock in the West or further political dysfunction in Washington could accelerate that timetable appreciably and unpredictably.

The war in Afghanistan will continue to rage long after 2014.  Combined security operations, drone strikes and special operations raids will continue to take their toll on insurgent and terrorist networks until then.  Afghan security forces can continue to fight even without foreign combat troops, but it’s uncertain how the Afghan government will pay for its army and police without substantial external assistance.  Other regional actors such as India and China will continue to jockey for influence in Afghanistan, but are unlikely to assist the Afghan government on the scale required. More importantly, the Afghan government is unlikely to address the incompetence and corruption that makes such assistance necessary.

Pakistan’s future is more difficult to predict.  It could limp along as a failing state indefinitely, or fail suddenly with little warning.  The West knows so little about Pakistan’s internal dynamics that virtually any significant change will come as a surprise.  The safest prediction is one that would eliminate the best case scenario – that Pakistan will develop into a functioning state that will deny sanctuary and support for extremist organizations. 

While the exact timing and extent of state failure in Pakistan is difficult to predict, the consequences of such failure are not.  Partial or total state failure of a nuclear Pakistan would pose a grave threat to the United States.  In such a scenario, the United States would not know who controlled Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  A nuclear armed al Qaeda, Lashkar e Taiba or another extremist group would be difficult if not impossible to deter.  The nightmare scenario of a nuclear armed terrorist group would be upon us.

When we ask about ISAF exit strategy, we are asking the wrong question.  ISAF’s exit from Afghanistan has much more to do with American domestic politics than coalition strategy. American fiscal constraints and political paralysis set this course in motion long ago and corrective measures are unlikely in the absence of a crisis.  ISAF will transfer the lead for security to Afghan security forces in 2014, on or ahead of the political timetable driving this outcome and with little regard for security conditions. 

However, the crisis of Pakistan as a failed nuclear state looms darkly on the horizon. Those of us charged with strategic thinking need not wait for a crisis to think clearly about this challenge. 

The example of the U.S. military in the 1920s provides a helpful example.  In the aftermath of World War I, military planners recognized that the U.S. lacked the capabilities to defend America’s possessions in the western Pacific.  Led by the Navy, the U.S. held wargames and constructed war plans to understand this challenge and the capabilities necessary to meet it.  Throughout the 1920s, the U.S. military had neither the equipment nor the money nor the manpower to solve this challenge.  Rather than prevent clear strategic thinking, these conditions enabled it.  When war in the Pacific came, the U.S. had already imagined the capabilities necessary for victory – including carrier aviation, amphibious assault, strategic bombing, and close air support for ground forces.  When the crisis came, these ideas needed only money and political will to become reality.

Those of us charged with strategic thinking ought to heed this example.  Imagine a failed Pakistan that results in a terrorist organization acquiring one or more nuclear weapons.  What would our response be in the aftermath of such a crisis?  What intelligence capabilities do we need to locate compromised nuclear materials?  What civil security and law enforcement measures might disrupt or minimize the impacts of such a threat?  What counter-proliferation capabilities are required to seize and render safe compromised nuclear weapons or materials?  Imagine further the capabilities required to avoid such a crisis.  What diplomatic measures might change the Pakistani strategic calculus that lends support to extremism?  What broader engagement with Pakistani civil society might render this troubled country less amenable to radical ideology?  Now imagine still further back to the institutional arrangements that generate national security capabilities.  Do we have the right priorities?  Are we buying the right equipment?  Are we selecting the right leaders?  Are we making the best use of increasingly scarce tax payer dollars?

Too often, what passes for strategic thought in the United States is actually a struggle among self-interested elites seeking political, commercial or bureaucratic advantage.  Such behavior is the privilege of a country that is both rich and safe.  However, a pattern of such behavior is self-correcting: no country that behaves this way will stay rich or safe for long.  Strategic thought will be in high demand in 2014 or upon the collapse of Pakistan, whichever comes first. 


Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 9:13am


No, I say that a lot but this feels right. My ego and superego may finally beat back the id. There is nothing left to say.


lurking young people,

I'd read everything from an official source very carefully, looking especially for propaganda planted by outsiders within the military's own intellectual world. Robin Raphel may have not been charged with sharing classified information with the Pakistanis, but she did take lots of lobbying money and she was VP of NDU, so for everything, there is this sort of angle.

If you are in the Borg, do what you are told as long as it's not really wrong and keep up the study in your own way quietly, like a personal samizdat so that when the time comes, you've got the stuff and won't be fooled.

People care and people are paying attention. Some of us really are doing that. Shame I said I wouldn't post on the unconventional warfare against Afghanistan thread anymore. There's so much out there, from official Army sources even, that is just filled with planted stuff.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 8:56am

At this point, I'm not sure there is anything to do about our Forever War in Afghanistan without taking on the Deep State.

And I don't think anyone quite knows what to do about that. Maybe NATO and Russia will blow up the world in the meantime and we won't have to worry about it.

I can't believe how many people I used to follow online have been corrupted by NATO. Well, I'm no paragon of virtue either. I said no to the Borg cause I just didn't like it.

When I read through old copies of Military Review online I was surprised at how much of it could be read as propaganda by outsiders, on many a subject. How did FMSO get it so wrong?

You know, in Relentless Strike and Not a Good Day to Die there are all those parts about intelligence and how there really wasn't anything from the CIA early on for Afghanistan.

And did the Army lose its contact information from the early campaign? Another commenter at War on the Rocks talked about losing all this information and how the cointra coindinista argument was doing disservice in a sense to the basics of information collecting.

There is plenty to learn from AfPak and Iraq. It's just that everyone wants to go back to the old conversations.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 8:42am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

To my great surprise, given their interest in Saudi propaganda, the American and other Western progressives/non-interventionists are terrible at this topic. Ideology is the worst way to understand the world. Lesson learned for Madhu. Number One lesson learned.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 8:40am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

The Borg = The Deep State

"Controlled by shadow government: Mike Lofgren reveals how top U.S. officials are at the mercy of the “deep state”"…

<blockquote>You’ve got Wall Street. Many of these people — whether it is David Petraeus … or someone like [Bill] Daley, who is the former chief of staff to President Obama … or Hank Paulson, who came from Goldman Sachs to become Treasury Secretary and bailed out Wall Street in 2008; or the people that Obama chose to be Treasury secretary — like Tim Geithner. They all have that Wall Street connection.
And the third thing now is Silicon Valley.</blockquote>

Well, SWJ won't like that David Petraeus is mentioned but he's mentioned a lot in this connection in terms of what is out there for commentary so might as well highlight it whatever you think about it.

I don't care so much about that but Silicon Valley really worries me. When I was in Palo Alto, I'd look up from my medical books from time to time and ask (this was 99/00) how a certain website was going to make money if it was a free service.

I didn't know at that point about venture capital and the play money aspect of it. No one really had an answer for me. I'm surprised anyone buys their stuff at all....

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 8:30am

There is a great post by David Betz at War on the Rocks (I have to get that book) but it was this comment to the post that caught my eye (an excerpt from the comment):

<blockquote>Back in 2000 Les Grau and I wrote about thelimits of advanced technology against an adaptive opponent who gets a vote on the conduct of a war. </blockquote>…

I know I posted this on the Unconventional Warfare against Afghanistan paper earlier, but it's time for a repost:

Good old FMSO:

<blockquote>8.It is difficult to present a representative Kashmiri view with any degree of certainty since the Indian government has not published any open polls on either accession or independence conducted in Jammu and Kashmir. The authors thank Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmiri American Council and other Kashmiris for sharing their scholarship and views.</blockquote>

Kashmir: Flashpoint or Safety Valve?

by Mr. Lester W. Grau
Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS.

<blockquote>WASHINGTON—Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, 62, a U.S. citizen and resident of Fairfax, Va., pleaded guilty today to conspiracy and tax violations in connection with a decades-long scheme to conceal the transfer of at least $3.5 million from the government of Pakistan to fund his lobbying efforts in America related to Kashmir.</blockquote>…

This isn't about Pakistan. Can't any ordinary person, with a little effort, do this for anything and everything in DC? That's the problem with the SOF doctrine as it's written now, the intelligence and the CIA bit of it.

Maybe that Shoomaker quote about unconventional warfare being unviable for SOF was on the mark....

Well, unless I want to quit commenting altogether on these subjects, this is the only place I can comment. I'd get kicked out from War on the Rocks because, at this point, I am immune to marketing.

I said no to the Borg albeit at a low level, why don't more people do that? Strange psychology.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 10:45am

Maybe realists don't get as much hearing in DC because they don't spend as much time on how to actually do things down to the nitty gritty policy level? Like how the President is bonded to SOF because they got him something tangible while others got him the Afghan Surge and endless process of Vali Nasr navel-gazing type diplomacy.

I keep thinking about the advice to negotiate with the Taliban but exactly? Back to the Bew Evans etc. New America Foundation article.

Further down in the thread I wondered how newer scholarship might affect realist understanding of the China-Pakistan tile during the Nixon administration and how it might change thinking about a multipolar world:

<blockquote>The U.S. documentation represents only a partial record of a complex relationship. While Chinese archival sources are largely unavailable, a growing body of scholarship in China and the United States draws upon Chinese language sources to show that Beijing was just as energetic as Washington in trying to signal interest in a new relationship.(8) Some of that material is gradually being translated into English and the Archive is happy to present two recently translated excerpts from a history prepared in the early 1990s by the Diplomatic History Institute of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xin zhongguo wenjiao fengyun [New China's Diplomatic Experience] (Beijing, Shijie zhishi, 1991).</blockquote>

Is this one reason Realists are sometimes viewed in the Academy as being insufficiently detailed in approach, and, thus, not providing policy makers with a map of how to get from A to B? Is this how liberal internationalists, neoconservatives and interventionists have managed to make themselves indispensable, so to speak, in a DC world that needs explicit things to do?

If Realism is to grow, and provide practical advice to policy makers, will it be in the realm of bringing detail to theory and scholarship?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 10:25am

Ouch. Look at this from War on the Rocks:

<blockquote>So what do we, the American people, really know about what we are doing in Afghanistan, even those of us who profess to be following the situation there closely?</blockquote>


1. Negotiations (US, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, maybe some faction of a fracturing Taliban?
2. Monetary support to the government of Afghanistan.
3. Military support to the Afghans which seems to be occurring in a disjointed way due to the lack of clarity in overall goals:

<blockquote>On multiple occasions, administration officials have taken great pains to explain that the war in Afghanistan is “Afghan-led”; that U.S. troops working with Afghan forces, though involved in a “combat situation,” are not conducting a “combat mission”; that there are no more embedded combat advisors in ANDSF kandaks (battalions); and that the focus of the train, advise, and assist mission is in the high-level headquarters, at corps and above.</blockquote> from the linked article.

If only we had stuck to the zero option with a focus of intelligence gathering (a sort of 102 days of the initial Afghan campaign versus the 88 days of the Southern/Eastern campaign from 2001 that we seem to be replaying over and over with a large dose of institution building thrown in.)

Why do we need to do anything other than train? Why does advise have to include having advisors go out with the Afghans? Yes, I understand they perform better but it's not working overall. I honestly do not mean the following to be glib, I wish our policy makers would take this to heart:

<blockquote>I am a fan of going against the stream of what most people do, and taking a step back. Is it really worth it? Is this the best way? Are we losing our lives to busy-ness and distraction?
What if we did less instead?</blockquote>

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/21/2016 - 7:23am

Why is it that the same punditocracy that can see what is wrong with the military plans to date doesn't put the same care and effort into re-thinking previous overly confident predictions that negotiating with the Taliban or including Pakistan in talks would drive down violence?

When is Vali Nasr or any of the others that confidently predicted if we (NATO/ISAF) set a time table and included Pakistan in talks violence would go down, going to revise and relook at anything?

Is there near anything like the agonizing self reflection from that crowd as we are seeing from the military?

Enough. If we are going to reassess and reflect, then it all has to be looked at seriously, it can't just be the military beating itself up over and over again. It's one thing to demolish myths, it's another to demolish only half a myth.

Ryan Evans of War on the Rocks linked to a New America Foundation paper (Bew, Ryans, et al):…

We set a time table and were assured that it would bring the Taliban to the table.

It didn't.

We were assured that Pakistan would change its behavior if it embraced by Afghanistan in negotiations.

It hasn't.

We were assured that Mullah Omar was the key (Some years ago it was suggested to the British government in testimony (AfPak testimony by an expert of some kind, have to bring that quote up when I can find it) that the Saudis might be a kind of partner that could bring all parties to the table in negotiations).

The same American punditocracy that assured us that the Saudis are supporting proxies in Syria to make sure their needs are met in a post Assad government never once bothered to see the same pattern in so-called AfPak. And why is that? Bigotry, laziness or something else?

Seriously, how many people confidently predicted that if we pursued negotiations it would all work out?

There are three lines:

1. Negotiations
2. Money
3. Military support

All three deserve intellectual consideration even as they play out in real time. This stuff is hard. I know. That's why it's not fair to single out the military without looking at why others can't seem to reflect as seriously.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 11:29am

So the President has changed his mind about Assad? I was wrong about that earlier in the thread, now it's more of a focus on ISIS? Well, why can't we pick a different end state in Afghanistan? Our election cycle and lack of a single enemy as during the Cold War means who knows what the next end state will be other than status quo? Seriously, why not a different end state? Are the American people really paying attention anyway other than when politicians whip up the rhetoric? Even then, easily distracted.

Broad brush, this is what is happening:

1. Negotiations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, US and the Taliban.
2. Continued monetary support to the government of Afghanistan.
3. Military support to the Afghan forces/military.

End state: the ability of the state to police itself and keep violence down (I'm not saying I think this is best, just what we seem to be doing).

A time line is the natural product of this. Had to be.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 10:33am

Are we going to be there forever? We are normalizing this SOF drip, drip, drip of casualties and deaths. It's obscene, isn't it?

I posted this on another thread and it belongs here. All the comments do, they pull together a lot of other things I've posted here (I think) but I'm not going to repost all of them:

<blockquote>No, the point of any hands would not be to look at how the India-Pakistan relationship affects Afghanistan (anyway, it's more complicated than that), it would be to understand more about the region--and yourselves. Why did you believe certain things institutionally? The Eastern Alliance could never be what the Northern Alliance was in the initial stages but there you have the CIA and its institutional buy-in toward the southern insurgency model.</blockquote>…

Seriously, I'd be surprised if future scholars don't follow that Crossette angle across the policy making and military class of the early 2000s period....why did that generation (the Crossettes and DC South Asia analysts of the boomer and silent generations) have such intractable Alden Pyle attitudes mixed with a kind of 50s-era British irritability on the subject?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 11:31am

I deleted my previous comment because it was silly. I know better.

Broad brush, this is what is happening:

1. Negotiations with Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, US and the Taliban.
2. Continued monetary support to the government of Afghanistan.
3. Military support to the Afghan forces/military.

End state: the ability of the state to police itself and keep violence down (I'm not saying I think this is best, just what we seem to be doing).

This too within a confused background of shifting national strategy and priorities: basically the different things Paul Yingling spoke about as drivers for our staying on in some capacity. MidEast, NATO, China and South Asia policy mingle and mix in Afghanistan, providing the bureaucratic drivers.

Ryan Evans of War on the Rocks has an interesting link on the history of negotiations with the Taliban that I should link here sometime.

Thank you for the links to the FPRI article and Infinity Journal. I really appreciate the recent links although I have not had time to read through some of them.

The shift is occurring slowly and painfully away from the MidEast, in fits and starts, but I think the IR people are right. It will happen even if slowly, even if we backtrack at times. Another reason for panic not just from the Saudis but others in the region and their supporters in NATO.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 8:27am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I remember when I first ran across that Hy Rothstein stuff what struck me was that it seemed so much more sensible in terms of motivations of key players in the regions and more realistic on what might be possible from regional partners. Vali Nasr and the State Department could have taken a look at the comments on Kashmir and working within Afghanistan itself and fooling less with "AfPak". That is what is most interesting to me, far beyond unconventional versus conventional. Once the framework is more realistic, different options present themselves.

The Sean Naylor article freaked me out, all that anonymous Fort Bragg bragging about "taking things down from the inside." It just freaks me out because it's a strange thing to think after all these years and all the problems that attitude caused in the past, even if your focus is unconventional warfare. Strange to be so confident about it but I suppose you have to be or, well, it would be dangerous to be in that world and lack confidence. I guess. I don't know. It comes across strange to an outside like me, that's all.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 8:10am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I know I made a comment on this before and it's just for fun. I over read things a lot. We Americans love the idea of ourselves as exceptional and with an aggressive "macho" military and it seems to me that the elites in the UK love the idea of being skilled at intelligence and working with the Americans:

<blockquote>Mrs Thatcher respected intelligence and had a keen appetite for it. She was aware from personal experience that we lived in a dangerous world… She was aware that Britain had a powerful intelligence machine, was good at the game, and enjoyed in consequence valuable influence in Washington. That mattered… The value and prestige of the intelligence services gained in consequence. How was policy affected? The policy-makers were well informed and often forearmed. British ministers had consistently better briefs than foreign colleagues. The Prime Minister was given the underpinning for a robust and expert response to the multifarious threats to the British interests…</blockquote>…

The Joshi paper I linked earlier talks a bit about these sorts of attitudes in a more contemporary way, as in pressures on the British into doing more, in order to remain relevant and maintain a role on the "world stage", like that.

I am interested in their political system so I tend to highlight their efforts which I know comes off as conspiratorial. I don't mean it to do that.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 7:56am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

For discussion (I don't know and couldn't possibly know):

<blockquote>The Pashtun are the ethnic majority in Afghanistan. So being able to gain an ally in the Pashtun tribal belt was just critical to the whole war. So we knew pretty fast that Hamid Karzai was going to be a critical player to this campaign.</blockquote>


<blockquote>The big focus for us was to prepare for unconventional warfare, to execute a guerrilla war. ... We were preparing to execute a guerrilla war that could take a year or more. ...</blockquote>…

But there was no patience for something that might take that long in that environment and I personally think the emotional dynamics of Americans (especially prior to 2011) in AfPak might prove complicated, especially given the importance of intelligence. Just a different world glimpsed, one without Iraq, one with a different emotional zeitgeist in the States, and one that might require a re think of the 80s support to Afghan guerrillas which surely contribute to being outmaneuvered, all that Mike "technoguerilla" Vickers Stingers pride and Robert "all my brilliant friends in foreign intelligence agencies" Grenier.

Complicated business and I know I get a lot of things wrong.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 7:49am

Oh, the idea of an unconventional warfare command has been around for some time?…

<blockquote>An idea that wouldn’t die may be getting a new lease on life. Despite years of the idea being shot down at the highest levels, there are again growing calls from inside and outside the military for the establishment of an “unconventional warfare command” that would oversee those special operations forces whose primary mission is not killing and capturing the enemy.</blockquote>

From a Sean Naylor article.

The last paragraph has a quote from someone who is pretty self-confident (or maybe it's a little in-joke?)

<blockquote>If the military’s guerrilla warfare experts were let loose inside JSOC, it might never be the same. “We’d get over there and do what SF guys do — get a [guerrilla] base,” he said. “If you could get us over there, we could take it down from the inside.”</blockquote>

I'm still confused on the 102 days versus 88 days northern southern thing. I understand this:

<blockquote>In his examination of Operation Enduring Freedom, Hy Rothstein maintains that although the operation in Afghanistan appeared to have been a masterpiece of military creativity, the United States executed its impressive display of power in a totally conventional manner—despite repeated public statements by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that terrorists must be fought with unconventional capabilities. Arguing that the initial phase of the war was appropriately conventional given the conventional disposition of the enemy, the author suggests that once the Taliban fell the war became increasingly unconventional, yet the U.S. response became more conventional.</blockquote>…

But were aspects unconventional, especially in the south, especially in the way in which things might have been envisioned by the CIA and others early on but events overtook their assumptions?

I still think it's an interesting question about the CIA, Grenier's sense of self-confidence, and the way in which intelligence relationships might have affected how to think about the southern campaign and the Pashtuns as key. It's not conspiratorial to wonder about how ideas gravitate between players in complicated systems.

I'm still confused on the doctrine writing.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 10:32am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

If we say the northern campaign worked and the southern campaign did too, but has proved intellectually problematic long term, then how does that affect the arguments that must be taking place with SOF and its various sub 'tribes'? A battle on a DC institutional level, such as that seen with cointras and coindinistas?

(But the northern campaign has proved problematic long term so that regime change via the CTC northern campaign was coupled for some time with a kind of southern campaign reconciliation strategy and then over time it became more about targeting. The paper I mentioned on SOF doctrine then is important in understanding how to synthesize various doctrinal options?)

There is no pulling apart the global, regional and local. The analysis has to take place at all three levels? A discussion point....

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 10:24am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

In Iraq, we are attempting one-half containment of ISIS and one-half regime change in Syria so that we are recreating the push pull effects of our early Afghan campaign, meaning, we sit in place because we fuel both sides.

In a containment scenario, both raiding and unconventional warfare can be used but it would require a focus on ISIS while preserving, however distasteful, a status quo in terms of Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. The problem is, the states themselves are involved in revolutionary activities, albeit sometimes as blowback? A point of discussion, at any rate. A containment box for ISIS may or may not be possible within which SOF doctrines can be applied but we are not even in that ball park.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 10:13am

This is an old doctrinal conversation, isn't it?



Robert E. Kelley Major, U.S. Army

A paper submitted to the Faculty of the Naval War College in partial satisfaction of the requirements of the Department of Joint Maritime Operations."

From the wiki (ha!) on unconventional warfare, reference 2 (I think it's 2):

"I chose this topic in order to attempt a reconciliation of the following two statements:

<em>"Unconventional warfare is not a viable mission for Special Forces. The only reason you train for [unconventional warfare], is because it is the best vehicle for maintaining your Special Forces skill set. "</em>

Peter J. Schoomaker, Commander in Chief, United States Special Operations Command during a conversation with the author at Camp Doha, Kuwait in February of 1998.

<em>"Dissident elements are the key to UW mission potential in any region. As long as there are dissidents, there will be UW potential to support U.S. national interest. "</em>

Army Special Operations Forces Vision XXI, October 1997."

How to reflect on that now, with all that has happened? But whether it is raiding or unconventional warfare, we seem interested in regime change at times, and preservation of the status quo at others. And dissident elements is a difficult concept and even more difficult in terms of intelligence. How to resolve this?

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 10:04am

102 days versus 88 days (northern CTC strategy versus southern unconventional warfare CIA plus strategy):
From Robert Grenier's 88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary:

<blockquote>Before 9-11, we had hoped for a Presidential Finding that would permit us to encourage, fund, and support a Pashtun insurgency against the Taliban; the finding never materialized. Now, within days of the attack in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, we had all the authorities we could possibly want or even imagine; and an administration that previously would not be <strong>railroaded</strong> into fomenting armed action on the part of anti-Taliban Afghans was pressing us breathlessly to do just that, as quickly as possible.</blockquote>

So, the south and Pashtuns became one main focus of the Afghan campaign because of the prior interest the CIA (and thus Special Forces?) had in unconventional warfare and arming insurgents as one way to remove the Taliban and get at Al Qaeda.

'Nation building' became the focus of old State Department and other Afghan hands (Bonn conference) because of their regrets at leaving Afghanistan in the 80s (their perception). Barry Posen makes a comment about this in a talk but I can't remember the exact talk on YouTube where he mentioned this.

Our other NATO partners brought both European and British (Northern Ireland/EU) peace-keeping and reconciliation sensibilities, a grafting of their experience onto the Afghan experience.

So far, nothing new here. But the particular way in which the southern campaign has been discussed and the stressing of the Pashtuns as the key is interesting. Previously I had assumed Saudi or other propaganda on behalf of this line of reasoning but it was long a part of our own DC consensus thinking via institutional buy in?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 8:15am

Didn't General McMaster say that you should pick one campaign and study it over and over in depth in order to develop a theory of war?

I steal mine from Rakesh Ankit's work on the internationalization (but he also writes on local factors) of Kashmir:

Three levels of analysis exist for proxy wars or insurgencies:

1. The local,
2. The regional.
3. Global power politics.

What to do with the claims made by Robert Grenier on the southern campaign in Afghanistan 2001?

<blockquote>Grenier calls the eight-page cable that he produced “the best three hours of work I ever did”. We know from Bob Woodward’s Bush at War that the president and the military top brass adapted their plans in line with the memo, so Grenier’s self-congratulation is no idle boast. His cable warned the Americans not to be too closely identified with or rely on the Tajik-led Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban near Kabul. This risked encouraging the Pakhtuns, Afghanistan’s majority ethnicity, in the southern and eastern provinces to coalesce behind the Taliban leadership against foreign invaders. It would be better to find and arm dissident Pakhtuns, if possible within the Taliban. The US should play on Pakhtun suspicions of the Arab jihadis, keep its footprint small and eschew permanent bases.</blockquote>

What does he mean by wanting a Presidential Finding to instigate a Pashtun insurgency in Afghanistan prior to 9-11? It's somewhere in his book?

That is in the regional and global category.

The local: Didn't Antonio Giustozzi write a paper on the spreading insurgency in the North about 2010 or so that said the Taliban insurgency wasn't a Pashtun insurgency but one aimed at removing the government (revolutionary?) so that they made plans to infiltrate the North through installing clerics in mosques, taking advantage of local politics and poor decisions made by the Afghan government?

So negotiating with the Taliban became such a convoluted process that the many attempts revealed the confused of the three levels of disorder; global, regional and local? Who to negotiate with, how, and where? The lack of clarity in negotiations is the same as the lack of clarity in military goals?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/31/2015 - 12:32am

From an article in Asian Survey by Shashank Joshi ("Assessing Britain's role in Afghanistan", Asian Survey, Vol 55, Number 2, pp. 420-445)

"As Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn explain:

There was no significant Pashtun resistance in the south and east of the country. In the absence of any information, the CIA turned to [MI6] for support. MI6 mobilized a number of Pashtun leaders, supplying them with large amounts of cash and weapons in order to persuade them to move into Afghanistan. Much of the group was hastily put together out of old 1980s and 1990s mujahideen or militia commanders."

Who did MI6 turn to? You introduce a bunch of fighters into the mix, and, lo and behold, the fighting continues. Perhaps the unconventional warfare doctrine needs a little tweaking.

It's strange, isn't it, that non-interventionists and cointra factions and progressives see this pattern in Syria (the NATO countries, Saudi Arabia and Gulfies looking to make sure their proxies are in government) but not in Afghanistan. There is it nothing but drones and a localized insurgency.

First, you teach them all kinds of bomb making and insurgency techniques in the 80s, and then you introduce the same kind of people into Afghanistan, all because early 2000 era DC politicos can't stand the thought of the Northern Alliance being allied with Iran, Russia, India, etc.

Unconventional warfare doctrine really might need a rethink....

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 11/10/2015 - 9:06am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

From what I can tell as a non-scholar, British, Canadian and especially Australian scholars and policy writers are good at picking apart the intellectual threads on this.

The British left does get turned around sometimes because it forgets it's early Labour sort of 50s SA history, it seems to me, but I might be getting that wrong.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 11/10/2015 - 9:05am

From Real Clear World or Real Clear Defense, by Xenia Wickett (?) out of Chatham House:

<blockquote>The United States needs to turn to the Pakistani government (perhaps even directly to the individual ministries) and get from them a list of what they need most to directly improve the lot of the Pakistan people. This will likely involve energy, infrastructure, and education to start. This list should then provide the starting point for U.S. engagement with Pakistan. China has begun to invest in this space already -- the United States is lagging sorely behind in soft power terms.</blockquote>

From Churchill onward (and there is the indigenous American counterpart going back to the likes of Madeleine Albright's father) this language of what the Americans should do toward Pakistan is a constant from certain British factions.

The language is the same as Paul Yingling's in this article and I think the genesis of it (complicated, more complicated than the Indian narrative which fooled me for a long time) is interesting. Also, a real blind spot to Americans right and left, largely because of a lack of interest.

The same language can be found in Military Review articles and I've pointed that out too. Committee for a Free Afghanistan, all of it. Raymond Moore and Edgar O'Ballance were the two, I believe. Also, you find this especially during the 80s and 90s from various DC camps.

For DC factions, remember, keeping a focus on AfPak and China means that Iran and Russia are marginalized which is the real reason some support that focus. The Indians think is about them but they are wrong.

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 11/09/2015 - 10:00am

Strategy Bridge, "In Command and Out of Control"

<blockquote>General McChrystal had known Sir Graeme since they were Field Grade Special Operations officers in the First Gulf War and had just worked with him a couple years earlier where Sir Graeme was charged by General Petraeus to deal with the Sunni leaders in Anbar Province, Iraq and build the foundation for the Sunni Awakening and set the conditions for the surge. In this endeavor he put his years of expertise in Special Operations and his insights about how “small wars” end to good use. General Lamb, as the Deputy MNF Commander, was the catalyst behind General Casey and later Petraeus moving the campaign towards a counter-insurgency model.</blockquote>

I never did understand this sort of thing.

The talk of tribes is interesting, it's the way in which the Saudis talk, you know? I mean like the policy talk given in 2014 at the Conservative Middle East Council or whatever. Who was it again, which Saudi Prince?

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 11/08/2015 - 10:32am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Countries that refuse to help the Washington Consensus in some thing become demonized. If you are viewed as helping in some way, any other betrayal can occur and no one in the Consensus cares. Part of American tuning out is a realization that this is a group who has nothing to offer ordinary Americans that can better their lives. They spread terrible disorder abroad too, obviously.

This is how those interested in the Kashmir cause and oppression of local populations became coopted by propaganda: PakMil, Saudi, Iranian, British, NATO, DC consensus, etc.

Same as with the Taliban narrative; governance matters but governance is hard when every outsider and his mother is meddling in your internal affairs. Think how many NATO nations were involved and how each one prioritized a different narrative of the region.

American Progressives: Ukraine and Syria; internationalized conflicts; Afghanistan and Kashmir, localized conflicts.
American Conservatives: All conflicts internationalized, just by our enemies, we don't contribute.
DC Consensus: insecure, we need to be involved. Screw the American people themselves. Me Me Me.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 11/08/2015 - 10:19am

To be or to Do. Does it matter if you are read, or does it matter that learning occurs? Depends.

Read it and weep:

<blockquote>By the time I left, the possibility of India playing a useful political role in the sub-continent which might have <strong>assisted the U.S. in achieving its global goals</strong> was relegated to the dustbin.</blockquote>…

Howard B. Schaffer (Howard and Teresita C. Schaeffer, old South Asia Hands whose book on negotiating with the Pakistanis is on military reading lists) talking about meeting various people in Kashmir, the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war, etc. The lack of serious self-reflection is striking).

Past (?) US interest in Kashmiri "neutrality" and independence go way back, have <em>indigenous</em> intellectual American roots (the Indians seem to forget this and focus on British lobbying and propaganda on behalf of British populations and relationships with the Saudis and Gulf nations. The Indians did this to themselves, first by poor governance, and second by an inability to counter propaganda by educating others).

American progressives viewed and view Kashmir through the lens of Indian oppression (which is real, as Pakistani oppression is real) and through the idea of a monolithic Muslim world that must be understood as a bloc. American conservatives too. Both have trouble with complicated narrative. Schaffer's writing on Kashmir is an awful lot like early Anglo-American Cold War writing on Pakistan, how an independent state could help advance foreign policy goals.

There is more to the world that Arundhati Roy as a brown avatar for serious Western progressive whites who somehow need an emotional sherpa to guide them, rather than real study.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 11/05/2015 - 10:53am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Whether George Mason Peace studies feminism or Human Events anti-feminism, both will break your heart on the subject of South Asia. It's one unexamined American assumption versus another.

The forgotten part of the forgotten WWII CBI theater is interesting in this regard, and the recorded stories and histories quite illuminating, in that supposed logistics backwater that sent so many men to fight and saw so many others starve....The old WWII pamphlets given to soldiers for that theater are more practical and understanding of political realities of the time than many a contemporary piece on contemporary South Asia, whichever think tank or university.

Is the new American WWII museum any better on the subject of the forgotten theater, now not so forgotten among historians and academics. "Empire in WWII is a growth industry," says a friend of mine but I prefer to think of it as giving voice to the forgotten.

Yasmin Khan is the real deal, isn't she?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 11/05/2015 - 10:40am

Draft memo, never sent.

<em>Daniel Patrick Moynihan A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary</em>

by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Steven R Weisman

"<strong>Sept 11, 1974</strong>

1. In the main I have decided to give up writing cables and to write a book instead. However, the decision to rearm Pakistan is so fateful as to require some notice, however perfunctory.

2. A number of things are to be said about this decision of which the first and most obvious is that it is unnecessary. It is no doubt this quality which has made it seem so compelling, but even so, historians will generally record it as among the non rational of the American government in this era and will speculate with wild inaccuracy as to just what dementia led to it. The answer of course is self evident. Pakistan is the last Asian country willing to kiss our ass in public...."

Emphasis mine.

Recently, one of the old DC South Asia analysts, heavily invested in the narratives of the State Department and especially the Cold War State Department, wrote an article in Huffington Post about how he met with the opposition in Kashmir, expressing frustration after all these years that the Indians didn't help the Americans achieve their goals.

Contemporary progressives are unhappy with this sort of thing in the context of Ukraine (meeting with opposition within another sovereign country and encouraging it) but tend to discard this bit of history when examining the messy history of American policy in South Asia. If classic progressive South Asia is Gandhi and anti-imperialism, contemporary progressive South Asia is drones, Malala the projected idea rather than the real person, and negotiations with the Taliban that have proven as illusory as a solution via expeditionary COIN.

Is it outsiders that can necessarily force reconciliation?

Shame diplomatic history is unfashionable (per an article at War on the Rocks).

Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 10/19/2015 - 8:46am

I can't believe I wrote further down in the thread that violence would go down once there was an Iran deal and China put pressure on Pakistan. I must have lost my mind.

That's what I get for reading Barnett Rubin or Foreign Policy magazine. The stuff that's panned out has been closer to that paper in Small Wars and Insurgencies by Shivan Mahendrarajah or what that guy wrote in the LRB that I quoted further down in the thread. Sad.

We are going to be there forever, aren't we? Just to be there, because everyone in DC is afraid to leave. Or just afraid of losing prominence, as if the prominence of official Washington is the same as the health of the nation.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once wrote that our elites were stuck with Pakistan because it was the last country in Asia that allowed us to play games internally or "kissed our ass" in public. Emotionally, DC just can't give up a client.

He wrote that in a cable or memo from Dehli in the 70s. The date of that memo? Sept. 11. (1974 or so).

I'll post it when I get a chance.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 10:25am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

As long as we are talking NDU, a tangent: what happened to the Robin Raphel story? What was that about? Wasn't she a bigwig at NDU in the early 2000s? No conspiracy theories here, it's just interesting how small and self-referential many policy communities are within DC.

I mean, when de Borchgrave (who certainly wrote many hard stories on Pakistan and its military) interviewed Marin Strmecki for the Washington Times article, he never mentioned any grants. The article was post grant?

But this is standard for DC it seems. It's just a web of connections and not everything is suspect, it just creates a fishbowl atmosphere where everyone sort of thinks only one or two or three things, so even if there are big disagreements they occur within a rigid framework.

Well, I have given away most of the books on these topics, have stopped commenting except here on these subjects and got rid of all my notes on this subject, such as they are. Well, I have about 50 odd links I've collected over the years that I have somewhere but once those are deleted, no mas. Of the old stuff.

Eh, some future policy wonk or historian or scholar will look all this stuff up. It's tantalizing, some of it. But for that future person, not me.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 7:38am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Without links, then:

War on the Rocks has a book review by Thomas Lynch, on the "eternal legacies" of Pakistan and India.

I mentioned in the comments that AfPak is a bit like the India Pakistan hyphenation so that DC understanding of the region is always subordinate to one particular narrative, the key idea being "attention must be paid!"

A bit lazy in terms of the larger American commentary on the region but laziness and incuriosity are the hallmarks of a certain kind of American commentary on the region. Of many regions, sadly. All countries do it but not all countries make claims of exceptionalism and global leadership. As more do, given this moment, we will see how it felt for others to be on the other end of this sort of thing.

At any rate, the "eternal" in that article title is irritating.

Now that American attention is thoroughly diverted and uninterested, the old narratives rise....

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 7:28am

Did I step on toes with my earilier comments on Smith Richardson further down in the thread? I am only following one half-thought after the other in a kind of desultory way. I have no idea about anything.

This is interesting. A bit before the "Geopolitical Psychiatry" article in the Washington Times that I linked earlier? There is a strange sort of caution or rebuke(?) in the last sentence of that article:

<blockquote>GRANT YEAR: 2008

Arnaud de Borchgrave will assemble a working group composed of experts on Pakistan, South Asia, and international security to focus on how best to deal with the threats emanating from the northwestern region of Pakistan. The project’s findings will appear in a report and a series of briefings.</blockquote>

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 07/12/2015 - 11:28am

I hope the attempted talks with the Taliban go somewhere. A lot of positive press. We shall see. For the sake of the Afghan people, I hope it works.

<blockquote>It's questionable that Sharif would be able to deliver on #5; i.e., with a nod from Pakistan's military. If he could pull it off this would be news indeed. We'll have to see because Sharif's agreements with Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani have not panned out up to this point.

However, in this instance Pakistan's military has Beijing breathing down its neck. So there is some room for hope.</blockquote> <em>Early takeaways from Ufa BRICS/SCO Summit: Modi and Sharif make nice</em>, Pundita blog,

If there is an Iran deal, the regional framework changes and many more parties will want a decrease in violence in the region, especially in anticipation of various business deals.

In terms of some kind of understanding between the Afghan and Pakistan intelligence agencies, this might be useful to a lot of other parties too? To have that sort of relationship?

Well, I hope it works. More complicated narrative and narrative setting than simply a localized insurgency as the only driver to regional violence. I suppose it will be like the surge, if there is a decrease in violence everyone will have their favored theory.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 9:15am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Do you suppose there is a cohort within the British security establishment that likes these sorts of things? Given the feelings of insecurity about Britain's role on the world stage? Like, it makes them feel like they have leverage and are in on the game and have global reach? It's kinda weird, isn't it?

Oh, sorry, back to the main post. Pakistan always seems more durable than critics make it out to be. They get lots of outside support to keep that so, so nothing changes.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 9:07am

Poor things, the British. Sometimes I think I'm too hard on them, and other times I think not hard enough. I'm probably just projecting my unhappiness with DC onto the British foreign policy establishment.

It must be tough to balance out various things, and I mean that sincerely, so many competing domestic and foreign policy agendas, just like the US. And it would be viewed as unfair or bigoted to change the nature of immigration, I suppose, although it sounds sensible to me. Wage pressures, etc. That is never a popular thing for an immigrant to say, it's viewed as pulling up the ladder after you get inside the boat. (Coconut! Brown on the outside, white on the inside!"):

<blockquote>The UK is pressing Pakistan to release two men - Mohsin Ali Syed and Mohammed Kashif Khan Kamran - who they suspect of carrying out the murder and who are currently thought to be in ISI custody in Pakistan.

Despite all the warm words expressed by the Pakistani delegation and its British hosts it is unlikely that either government will move to help the other.

While the British authorities can't see what they could charge the Baloch separatists with, the Pakistanis are reluctant to give up the MQM suspects. For as long as they remain in ISI custody, they provide the army with a valuable lever over the MQM's parliamentary bloc.</blockquote>

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 10:25am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

"Battle of Sources," is interesting language too. Even if unintended, it might create the impression of equivalency and it focuses attention on this issue outside of other issues, for instance, claims about NDS unhappiness and worry over being pressured to cooperate with ISI in ways that the NDS might interpret as weakening their organization. Claims about who is advising who to create this new intelligence connection,etc.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 10:11am

One of these days, I should transfer all of my comments to the Council, "Western South Asian narratives," or something like that.

On narratives versus sources: Owen Bennett Jones has caused quite a stir in certain circles by reporting on Indian support to the MQM. It's turned into a "battle of sources," according to some.

But as I've said before, over the years I've found it more interesting to look at narratives and how certain narratives take hold and what that might mean.

As a comparison to Bennett Jones article(s) on MQM and its relationships to outsiders:

From Chatham House (Asia Programme)

<strong>Pakistan's foreign policy under Musharraf: between a rock and a hard place</strong>

<em>Owen Bennett Jones, BBC World Series, and Farzana Shaikh, University of Cambridge and Chatham House</em>

<blockquote><strong>There have been consistent rumors that the ISI is still in contact with some elements of the Taliban.</strong> Pakistan is acutely aware that, after the collapse of Soviet power in Afghanistan in 1988, the Americans rapidly lost interest in South Asia. Islamabad fears a repeat performance and the consequent resurgence of warlordism in Afghanistan. It calculates that even if the Taliban appears to be a spent force at the moment, in the future and perhaps in some other guise it may possibly be able to mount a challenge to the warlords and given Pakistan the chance of once again having a friendly government in place in Afghanistan.</blockquote>…

Compare this hesitant language of "some elements" to the language on MQM.

The paragraph above seems to be fairly typical of certain British establishment writing on the subject:

1. Pakistan as nothing more than its fears and abandonment issues (which sometimes have been used to create a sense of obligation in donors, there is a literature on this).

2. The British as uniquely able (some elements, anyway) to understand Pakistan and its needs and wants.

3. The passivity of Pakistan in the process, as a helpless actor unable to control its own behavior. The American left (some elements, anyway) in particular is fond of this argument. That this can be interpreted as a form of bigotry doesn't seem to track, hence, the differing attitudes toward the Seymour Hersh article.

4. Warlords as the key problem in Afghanistan, and anyone that might think differently than some in the Pakistan establishment are automatically "warlords" or anti-Pakistan, etc.

I've mentioned older Cold War era Military Review articles before by both American and British authors and the language is quite similar in many respects.

The narratives that some take to be true, then, place a kind of equivalency between India and Pakistan, just as we are seeing today with Saudi Arabia and Iran, it's all same-same, both support unconventional warfare and terrorism, Pakistan has no choice but to respond in kind, etc.

The BBC is quite interesting in its reporting on South Asia, but this is baked into the cake of the BBC as a source of British "soft power" while being a news organization that must balance its independence against its existence as a state funded organ. I think some in the British establishment (this is a general comment and not directed at Bennet Jones) fear American thinking on the region as being too harsh and would like to modify or influence some of it given their idea as being able to understand certain thinking better than the Americans, etc. That this itself has contributed to violence in the region doesn't seem to factor in some official writing.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 10:18am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

How the average American military person was supposed to understand how to read "beyond" certain articles like this is beyond me, and goes back to the complaints on South Asian analysis by the State Department, etc. Although much of the analysis was really a attempt to put forward favored arguments for a variety of reasons.

I'm not saying I'm correct but I think people should be able to take a paragraph like that and sort of "diagram" it from different points of view, and then, look to see what evidence exists to support different narratives. Is it all same-same, or not?

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 06/28/2015 - 11:11pm

Anyone following this story and the claims of the British proposing a closer relationship between the NDS and Pakistani intelligence services?

<blockquote>“This was an initiative proposed by the British but the NDS chief refused to sign it despite enormous pressure,” Moradian said. “It has not only heavily damaged morale within NDS but further damaged the credibility of Ghani and the national unity government.”</blockquote>

<em>Afghan backlash over security deal with Pakistan</em>, the Guardian newspaper

The Selous Scouts (Rhodesia!) people could crush on in the Council but Russell K. Haight as a "raider" and early American diplomacy between India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others, nobody was interested in?

The American lashkar of 1948 claimed the training and logistical help given the raiders by the Pakistani Army was key. Logistics, C-B-I, forgetting American history in the region. And if we are talking Pakistani Army at that early juncture than we are in a very strange period in terms of relationships to Americans, the British, and the Australians, especially in training of intelligence services.

The forgetting of C-B-I within the American military scene....

Didn't War on the Rocks have a post about the unfashionableness of diplomatic history? Really? Why? Such a shame in this instance.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 12:09pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

The other thing that puzzles me is why when an American who is not of South Asian heritage writes about this subject, people pay attention,but many have written on Dr. Fair's subjects and yet have been ignored for years.

Unless they are connected liberal Pakistani elite, they are then honorary "whites" in DC on the subject. That is why DC understandings are weighted toward the traumas of elite Pakistanis who write only in a narrow way and miss a lot. Their advice hasn't worked. Americans in DC seem to have a pecking order as to who they listen to and I don't think it's just that one group is charming while another is difficult. It also has to do with lack of interest and poor education.


And as for the American military, had it collected the writings of its attaches and officers from 1947 onward on the subject, all of this would have become clear. What I mean is that you can see how military officers wrote and thought about Pakistan and Afghanistan and India, how accurate or inaccurate they were, compare to on the ground experiences.

And isn't it embarrassing that the Indian government can't develop its own intellectual cadres to educate others on this subject and in a juvenile way use Dr. Fair's book as sending a message? This is not against Dr. Fair, she can't help how her work is always displayed.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 11:53am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Remember, on journalism, the MoD was it? leaked the sun-in-the sky report but somehow the BBC can find an authoritative source on support to MQM. Narratives and their development, young people. Don't waste time on this source, that source, because you can't know from a distance.

Cold War era students of foreign policy once knew how to do this, and, apparently, as I am discovering, there is quite a nice little academic literature on this subject. Hidden quietly away, undiscovered by think tank players, because I suppose it is embarrassing to power players, most of whom couldn't care less about anything but power.

Everyone does this, I feel compelled to say, although why I feel the need to be fair is strange, as this is not a world of fairness.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 11:47am

I tried to leave a comment at War on the Rocks on Dr. Fair's latest piece but I don't see it. Perhaps comments are being individually approved given the subject (Americans in the State Department that are easily turned around in South Asia, specifically, as they interact with Pakistani security elites).

A couple things:

1. Journalists are fair game and younger journalists lack the experience that Cold War era journalists had on this subject. The older journalists remember the propaganda wars played by the West on behalf of Cold War allies and so are less likely to be fooled by certain techniques from foreign security elites, of a variety of countries, including NATO countries to include allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

2. American anti-war activists have similarly forgotten what they once knew and inadvertently have passed on propaganda from security elites.

3. Not everyone is so naive. Plenty of Americans in positions of influence in DC know what Saudi, Pakistani , etc., security elites are doing and don't care because they have other agendas, or have scared themselves that they can do nothing other than pay what is essentially protection money.

4. And, finally, Margaret Thatcher once said that Americans particularly like British intelligence briefings, that they found them useful in areas that were deemed areas of traditional British expertise. It's a tough world and we Americans certainly give as good as we get but this is worth keeping in mind as one examines the factional nature of British politics as well and how it interacts with British journalism and the Washington Consensus.

But this topic is difficult and requires a a certain kind of deep read, according to the academic sources on the subject I have been reading.

Americans once knew everything Dr. Fair talks about in her latest article on the naive nature of American officials in Pakistan. One need only look at the State Department's own website, its archives, and declassified documents to see in the 50s and 60s, many Americans were quite savvy.

This has been forgotten along with some finer points of the difficulties of containment during the Cold War. Surging troops and throwing weapons is easy for DC decision makers that never pay a price for anything. Hard knowledge and making hard choices? Now that's toughness.

To my great sadness, many military seem to buy the rhetoric, perhaps because of their emotional attachment to th idea that the military is the key American institution in everything. So, they think they are being tough but it is only the illusion of it.

Dr. Fair is doing great work but it is not a novel concept in her latest book. Well, I've always thought academic fascination with novelty is overrated. The work is best when it is more than one person working the same theme. Novelty in academia isn't everything so I'd team her work with others writing on the same subject (even those she seems to dislike :) ).

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 2:55pm

I had mentioned the Committee for a Free Afghanistan earlier on in the thread and I forgot to mention that Barnett Rubin thanks the committee in the acknowledgments to the following:…

I bring it up because I was reading an article in the Journal of American History (teaching the JAH website) that I had run across before, Damming Afghanistan: Modernization in a Buffer State. The article fits in well with discussions of COIN and modernization but as I was reading I thought of all the other ways we could look at that period of American-Afghan interaction.

One thing that strikes me is that the world of American 1950's policy seems to parallel Dr. Rubin, as if official Washington and associated scholars have never really moved on from that key period. Modernization, the monarchy, Pashtunistan. There was an article in Small Wars and Insurgencies that talked about this. I linked it previously but I can't recall at the moment which thread.

The article also mentions that Dulles had to persuade the Pakistanis against a plan not to remove the Afghan government. I'll link the article later but it's interesting that the article has mostly been discussed during the cointra/condinista debates through the lens of modernization, but the propaganda aspect of the Pashtun issue or strategic depth seemed to interest people much less.

It is the standard blank spot of American right and left and relates to what Dr. C. Christine Fair terms the "false equivalency" argument. In other words, it is one thing to talk about Pakistan reactions to Indian in Afghanistan, it is another thing to create a complete equivalency between methods, shall we say, of their respective involvement or its history.

I suspect this has to do with the fact that the American right prioritizes Israel, Iran and Russia while the left looks at India and Pakistan through its own foreign policy priorities of denuclearization/etc., and therefore has no room for other narratives.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 06/16/2015 - 1:04pm

What touched such a nerve here? Interesting.

Lots of articles on the released CIA Saudi report. That too is interesting.

On language and what it reveals:

In this interview, Steve Coll says that the Taliban are really a proxy of Pakistan, so that the US proxy is fighting an allie's proxy.

What is interesting to me is what this reveals about the Washington Consensus, its habits and its attitudes.

1. Allies are always to be protected.
2. There are forever enemies to match the forever allies.
3. It is okay to fund proxies against our own interests, to fund all sides of a conflict.
4. We don't need to tell the truth to the American public in our official statements even if everyone knows what is going on. (Yes, diplomacy requires dissembling. I understand).
5. The pain caused by some proxies is okay, while in other instances it is a great evil. Even as we use the grand language of human rights.

And so on, with pretty much every conflict, even when we are talking about Ukraine and the nuclear weapons that the US and Russia have.

It's quite fascinating, how people within the Borg become desensitized. I am actually incredibly worried at the way we have become desensitized in our use of language toward Russia and nuclear weapons.

There are actually think tank pieces about how we are going to fight a war with Russia. A war with Russia. And some of those people have given talks to the Army War College, those networks and think tanks. Insanity.

Is it negligence if you are in the Borg and you don't point this out?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:59am

You will not believe me, but the best counterunconventional "warfare" is not warfare at all, but honesty. Sunshine as a disinfectant.

This is why I am always sort of joking--but not joking!--that I have to wait for a younger generation to mature within the Borg (lovely term from Pat Lang who uses it about the DC Consensus, I like the term too), the younger American military generation that was at the receiving end of the game, when previously, it was innocent people in the regions of West and South Asia.

Keep going. Keep studying.

PS: I know there were others at the receiving end in Afghanistan. I care about you too. I'm not too thrilled with some of your governments, though. Damn, they did it to you as well.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:45am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I posted the following under another thread. At this point, it's all just for me because, well, all the old stuff is back, if it ever went away:

"<em>We became the ally to Northern Alliance and then wound up doing the lion's share of the work...some alliance.</em>

"Given that we are defacto Taliban allies given our relationships with Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, the UK, our own DC influence agents (arms selling, bureaucratic budgets, etc.), we kind of made the heavy lifting that much harder for ourselves. Some alliance indeed (cough**NATO**cough).

Localized insurgencies! The importance of the Pashtuns! Non-State Actors!

Hey, don't pay attention to proxy support over here, pay attention to localized insurgencies over there: Pashtuns, Iran, Russia, Non-State actors....look over there...."

An intellectual history of the American Army in South Asia would have made it clear how the shaping game worked in terms of public opinion, this is the importance of studying the issues around Kashmir from an American point of view.

You have to go to American sources because others have different ideas about how the United States should use its power in the region....

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:37am

Seymour Hersh or the NDU? Work with allies is important. Hugely important. What would we do without allies?

Hey, who says I'm talking about Pakistan? Saudi Arabia and NATO countries are supposed to be allies too.

<blockquote>14) The arrest of ((Abu al-Faraj)) due to his lack of precaution when his associate was late and didn’t come, with this being the first time that he sent someone as his deputy. [NOTE: Refers to arrest of Abu al-Faraj al-Libi by ISI in Pakistan in early 2002 who then escaped only to be arrested again by ISI in 2005 and sent to GTMO]</blockquote>

WHAT BIN LADEN TAUGHT US ABOUT JIHAD IN PAKISTAN, War on the Rocks (if I link it, the comment disappears).

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 05/30/2015 - 4:21pm

On comparing the language in this Yingling article to other sources, David C. Isby (an Afghan expert who has been quoted in The American Conservative and at War on the Rocks) has a CSPAN talk about Zia from the late 80s. What is interesting are the comments by callers at the end. David Isby's comments are fairly typical for the time, very much about the strategic importance of Pakistan in the Cold War and typical of the Committee for a Free Afghanistan. Fairly straightforward commentary for the time, very much in keeping with official Washington.

What is more interesting to me is how the Pakistanis and Indian callers talked about the situation, and how much more accurate their framing turned out to be. There is a young voice (college student?) that seems skeptical too, says that basically he is skeptical that aid can turn a military/authoritarian government into a democracy. The other (older voices, southern, military?) callers are lost in the Cold War jargon of the time and have almost nothing to say but about countering Russia.

As a historical document, the callers at the end of the talk are a fascinating listen.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 05/30/2015 - 4:07pm

Oh, I somehow messed up the Nixon Memo comment I wrote about Marin Strmecki and how the Nixon Memo sounds weirdly like the AfPak GeoPolitical Psychiatry stuff of Strmecki.

I find it interesting to look at all the former Nixon aides involved in all of this, and to trace their ideas to some aspect of Nixon-dom, so to speak. Oh well, I'll have to rewrite that comment some time.

But you can read it yourself, parts of it, on Google books. Lots of the current Ukraine policy sounds so much like Strobe Talbott, Nixon Memo stuff. It's all the same, nation building mixed in with domestic politics and ideas of leadership via NATO. It's bizarre. It's really the same. I wonder why so many people never got into that from the Cointra/Coindinista angle? The get Russia crowd, the Nixon aides. Vven the cointras missed it, they really missed that angle and bought into the propaganda, just like with the Hersh article.