Small Wars Journal

American Military Decline? Not When Force Is Used Properly

Wed, 11/07/2012 - 5:25am

In recent years many have cited America’s military struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan as signs of decline. Political wrangling over the size, use, and budget of the U.S. military, withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, the fault and effects of impending sequestration, and the Arab Spring and its follow-on effects have, among other issues, put wind in the sails of this theory. Others hold using military force for ‘wars of choice’ is no longer a viable option for America. However, to think that America can’t or shouldn’t project its power globally when necessary is a mistake. America’s military struggles in the post-9/11 era have stemmed from improper application of military force. Put simply, our recent counterinsurgency efforts haven’t been using it right. When used as it should be, using military force is still an effective choice.

A soldier’s job is to fight and win in combat and to prepare to do so. Nowhere in the job description is being an international aid worker mentioned. It is a testament to the commitment and adaptability of the U.S. military that they have been as successful as they have been at it in Iraq and Afghanistan. Providing public works, policing, community political relations, and social services is something that should be done by educated and experienced professionals in that area. The U.S. military is a hammer, not a scalpel. However, our troops have been asked to fill these sensitive roles on a steep learning curve over the last decade because of our own domestic politics have required it.

Our highest elected leaders are responsible for this. Americans don’t like to spend money on ‘foreign aid.’ Politicians, especially of the conservative variety, characterize this spending as wasteful and beat the drum against it as fiscally irresponsible. Foreign development assistance actually comprises less than one percent of the federal budget, but the returns received are much more cost effective, though hard to quantify. It costs much more to send one soldier to Afghanistan for a year than it does to build a school or new market building that will stand to be used for decades in places the sorely need them.

These were the programs Gen. Petraeus, Gen. McChrystal, and other military leaders asked for to help win hearts and minds. But conservative resistance to spending on any programs considered foreign aid means the professionals at places like the U.S. State Department and USAID or even the UN and non-governmental organizations weren’t going to get the job. Our troopers had to add it to their already long to-do list. Funneling it through the military was the only way it would get done at all. That’s not doing it right.

Following NATO’s decision to severely curtail joint patrols with Afghan security forces, the wisdom and effectiveness of training and equipping indigenous forces to eventually replace U.S. troops has also been questioned. This is a tactic the U.S. has been used often in places like Korea, Vietnam, South America, and the Philippines, among others, and again in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of these efforts were moderately successful, but not successful enough that the U.S. has ever been able to fully disengage in these places. We still have troops in Korea, Vietnam was overrun, and we’re still engaged in the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. These efforts can be successful as an auxiliary to a military campaign, but not as its main effort.

Often these efforts revolve around cooperating with a marginalized minority, such as the Montagnards in Vietnam, Kurds in Iraq, and Hazara in Afghanistan. When the U.S. eventually departs, these people can become even more marginalized as a result. These forces also lack the air, logistical, financial, and political support needed to be self-sustaining afterwards and can at times feel abandoned by America when finally do leave, as with Osama bin Laden and the Mujahedeen in 1980’s Afghanistan. Building security capacity essentially from scratch after effecting a regime change, especially in states with vast cultural differences from our own, is a very tall order to fill.

However, there is benefit to the U.S. in building military-to-military relations outside of conflict. There is a great difference between a modern, professional military and a ragtag militia when they’re called to respond to internal conflicts. Despite controversy over America’s military support of Egypt during Mubarak’s rule, the Egyptian military’s show of relative restraint was not just a sign of support for the people, but of an institution that believes it has a responsibility to the nation. A less professional force may have answered the calls by some to crush demonstrations or so reacted of their own volition. The Egyptian military has had a great deal of exchange with the U.S. military and the British military before it. The role of a professional military as a neutral arbiter in national conflicts can also be seen in Turkey, Thailand, and Pakistan. However, such relationships should be built in peacetime, not after a conflict has occurred.

Another example of the misuse of American military power has come in the weak, middling size of troop numbers sent into major combat—numbers fixed by the administration. America’s elected leadership opted for smaller, faster, lighter, more-economical force packages that, while winning all the battles, have arguably not won the wars. The small number of U.S. troops on the ground and reliance on indigenous forces early on in Afghanistan allowed al Qaeda and the Taliban to slip away into Pakistan, where they continue to operate today by straddling the border. The lack of sufficient troop numbers in Iraq meant America couldn’t provide adequate security when it decided to stay put and later necessitated the ‘surge’ to stave off sectarian civil war and allow the return of commerce, also emulated later in Afghanistan. Though these were certainly major troop commitments, they weren’t enough to get the job done from the outset.

The problems that insufficient troop numbers created have proven wrong those critical of the Powell Doctrine, such as Paul Wolfowitz, and vindicated its supporters, such as Gen. Eric Shinseki. It is arguable that a stronger commitment of troops from the very beginning in both Afghanistan and Iraq would have turned up better results. The mission in Afghanistan suffered in particular from the loss of attention and resources caused by the Iraq War. The administration was keen to commit to the wars, but having decided to take the course, was unwilling to commit to it as much as necessary to guarantee victory from the beginning. Bring back the Powell Doctrine.

However that does not mean that every American intervention should become D-Day. There still is scope for America to intervene militarily in world events on moral or humanitarian grounds. When or what those grounds are is another discussion. The past twenty years have shown that U.S. interventions can be successful when they have clear, concise objectives that are consistent throughout the action and on a short timeline in which to achieve them. Limiting campaigns to air strikes with intelligence, material, medical, and humanitarian support for local allies on the ground and keeping our own conventional ground troops out has been successful. Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya are examples. Iraq and Afghanistan are examples where intervening has gone wrong because they did not stick to these principles. Even in small, limited interventions, the commitment of force must be sufficient to meet a clear objective from the outset. The 1992 adventure in Somalia is an example where this failed.

It can be said that when it comes to using U.S. military power, it should be an all or nothing affair. If a major commitment of ground troops is required, it should follow the Powell Doctrine. If a small-scale intervention is decided upon, it should attract as full a commitment of force and support proportionate to meet the objective without ground troops. The past decade has shown that opting for a middling, unclear, inconsistent approach does not work.

Fighting grinding counterinsurgency campaigns has apparently become acceptable to America. CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus wrote his doctoral thesis and the military manual on it. It’s the topic of thousands of professional journal articles, newspaper columns, and PowerPoint slideshows. However, we do not have to accept the idea of confronting an insurgency as an inevitability or necessity of modern warfare. In fact, America would do well to avoid having to apply COIN tactics at all by avoiding insurgencies altogether.

Insurgencies are a case of catching the tiger by his tail. Once America invades a country on the ground and decides to accept the responsibility of rebuilding it or, rather, making it into something it never was, it will meet resistance. Not only local resistance, but regional as planting our flag also becomes a beacon for like-minded opponents to come and fight us. The argument that holds we have to stay, occupy, and rebuild a nation is that if we do not, we’ll be facing the same threat again down the road, not to mention moral obligations to fix what we’ve broken.

After WWII we decided not to repeat the mistakes of the Versailles Treaty following WWI and invested in rebuilding our foes under the Marshall Plan. But Afghanistan and Iraq are not Germany and Japan. Current history shows the results of following this logic are just as unpalatable as not following it. After ten years, Afghanistan and Iraq are much the same countries for average citizens as they were when we started. Only the cast of characters at the top has changed.

We have applied a strategy that worked well fifty years ago in two industrialized nations with previously-existing strong central governments to two underdeveloped Middle Eastern states with significant cultural differences, one of which has never had a strong central government in its entire history. That was a mistake. Leaving aside discussion about justifications for either war, the fact is that the U.S. should not have stayed in Afghanistan or Iraq, let alone both simultaneously. It is an aggravating factor that we also did not plan for the immediate aftermath or a long occupation afterward, yet went ahead with them anyway.

What should we have done? Leaving aside discussion of justification for going to war, we should have set very clear, concise, and consistent objectives and, having achieved them, left. In both cases, one objective was clearly unconditional surrender. In Afghanistan, the goal should have been to capture Osama bin Laden and his identified lieutenants, along with the whole of the Taliban leadership. Iraq is a more controversial case. It is clear now that the weapons of mass destruction did not exist. Another goal there should have been to capture Saddam Hussein and his identified lieutenants.

We should have followed the Powell Doctrine. The invasion should have been preceded by a build-up of troop levels sufficient to secure the whole of the country and should have proceeded at a pace expeditiously enough to block all escape routes and eliminate all resistance on a steady march toward the center. We should have blocked the escape across the Tora Bora Mountains or, failing that, pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban into Pakistan if necessary. We should have destroyed all Baathist or Fedayeen Saddam units we encountered, rather than bypassing some of them in a race to Baghdad.

We should have seen necessarily to humanitarian needs with programs administered through the State Department, USAID, the UN, and NGOs, secured by the U.S. military. At most, we should have facilitated and secured a gathering of national leaders, but not interfered in its decisions. Our troop drawdown should have begun within six months. We should have continued to provide humanitarian aid and assistance during and after withdrawal. All assistance beyond that should only have been given upon request from the self-determined leadership of Afghanistan or Iraq.

If years later a threat to America or its allies or vital interests is presented by the same nation, then America uses military force to eliminate it once again following the same template. The best way to defeat an insurgency is not to give it time or be present for it to develop. This strategy can be repeated ad infinium. America should always expect to face an insurgency, but never accept that it must. Nowhere in the rulebook does it say the U.S. must remain in or occupy a country it has invaded. Recently, we have chosen to. Once the threat has been removed, we have accomplished the objective. Anything beyond that is territory where the wisdom of continued use of military force becomes questionable, the rules of engagement become shaky, the objectives become unclear and inconsistent, and an insurgency is likely to develop.

The campaign in Libya was a success because it had a clear, concise, and consistent goal—namely to end the rule of Muammar Qaddafi. After some initial hesitation, America decided to intervene. The successful result shows that when a correct assessment of the amount of force needed to achieve the objective is applied proportionately, we will succeed. Had we limited our involvement to non-military support, the mission likely would have failed as the resistance was defeated by Qaddafi’s superior military forces. Sending troops in was never an option. If we had sent U.S. troops into Libya, following the model of Afghanistan and Iraq, they would likely still be there and perhaps face an insurgency. Despite toppling the oppressive Qaddafi regime there, the recent anti-American violence in Benghazi shows not everyone would have accepted our presence. The program of directed airstrikes and tactical support was strong enough to tip the balance. American involvement there was over in less than ninety days and with zero U.S. casualties.

It would be a mistake to believe America’s military power is in decline. America, even with proposed cuts, still spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. No other nation can match the United States’ ability to project power anywhere in the world on just a few days or hours’ notice. Though multiple combat deployments have taken their toll, America’s military is the most experienced in the world. It has been fighting two grinding wars on multiple fronts tens of thousands of miles from home in some of the most inhospitable terrain imaginable. Most of our opponents are still stuck at home, parading their troops and aging equipment down the streets of their own capitols. Despite sometimes bad policy decisions by its elected civilian leadership regarding the use of force, the United States military has risen to meet its challenges and succeeded despite them. That’s no sign of decline.

About the Author(s)

Chris Miller is a national security analyst, a 2-tour U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq War, and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project. He is currently studying at the College of Law-Chester, England. You can follow him on Twitter: @ChrisMMiller80.



Wed, 12/12/2012 - 8:51am

the reason you dont win wars is because you dont fight wars.....your mindset is not about winning wars its about being the good humanitarian guys...the virtuous saviours of that case dont go to war in the first place rather send in the red cross....its ironic that the largest most advanced military force on earth is afraid to use violence.....a soldiers only virtue and purpose is his ability to defeat by whatever means possible his opponent and prevent that opponent from waging any further war...and with guerilla style warfare you have not realized that your opponent is in fact a fail repetedly as soldiers as you are infact not fighting a war but are engaged in an international public relations excersize.....what did you do in WW2?......You bombed the hell out of germany with no concern for anything else but destroying germany...japan too .....then you invaded germany with no concern for german or your own losses and you systematically and ultra violently ,sparing no violence eradicated nazism until it had no possible means to continue waging war...and you won...that is the purpose of have forgotten.....but im afraid by so doing you have sown the seeds of the future wars and i think you will within this century have no option but to fight a real you work on your memory of how to do it.


Tue, 11/13/2012 - 4:30pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Iraq - Why do politicians think they know better? Hubris, Rumsfeld (and McNamara) are case studies.

Afghanistan - Why do we let sanctuaries exist? It’s a combination of conducting limited war (which is doomed to failure unless you have very specific and attainable objectives) and a lack of political will.

Bill C.

Tue, 11/13/2012 - 11:22am

In reply to by major.rod


If I may:

You need to address the question "why" the powers-that-were believed they could -- as you say -- win these wars on the cheap.

Herein specifically addressing:

a. Re: Iraq, "why" these individuals would disregard their general's advice. And

b. Re: Afghanistan, "why" these individuals believed that they could achieve victory in Afghanistan -- via nation-building -- in spite of the well-known sanctuary problem.

I have attempted to address these critical "why" questions.

You, as yet, have not. We need your viewpoint on this matter.


Tue, 11/13/2012 - 4:29am

In reply to by Bill C.

No not necessarily.

The Iraq lesson is don't "assume" you know better when the general says it's going to take 400,000 troops to secure Iraq after we take it.

In your repeated enthusiasm to castigate us about our hubris you "forget" that important tidbits.

The Afghan lesson is not so much a guilty verdict of COIN but an ode to not learnoing you can't leave a sanctuary nearby and "win" let alone help a country stand up on its own.

I'm no fan of nation building and doubt we should have tried in Afghanistan but letting the Taliban and AQ sit in Pakistan was a much greater error than trying to stand up Afghanistan as a nation.

So in Iraq and Afghanistan it wasn't hubris about America that you repeat constantly that doomed us. It was politicians trying to win war on the cheap that limited commanders ability to establish the conditions where nation building could occur IF we thought it was in our interest to do it.

Bill C.

Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:33pm

Suggested framework for understanding why our forces were used improperly:

Q. What was the reason why Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld felt they could and should go in light into Iraq?

A. Because (1) the overall goal was/is to transform this state and society along modern western lines and because (2) they thought the "offer of our civilization" would be so popular with the Iraqi people that it would make the need for large numbers of troops, harsh measures and long occupations -- which are often needed in these such initiatives -- unnecessary and/or counterproductive.

Q, Why was "nation-building" the counterinsurgency method that was chosen for Afghanistan?

A. Because (1) the overall goal was/is to transform this state and society along modern western lines and because (2) the powers-that-were thought that the "offer of our civilization" would be so popular with the Afghan people that it would make the need for large numbers of troops, harsh measures and long occupations -- which are often needed in these such matters -- unnecessary and/or counterproductive.

Lesson Learned: The belief that the "offer of our civilization" would make the military's job easier (Iraq) and would not make the military's job much more difficult and/or impossible to achieve (Afghanistan) proved to be grave error.


That our civilian and military leadership:

a. Come to understand these facts (the "offer of our civilization" may not/will not make the military's job any easier and may/will, indeed, make the military's job much more difficult and/or impossible to achieve) and

b. Make future decisions, re-write present doctrine, re-deploy and re-employ current forces and properly resource our commanders with this understanding in mind.


Wed, 12/12/2012 - 9:31am

In reply to by Dayuhan

dayuhan i agree with you and the taliban is linked to other fundamentalist islamic driven events in the middle east...iran.....they are fighting against the staus quo of western ideals with the intention of preserving and expanding their own world view...islam.....there is and will be no compromize on this and the future real war (possible atomic) that you are going to have no choice but to fight will be this war......the fundamentalists are or at least will be at war with the russian and the chinese too .......prepare for or eliminate this this eventuality now.....i suggest the usa,china and russia jointly invade the entire mid east,impose their will and sub divide it into spheres of i crazy?.....perhaps...perhaps not.....the 21st century will tell.


Fri, 11/16/2012 - 5:58pm

In reply to by Move Forward

You wrote-

"You can't have it both ways and cite differences between the 75+ million Pakistani Punjabis and the 27 million Pakistani Pashtuns as being a problem while ignoring the differences between Northern Alliance ethnicities and the Pashtun."

The Punjabis trace their origins to the '5 rivers' civilization of 5000 BC (the world's oldest). The Pathans are of West Asia/Persian origin who moved into the region between the Indus River and the Hindu Kush in the 2nd millennium BC. The Northern Alliance is a Soviet construct allying the forces of the pro-Soviet, anti Reagan communist Dostrum and the turncoat Massod of Jamiat-e-Islami of Panjshir that was created in the late 1980's labelled by many of my 'Kathmandu Journalist' friends as the 'Northern Alliance'. So with all due respect I think the ethic sensitivities of 7000 years of constant war and suspicion runs a bit deeper than something dreamed up by Dan Rather at CBS.

You wrote-

"Herat is also plenty close enough to Kandahar, Arghandab, and Helmand valley given capabilities of V-22s/MH-XX aircraft and aerial refuelling. The USAF and UAS can reach out and touch any of those areas very easily."

I would love to see the faces of a Ranger battalion exiting 30 odd Ospreys after a 600 km ride from Herat to Kandahar. They certainly wouldn't need green war paint on their faces. Correct me if I'm wrong but the Osprey doesn't have a gunship package so who is going to boss the LZ - the USAF?! I'm sure that will warm the hearts of everyone enjoying the ride in.

Al-Qaeda swarmed into Nuristan and Kunar in the late 1980s. They never left so I would suggest your raiders figure out how to land a rotary wing aircraft at 3000 to 4000 ASL - because they are awaiting.

Unfortunately as bad as the problems in Afghanistan have become; I accept that maybe someone has figured out how to 'raid' over such vast distances, but the immediate crisis has moved on.

Certainly the long term solution to Pakistan's woes is to be bordered by a stable and friendly India, China and Afghanistan and by their example the Pakistan electorate might cast off the yoke of the Pak military and embrace a more balanced prosperous economy.

Unfortunately it is too late for that or at least that is now a secondary concern.

Pakistan is on the verge of collapse. The Costa Nostra, the Wahhabi and the MB have virtually broken the back of Pakistani society and whilst the Mafia is happy with a 90% share of the global heroin market the fruitcakes are not happy and they will not be happy until they introduce the world to nuclear UW.

So everyone needs to get their head in the game.

Vomit Away,


Move Forward

Fri, 11/16/2012 - 3:50pm

In reply to by RantCorp

<blockquote>Once again I do not share your view of the weight of religion as a motivational element in much of the violence that occurs in the region.</blockquote>

Guess it comes down to degrees. When it comes to Islamic extremism, al Qaeda and the Wahhabis are probably the most religiously motivated. Then come the Pakistani Taliban followed by the Afghan Taliban and then regular Pashtuns. Finally the Northern Alliance ethnicities seem most receptive to a more modern form of Islam that excludes sharia law and tolerates Western ideals. The article below illustrates that the Taliban know that their links to al Qaeda are a major problem that keeps ISAF around, but al Qaeda continues to make them offers they can't refuse. They also belittle the Taliban for not being extremist enough and force the sharia law aspect. But it sounds like the TTP is into sharia law and an Islamic state of Pakistan all by themselves.…

However, again, when you see major demonstrations about Quran burnings and other chants about non-believers, and God is great, and propaganda videos...not to mention the suicide attacks...not sure you can exclude jihad and religious extremism from being a primary motivation against the infidels. Why else would foreign fighters be flocking to AfPak and Yemen; and now Syria, the Sinai, and Mali...not exactly vacation hot spots (except Naama Bay :)?

Sure, it's too late for a Pashtunistan now. Although some degree of greater autonomy could certainly be granted to the southern and center eastern provinces. As for Kunar and northeast provinces, you already read that most Pashtuns in the ANA are from those areas to avoid having their families threatened in the south, so clearly they are more attuned to being part of united Afghanistan than the southern and central eastern provinces. Retaining northeastern Pashtun provinces would give Pashtuns the choice between an extremist or less extreme lifestyle. Provinces could be allowed to vote on whether to join the Pashtun provinces in automomy or remain part of greater Afghanistan. Nuristan is unique, but leave them alone and they will remain xeonophobic in their own little valleys.

You can't have it both ways and cite differences between the 75+ million Pakistani Punjabis and the 27 million Pakistani Pashtuns as being a problem while ignoring the differences between Northern Alliance ethnicities and the Pashtun.

Yeah, I would consider Bagram to be Northern Alliance territory. You already see Ismail Khan threatening to return to his old warlord ways so someplace south of Herat is also plenty close enough to Kandahar, Arghandab, and Helmand valley given capabilities of V-22s/MH-XX aircraft and aerial refueling. The USAF and UAS can reach out and touch any of those areas very easily. I'm sure DoD will figure out how to make whatever they decide work. It just seems like if US forces stay in primarily Pashtun areas, it will only aggravate the situation post 2014.

I hear you on everything else. Yeah, the madrassa memorization of the Quran in Arabic is definitely a strange phenomenon. However, not sure it is all that different than sticking Tajik Dari-speaking ANA leadership in Pashtun areas so that interpreters are required.


Fri, 11/16/2012 - 12:45pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Once again I do not share your view of the weight of religion as a motivational element in much of the violence that occurs in the region. The attack on Malala is a good case in point. This has more to do with almost universal sexual frustration in young men and the chronic misogamy it breeds into a huge number of young unmarried men. It is widespread and prevalent and is exploited by warped interpretation of the Koran by the mullahs to chastise those ‘diverging from the path of the believer.’

The schools I was referring to above were not madrassas. The madrassas are essentially shelters for abandoned boys masked as religious institutions which feed and shelter children. In the main they are funded by the rich Wahhabis who occasionally past thru the region on the way to the brothels in Bangkok and thus earn the kudos back in Saudi for spreading the light to the faithful.

The curriculum of a madrasas is basically an illiterate mullah getting illiterate boys to phonetically chant Koranic verse neither they nor their teacher have the vaguest idea what the words actually mean. No the type of ‘school’ I was referring to were run by the military more akin to a Hitler Youth program with an emphasis on militant nationalism and to a lesser extent religion – much as the ideological tool-kit I found among the typical urbanite whisky drinking Pak Army/ISI/Special Branch officer.

I do not share your desire for a Pushtoonistan State as I do not believe it will bring stability to the region nor security to the US and her allies. In fact I believe the opposite. The notion that you could police a Pushtoonistan by Ranger/SOF? ‘raids’ from the northern non-Pathan parts of the country is something I find mysterious. Is Bagram part of the north; is Panjshir, Kunar, Nuristan and Kabul? If you give up these areas how will you ‘raid’ over the 5000m ASL Hindu Kush and travel the 800 plus km to your target in Kandahar? How many dead or captured Rangers and failed/aborted missions will you accept before the current situation on the ground today seems much more doable?

You questioned the plight of the murdered Frontier Corps militiamen and whether or not the ISI could countenance their deliberate demise. The victims are essentially Pathans as opposed to the ruling elite of Pakistan; who are in the main, Punjabi. The Pathans are Mughal – light skinned and Persian/Central Asian-like and the Punjabi dark-sinned Indians of the sub-continent with a culture and language reflecting what is found in the Muslim population of India. As a rule they do not like each other and very rarely enjoy each other’s company. Hence the existence of the FATA.

The problem is that the ISI has managed to protect the rear of the Pak Army since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Afghan Warlordism and then the ISAF ‘invasion’ but IMO the strategy has outlived its effectiveness and is now unsustainable. There are two outcomes from this strategy which IMO have grave implications not just for the region but for all of us.

The Costa Nostra now runs the biggest business in the region and like in the US they don’t pay much in the way of income tax so the country is bankrupt with very little hope of recovery. More importantly Pakistan and southern Afghanistan are both becoming hollowed out societies brought on by the flood of heroin which now reaches across the region and around the globe. In the US, despite the best community health-care in the world, from a population of 2 million uses and 200,000 addicts 25 Americans die of heroin OD every day. Pakistani society is on the cusp of a complete breakdown in governance – and as was the case in Iran, Libya and Egypt – the collapse can happen very rapidly. IMO it will happen even faster in Pakistan owing to the fact that large part of the population is drug addicted both physically and monetarily.

Secondly, the prospect of an ‘overnight’ collapse in law and order amplifies the threat the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabis pose to the West. They are fully attuned to the opportunities the steady demise in societal health and decrease in governance offers to their cause. Like in many other countries their influence continues to get stronger whilst the West’s influence becomes weaker.

So what?

The best case in the event of a security meltdown is the Pak Army will (obviously if events allow them to do so) invite the West to remove their nukes before the MB or the Wahhabis get there. However the Wahhabis have been waiting 30 years for such an opportunity and they have been primed and ready to go for a long time. You can bet your life that half dozen or so will go missing no matter what.

Then IMHO we are all fucked.

Bomb Happy,


Move Forward

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 5:22pm

In reply to by RantCorp

<blockquote>So the Pak Army’s default position is hand the country’s western border defence over to the ISI and its Taliban.

The strategic objective is to keep the Af/Pak border region in a state of anarchic flux so as to prevent the possibility of the simmering Pushtoon and Baluchi separatist movements developing into a revolution.</blockquote>

Thanks, and very interesting comments with some of the best I've read about the motivation of Pakistan helping the "good Taliban." It caused me to do some additional research which uncovered this.

The Pak Army and ISI may support the Haqqani network because they are focused more on Afghanistan and less on imposing an Islamic state and sharia law inside the outlawed Tehrik-i-Talban (TTP) is. The latter is who shot Malala in the face and are most certainly religiously motivated. They recruit suicide bombers from hopeless youth and madrassas...the same ones you described from the 80s.

The fact that Taliban means <strong>religious student</strong> and talibs are martyrdom-seeking students says a lot. The influence of mullahs and clerics on both sides of the Durand line says even more. Taliban administration of sharia law is another point of evidence. True, suicide bombers could be motivated by the Pashtunwali concept of revenge against the west...but they do it in Pakistan as well and kill and cut-off heads of Pakistan Soldiers. It is hard to fathom that the ISI would support the killing of their own troops. We also see them attack other areas with "bad Taliban" except in Northern Waziristan where the Haqqanis hang their hat and most drone attacks occur according to Long War Journal.

When I googled "motivation of Taliban" one of the first links was an Aug 2012 19 minute LinkTV documentary where a reporter went to Peshawar and spoke with various press and locals there about the Pakistani Taliban. The consensus was that Pakistani area was far more dangerous than a few years ago when visited by the same reporter. A CNN article states the obvious that both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban want us to leave. But Pakistan will have plenty of problems of their own with the TTP after we leave unless they allow drone attacks to continue or do a better in-house job of addressing the bad Taliban.

Then look at Karachi whose large Pashtun population poses a serious threat at home. Then there are the Pakistani nukes. I never advocated attacking into Pakistan for the reasons you state, plus the fact that the overwhelming quantity of our supplies passed through Pakistan over the last decade. Nor would abolishing the Durand line solve the problem for the reasons we both noted...the Pakistanis don't want to lose any more territory.

If, however, prior to the 2005 elections we had split Afghanistan in half, we could have created a Pashtunistan within the Afghan south and east where most Afghan Pashtuns live. Kandahar could have been its capital. Two elections would have occurred. The Pakistani Taliban who are former Afghan refugees could have returned home to a Pashtun-ruled area alleviating much of the problem of a Pakistan sanctuary and refugees to recruit. Now we will either need to leave entirely and hope the ANA are up to task, or perhaps we will need to base in Northern Alliance areas and use SOF and airpower to continue to support the ANA for a few more years.

An interesting aspect of the LinkTV clip was a claim that the Taliban won hearts and minds following the major flood in Pakistan by helping to rebuild some Pakistani homes and providing other aid. Hezbollah, similarly won over many Lebanese with similar COIN efforts. So those who think no COIN techniques or "build" are appropriate should look to our enemies who seem to have had pretty good luck with such efforts.


Thu, 11/15/2012 - 1:40pm

In reply to by Move Forward

IMHO I believe there is too much religious and revolutionary politics read into attempts to understand the motivation of why people commit violent acts in Afghanistan – especially the Taliban. The Taliban are not an Afghan creation, they come from Afghan refugee stock living in Pakistan. Somewhat unfairly most Afghans born in Afghanistan do not consider them Afghan. More importantly their origins stem from the 5 and 6 year old boys the Pakistan military enrolled into hundreds of ‘schools’ in the Afghan refugee camps throughout the NWFP in the 1980s.

The happy unsuspecting faces of these wide-eyed tiny boys clutching their writing slates and eagerly gripping rough lumps of rock chalk has stuck with me for thirty years. They all expressed a hope to be doctors, pilots, teachers, engineers etc. (but never mujahids - let alone suicide bombers and terrorists) and all were so grateful and felt so lucky to be going to ‘school’ in one of the hundreds of godforsaken refugee camps throughout the deserts of NWFP.

I was taken aback by the perfect English spoken by many of their teachers and their college education (this in a country wherein many ‘teachers’ in rural areas are illiterate) and the military demeanour. The teachers were all quite open about the fact that these boys were going to be Pakistan’s “frontline soldiers” of the future regardless of what they or their parents aspired to.

At the time (1985-86) the mujahedeen had been basically defeated by the last effort of the Spetnatzs prior to the Soviet withdrawal and I somewhat condescendingly wished the staff good luck.

Those children are now the men who have been confronting the ISAF since 9/11 and are now battle-hardened cadres at the spear-point of the Pakistan Army in its efforts to secure their western frontier. If after 12 years people seriously believe that these men are motivated by some Islamic, Pushtoon, Afghanistan-based revolutionary movement IMO you need do do yourself a favour and pack up and go home. A Pushtoonistan is the last thing the ISI wants.

The Pakistan Army has a reasonable case in believing they can defend the Indo – Pak International Border and LoC with a conventional mechanized army backed by tactical nukes. However this same force cannot secure the western border for numerous reasons only too familiar to the vastly richer and supposedly more powerful conventional forces of the ISAF. So the Pak Army’s default position is hand the country’s western border defence over to the ISI and its Taliban.

The strategic objective is to keep the Af/Pak border region in a state of anarchic flux so as to prevent the possibility of the simmering Pushtoon and Baluchi separatist movements developing into a revolution. Pushtoon and Baluchi separatism would essentially split Pakistan in half on a north-south axis.

Pak Army paranoia renders this an existential threat to their country as they are convinced India could not resist an attack across the Punjab to hook up with sympathetic Pashtoon/Baluchi revolutionaries and cut the country in half again but on an east-west axis.

The indiscriminate use of Taliban IEDs that kill mostly innocent civilians and relatively few ISAF and ANA troops IMO has nothing to do with religion, governance or revolution. It is simply a blunt instrument applied by the Punjabi-centric Pak Army against the Pathan population of the border region to maintain Pakistan’s current political borders. An IED driven Pak version of the British Raj strategy of ‘Divide and Rule’.

This policy helps to explain the Pak Air Force tolerating the ‘drone’ strikes on its own territory.The UAVs with their DC-3 flight performance wouldn’t last 5 minutes in Pakistan airspace if he PAF chose to shoot them down. As far as the general population of Pakistan is concerned the drone strikes are the equivalent of the Taliban IEDs across the border. For the ISI the drones create a climate of anarchy and intimidation amongst the Pathans and the Baluchis on their side of the frontier that not only costs them nothing financially and politically but allows them to wrap themselves in the national flag as they ‘strike back against the Evil Empire’ across the frontier.

So what?

Rather than making empty threats to attack Pakistan and start a thermo-nuclear war with them and probably China we should be hollering until we are blue in the face that the Durand Line is the most important international border in the world. Furthermore the entire world wants nothing more than for it to be the most cherished and prized political entity and it occupies every waking thought of every member of the ISAF, NATO, UN, Boy Scouts etc .

After convincing them and their neighbours that the Durand Line is the Gold Standard we should politely suggest the Pak government get the Pak Army to employ the ISI somewhere else and stand down the Talibs and let the ISAF and the Pak Army secure the border.

Bombed Out,



Tue, 11/13/2012 - 4:34am

In reply to by Move Forward

Certainly Islamists will try to exploit the power vacuum that results when a state fails or an authoritarian government is removed without a domestically viable replacement at hand. So will criminal elements, warlords, etc. When different groups see power available for the taking they will fight to take it.

In the Philippines, the MILF are (and the MNLF in their day were) less an Islamic extremist group than a separatist group: they aren't trying to seize power nationwide, they are trying to carve off a slice of the country and take power there. Religion is less an issue than land, settlement, and power. The Abu Sayyaf for most of their history have been financially motivated bandits. There are a few true Islamic extremists around and they have staged some attacks, but they are largely peripheral.

Yes, nearly all Taliban are Pashtun, but that doesn't mean nearly all Pashtun are Taliban, or that the Taliban are the sole representative of Pashtun aspirations.

I still don't see installing governments that suit our preferences and committing ourselves to sustaining them as a viable or effective way to oppose Islamic extremism.

Move Forward

Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:41pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

From an AFP article today about the Mali crisis:

<blockquote>Mali rapidly imploded after a coup in Bamako in March allowed Tuareg desert nomads, who had relaunched a decades-old rebellion for independence, to seize the main towns in the north with the help of Islamist allies.

The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by the Islamists, who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing their version of strict Islamic law, meting out punishments including public stonings and floggings and destroying World Heritage sites they considered idolatrous.</blockquote>

This in no way is to suggest that we should do something about Mali, but rather shows that Islamic extremists will exploit failed states to take control illegitimately. If you read other articles about Mali now, you discover sharia law being imposed and hands being cut off for thefts that never occurred, exploiting a history of slavery in Mali to control the population. Western African nations are sending 3300 troops to assist the failed Mali militias against the Islamic extremists who control northern Mali...but Mali, like Afghanistan and Iraq, is Texas-sized so good luck with so few African troops...except that I doubt the Islamic extremists have that many forces themselves.

Back to Afghanistan, although the Pashtuns have many factionalized tribes, the Taliban are probably more factionalized. Yes, nearly all Taliban are Pashtun except for the foreign fighters, al Qaeda, and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that cooperate with the Pashtun Taliban.

I only mentioned Islamic extremists in the Philippines because Muslims represent under 10% of the population so obviously the extremists are far fewer. There is no way they could take control of the government. However, that has not stopped their terrorist attacks. Likewise, in Europe although there are many Muslims, they will never take control of the government. That does not stop some from plotting jihadist attacks. Jihadism is not about ruling other than some concepts of the caliphate.

To consolidate responses to several articles, let me note that several Kenneth Katzman Sept 2012 CRS studies note that an Obama 2009 initiative to increase civilian State Department, USAID, Dept of Agriculture, and other agencies in Afghanistan increased the totals by about 500. By early 2010 there were about 975 which increased to 1330 by Aug 2011 with about 400 serving <strong>outside Kabul</strong>...up from 67 in early 2009. If looking for explanations why civilian reconstruction can never succeed in war zones, that pretty much says it all compared to how many military were living amongst the population providing self and population security while managing CERP funds.

Finally, I would answer Peter Munson that although not all troops are outside the wire, they all have served multiple painfully long tours (especially the Army GPF) away from their families. For that they deserve our unqualified praise and admiration. As some civilians play Monday morning quarterback and try to criticize our military and its senior leaders, look how long many of the latter have served years away from their families. It's pretty clear why some could become human after so much time away from their wives and kids.


Mon, 11/12/2012 - 6:47pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Not sure what the reference to the Philippines was meant to communicate, but certainly sectarian conflict in the Philippines is all about power, and money... much more so than it is about Islamic extremism.

Yes, if "the Pashtun" wanted power they'd have other ways of doing it... but "the Pashtun" are factionalized, and the Taliban aren't "the Pashtun". If the Taliban want power - and they certainly do - they will have to fight for it, which they are doing. I don't know that there is any "rightful ruler of Afghanistan". The place will be ruled by whoever can take and hold it. That group may or may not be a majority or a plurality.

Certainly colonial-era boundaries are a problem, but I don't see what's to be done about that: trying to redraw the boundaries would be an even bigger problem.

Certainly it is extremists, not Muslims, that are the problem, and certainly extremists must be opposed, but it is up to us to choose how, where, and when to oppose them. Removing governments and trying to replace them with governments of our design is, I think, not an effective way to oppose extremism. We end up bogged down in extended support of governments that cannot stand but which we don't think we can allow to fall. Our extended occupation of Muslim land supports and enhances the Islamist narrative of western intent to invade and destroy. We end up with large numbers of people exposed in occupation and occupation support roles, providing easy targets.

Not saying we should surrender to extremists, just that nation-building and installing governments don't seem a very effective way of opposing extremism.

Move Forward

Sun, 11/11/2012 - 10:13pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Dayuhan, I can't fathom that you believe Islamic extremism is only about power in the Philippines (where they could never attain it) or anywhere else. If the Pashtuns wanted power they could gain more of it through less radical means than the Taliban since they are the Afghan ethnic plurality. The theocracies, ayatollahs, and IRGC of Iran do not reflect the views of most Iranians anymore than the Taliban represent all Pashtuns, let alone Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Baluchs, Turkmen, Nuristanis, etc. The Taliban are not the rightful rulers of Afghanistan anymore than the Ayatollahs should restrict the lives of Iranians or the Alawites should control Syria.

The fact that the majority of the ANA are not Pashtuns should tell us that the Taliban would have great difficulty retaking all of Afghanistan, particularly if US airpower, SOF, and intelligence support remained nearby in northern alliance territory. If we had left in 2003, however, I suspect the Taliban would have retaken most of Afghanistan rather easily.

Just because Pakistan granted overflight after 9/11 does not mean they would have granted future airspace or overland supply rights. Pashtunwali would have guaranteed that the Taliban and al Qaeda would have returned. The problem in AfPak is the Durand line imposed in the late 1800s that split Pashtuns with far more in Pakistan than in Afghanistan but no clear ethnic homeland self-rule in either country. Now Pakistan is happy with those boundaries because they don't wish to lose any more territory. Likewise, the problem in Syria is ancient boundaries imposed by the French and others. Same for the Kurds, the world's largest ethnic group without a nation-state "stan." Old colonial boundaries cause problems.

Worldwide, if there are 1.5 billion Muslims and only 1% are radicalized, that remains 15 million potential extremists. They are the ones trying to impose their ideas on other rank-and-file less radical Muslims. Stopping theocracies from being imposed on majorities is not about imposing a U.S. style republic. Rather it is about keeping the 1% from imposing their will (sharia law) on the 99% in any given country. It is that radical 1% that practice terror and disregard the consequences of nuclear, other WMD, or mass casualty attacks in the U.S. or Europe. The non-radicals of Iran suffer from our retaliation if Hezbollah gets a nuke near NYC. That 1% is also the group that prevents modern societies from forming in Islamic nations because they certainly were beginning to in Iran and Afghanistan prior to the radicalization of their leadership.

Muslims are not a problem. Islamic extremism is the problem when minorities impose radical ideas on everyone else and shelter or promote terror. Ask little Malala if the Taliban are just freedom fighters. Madrassa students and foreign fighters in Pakistan who cross into Afghanistan and conduct suicide attacks are not attempting to restore Pashtuns or the Taliban to their rightful rule...they are jihadists who would seek out Americans to kill regardless of whether we fought back. Doesn't it make more sense to fight back?


Sun, 11/11/2012 - 7:21pm

In reply to by Bill C.

The problem with this is that your proposal for understanding the nature of the conflict is based on unsupported assumptions about the conflict. Besides, we're not getting our $#!t blown away, we're getting our $#!t ground into the ground... there's a difference.

The Taliban had power. It was taken away from them and they want it back. The Northern Alliance was out of power. We put them in power, and they want to keep it. I don't see any substantive evidence supporting the theory of a huge backlash against change. All I see are groups contending to shape the future in ways that will favor them, in a traditionally winner-take-all political culture where compromise, cooperation, and trust are in very short supply.

Taking sides in other people's fights is a messy business, and the hubris of thinking you can impose political systems based on trust and willingness to compromise on a political culture where neither exists is a one-way street to failure.

Bill C.

Sat, 11/10/2012 - 11:41pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

"People will fight invaders: nobody likes to be invaded, nobody likes a bunch of armed foreigners ruking their roost. When an existing political order is dismantled, groups will contend with each other and with any who obstruct them to shape a new order that benefits them. Is there any need or reason to read more into it than that?"

Most definitely. One must understand the nature of the conflict that one is engaged in. There are potential grave consequences in bringing only a knife to a gun fight.

And this (bringing a knife to a gun fight) is, euphamistically speaking I would suggest, exactly what we have done.

We can go on saying that it actually was only a knife fight (internal groups contending among themselves for dominance, etc.) but this will not help us keep from getting our "s*%t" blown away, yet again, if we refuse to learn and acknowledge the fundamental error in our thinking.

(Note: Must give credit where credit is due. It was the wife's idea to use the "bringing a knife to a gun fight" quote to help illustrate my point. This is how she saw the problem, to wit: failing to understand the nature of the conflict.)


Sat, 11/10/2012 - 5:52pm

In reply to by Bill C.

There's a great deal of "if" in the above, and I'm not sure what we gain by extended diversions into the hypothetical. It is perhaps worth noting that the Taliban were never guardians of Afghan tradition. The extreme fundamentalism of the Taliban was not a traditional Afghan feature, and the Taliban harshly repressed features of Afghan life that they considered anti-Islamic. Neither did Saddam represent any extended Iraqi tradition.

People will fight invaders: nobody likes to be invaded, nobody likes a bunch of armed foreigners ruking their roost. When an existing political order is dismantled, groups will contend with each other and with any who obstruct them to shape a new order that benefits them. Is there any need or reason to read more into it than that?

Historically insurgency is more likely to be driven by groups seeking change fighting a ruling elite trying to preserve the status quo than the other way around.

Bill C.

Sat, 11/10/2012 - 2:25pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

"I do not believe for a moment that the conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan, or anywhere else, is driven by people refusing to give up their way of life and way of governance, or by the rejection of westernization. Groups are simply competing for dominance and fighting for their own interests, as they always do when an existing power is artificially removed and a power vacuum exists."

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, would you say the same thing, to wit: That the conflict in Afghanistan then was not driven by people refusing to give up their way of life and way of governance, nor by, in this instance, the rejection of communism? Rather, groups were simply competing for dominance and fighting for their own interests ...?

(This suggests, of course, that the population of Afghanistan would have happily given up their way of life and way of governance -- and happily embraced communism -- once the "in-fighting" had been resolved.)

If the United States were invaded by the former USSR and our government overthrown, would this be another instance in which the Americans were fighting -- not because they refused to give up their way of life and way of governance -- and not because they rejected communism -- but, rather, just another instance of diverse groups (within the United States) competing for dominance and fighting for their own interests ...?

(This suggests that the population of the United States would have readily given up their way of life and way of governance -- and readily embraced communism -- and that any fighting that one saw within the United States would be between American groups fighting for dominance now that the existing power had been artificially removed.)

Re: the American Indians of the Old West, when they fought back against the Americans/the settlers, did they (the American Indians) do this -- not because their way of life was threatened -- and not because they rejected the way of life of the Americans/the settlers -- but, rather, because they were competing for dominance among themselves?

When diverse and sometimes competing groups (but with the same beliefs/way of life) within a country join forces to fight against a foreign invader and his local allies (who has overthrown their government) -- and when, on occassion, outside forces from other countries with the same way of life come to help out -- are these not clear indications that the conflict is driven -- not by internal groups fighting for dominance -- but, instead, by people who have decided that they must join forces and fight and die to (1) preserve their way of life and to (2) not have a foreign way of life imposed upon them?

These such conflicts being -- rather than non-existent -- exceptionally common throughout history?


Fri, 11/09/2012 - 5:53pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Well said, Dayuhan. Trying to impose values or systems is something akin to creating artificial life. In America we have come to believe that our system has reached its final pinnacle of evolution and that it works so well that all other states are trying to 'reach' the same system or stage of development. It ignores the fact that our own system is continuously evolving (look at America over the last century). You can't skip stages in development, ie going from an Afghanistan to a version of America in a decade under military occupation. It has to happen indigenously or it will be rejected as something forced and/or foreign. When we take action against national security threats, we should try to fix what we broke and stabilize the humanitarian situation, but once we've done that and eliminated the threat that brought us there, it's time to take our ball and go home.

I don't believe for a moment that conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan, or anywhere else, is driven by people refusing to give up "their" way of life or governance, or by rejection of westernization. Groups are simply competing for dominance and fighting for their own interests, as they will always do when an existing power is artificially removed and a power vacuum results.

The Sunni in Iraq, or the Taliban in Afghanistan, may wish to restore "their" way of governance, not out of love for tradition but because they ruled. They like ruling. Most groups do. Other groups will seek arrangements that benefit them. Given time those groups will either evolve toward compromise or they will separate into discrete political units. Either way the process will be messy and will involve violence.

Our mistake was to think that outcomes such as compromise, inclusiveness, democracy, western-style political institutions could simply be created, or imposed. They cannot be. They can evolve, over time, but they cannot be conjured up and slapped into place with any expectation of survival. Nation-building fails because nations aren't built, nations grow. we can no more build a nation than we can build an oak tree. We might help cultivate one, with subtlety, restraint, and a great deal of patience, but subtlety, restraint, and patience are not our strong suits.

The metaphors we use are clues to the reasons for failure: "install" a government, "build" a nation, "fix" the economy. These are not engineering processes, they are the results of organic growth and evolution. If we threat them as engineering problems we will fail, no matter how much military force we bring to bear.


Sat, 11/10/2012 - 12:47am

In reply to by Bill C.

I believe we are going to fundamentally disagree.

We (the military) don't decide to do nation building. So there isn't an opportunity for the military to make "better decisions".

The primary reason we are unsuccessful in Afghanistan is that we can't eliminate the combat environment without taking out the sanctuaries in Pakistan. It's not a question of expertise if the experts can't operate because they'll be killed and we cannot provide each expert a platoon for his security. Even if we could protect the experts, progress is fleeting unless the natives can secure themselves after we leave.

If the Army is given the mission to do nation building it can't be done while a combat environment exists. Once the country is stabilized and nation building begins other government organizations must provide the expertise to develop the target nation.

Totally agree with your observation that the choice to nation build makes things more difficult. I'm of the position that we don't do it unless its critical to our national security and only after the combat tasks are largely complete.

Bill C.

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 1:40pm

In reply to by major.rod


"I see this as a foreign policy issue more than a military one."

Concur (see my initial comment of Nov 7th above) -- but, as we have seen, does have very serious/significant military consequences/implications.

To Afghanistan:

We seem to have designed our counterinsurgency effort there also around the "offer of our civilization;" again seeming to see this (the "offer of our civilization") as a positive/facilitating factor rather than as a potentially hindering/destructive one.

This erroneous viewpoint, likewise I suggest, causing the military to again be improperly utilized/the commander to be improperly resourced.

Iraq/Afghanistan Lesson Learned:

If one is going to "offer our civilization" to the natives (or "impose our civilization" on the natives), then one must approach this endeavor with the understanding that such an activity (a) may not make our military requirements more easy (Iraq lesson) and, indeed and in many cases, (b) may make our job much more difficult and much more costly than it otherwise needed to be (Afghanistan lesson). Understanding these facts (the natives may not wish and/or may not be able to accept our civilization), I believe, will allow us, in the future, to: (1) make better decisions, (2) write better military doctrine, (3) deploy and employ our military properly and (4) resource our commanders correctly.


Thu, 11/08/2012 - 11:30pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Yep. It's kind of what I was alluding to. Note that it's the politicians promoting this approach not the military? When you voice your position you don't differentiate the two. After the military advises it doesn't get a vote (of course you know that).

I see this as a foreign policy issue more than a military one.

Bill C.

Thu, 11/08/2012 - 11:21pm

In reply to by major.rod

Shinseki wanted to go in heavy.

Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld wanted to go in light.

The reason why Shinseki wanted to go in heavy -- and the reason why Wolfowitz and Rumseld wanted to go in light -- was largely due to the different way that each of these individuals perceived how the post-war phase of these operations would unfold.

Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld believed that the "offer of our civilization" would make the post-war phase of these operations a cake-walk. Thus, they thought they could and should go in light.

Shinseki was under no such illusion.

Does this help explain how the ideas surrounding the "offer of our civilization" could, and would, come to cause our military to be employed improperly/the commander not to be adequately resourced?


Thu, 11/08/2012 - 3:40pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill - Sorry. I'm not getting how "our belief that we can export our civilization" (I'm paraphrasing your position, correct me if I'm wrong) equates to not resourcing the commander to do his job.

Are you saying our alleged hubris extends to the abilities of our military? I would disagree that our senior officers think that. They are either ignored or salute and try given what they are given which is our military culture, no hubris involved.

On the political side I'd say you're maybe 50/50. Rumsfeld had a ridiculous amount of faith in technology (and to a lesser degree special ops). I saw that in his influence on FCS development. On the other hand both Presidents went with a surge (though Obama has undercut military requests multiple times for political reasons, not faith in our abilities e.g. Iraq residual force, Afghan surge, withdrawing the surge).

So my point still holds. It's not a belief that our way is superior that is limiting our success but a lack of political will empowering a tendency to ignore what military professionals are advising.

Bill C.

Thu, 11/08/2012 - 11:47am

In reply to by major.rod


"The fundamental error in Iraq (avoiding the discussion if it was the right war) was not resourcing the commander with enough force to maintain order especially after kicking the baathists to the curb and defanging the Army."

While we might know -- and readily acknowledge -- that the commander was not properly resourced to accomplish his mission,

The crucial question is "why" the commander not sufficiently resourced.

And here, I suggest, my discussion above works to help answer this mail -- not only with regard to Iraq -- but also with regard to Afghanistan.


Wed, 11/07/2012 - 9:09pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill - "we (erroneously) believed that what we hoped to achieve (state and societal transformation/westernization) would be embraced by the population and, therefore, would be easily achieved. Such was not the case."

Not true. What evidence is there that Iraqis didn't want a democracy? The fact is that's what they eventually got (granted with some warts). The fundamental error in Iraq (avoiding the discussion if it was the right war) was not resourcing the commander with enough force to maintain order especially after deciding to kick the baathists to the curb and defang the army. That was just plain dumb on our part and the source of six years of self inflicted wounds.

I also find your belief that we're being too "idealistic, erroneous and ethnocentric to believe others want our ways" as condescending as those that belief it's our responsibility to "spread democracy". The US can't stand up dictatorships, theocracies etc. because that's what "goes" in that part of the world unless we are willing to acknowledge life, liberty and pursuing happiness isn't appropriate for every human being. That has some severe ramifications for us here at home as our mores change.

I'm a fan of realpolitik but with an idealistic American flavor. It's not our responsibility to spread democracy on the planet but we can't be the sugar daddy of some crackpot regime we put in place. I'm also not a fan of nation builing unless it's a case like Germany that sucked us into two world wars.

Admittedly it's a very sticky issue. Your clear cut approach which you repeatedly propose ignores a uniquely American perspective and moral quality that DOES differentiate the way we do business in the world. Contrary to what you may believe we did exactly what you propose in Vietnam. The Diem regime had issues as well as each one that followed it. It didn't turn out too well for everyone involved. One could also draw a lot of similarities of your approach to decisions we made during the cold war where we supported some pretty bad dudes.

The fundamental problem underlying American/Western foreign policy generally -- post-the Cold War -- has been/is the idealistic, erroneous and ethnocentric belief that different people all over the world wish to, and/or easily can, (1) discard their way of life and way of governance and (2) adopt the way of life and way of governance of the West (to include our political, economic and social mores, systems and institutions).

This idealistic, erroneous and ethnocentric belief is the primary factor that has caused/causes the military forces of the United States/the West to be improperly used post-9/11.

Herein, I contend that if the United States/the West had adopted a more realistic post-the Cold War foreign policy perspective, to wit: that different people all around the world did not wish -- and/or nor could they -- (1) easily discard their way of life and way of governance (to include their political, economic and social mores, systems and institutions) and (2) adopt the foreign/alien way of life and way of governance of the West,

Then, I suggest, that if this more realistic foreign policy framework had been in place -- continually since the end of the Cold War -- then the military forces of America/the West would not have been employed/deployed as they have been for the past 10-plus years.

We "go in light" when we think that it will be a cake-walk. We "go in heavy" (or maybe don't go in at all) when we think things will be difficult. We "went in light" because we (erroneously) believed that what we hoped to achieve (state and societal transformation/westernization) would be embraced by the population and, therefore, would be easily achieved. Such was not the case.


Wed, 11/14/2012 - 3:02pm

In reply to by Stallion9

Agree on taking the fight into Pakistan after Tora Bora.

You continue to dance around answering the question of where we mass this huge force. On one hand you admit Pakistan wasn't an option but then continue to press for this huge invasion force. From where?

"Making a full analysis of the exact troop numbers that would have been required would mean I need information I don't have."

You don't think you have enough information to determine how many troops it would take but you don't require any information to "fully believe that we could have built up a more deliberate force to contain and eventually isolate most of the Taleban/AQ or even OBL inside Afghanistan and destroy them."?

You don't have enough info to determine what's required but don't require info to determine we could? Think on that a bit.

You are still ignoring the enemy's actions as I've pointed out. OBL's plan after 911 expected a long US buildup during which he would also increase his forces with a call to Jihad as he had in Afghanistan against the Soviets. (Friedman, "America;s Secret War") What's your plan to address enemy action?

I don't expect you to answer these questions anymore. I'm just trying to show you that your otherwise reasonable position just doesn't apply to Afghanistan.


Wed, 11/14/2012 - 9:28am

In reply to by major.rod

I didn't ignore your point. I Said: "So long as we were going after the bad guys, the public would have been patient. Plus the administration's political capital was through the roof at the time. The public remembers the concept of a buildup from the Gulf War. They don't question the military too much anyway." The talking heads were definitely impatient, I'll agree. I could have gone into more depth, but my argument is we should have been more prudent militarily instead of worrying about the political considerations, but the President is a politician and makes the calls.I take your point.

Making a full analysis of the exact troop numbers that would have been required would mean I need information I don't have. It's not that I refuse to analyze it, it's that I feel I don't have the information to do it adequately, though I do stand by my assertion we could have deployed a more adequate force package given more time.

Regarding Pakistan, I didn't mean to suggest we did/should have used it as an initial launching pad (clearly we didn't/couldn't), but as soon as it became apparent the enemy was heading there(and it was forseeable they would) we should not have hesitated to move against him there. We should have asked Pakistan first, but following their likely refusal, we should have moved there anyway. That probably would mean we would have to fight both the Afghan and Pakistani Taleban, but we're essentially doing that anyway. It might even have meant a wider war, but I find a head-on fight more favorable for us than an insurgency such as we face now. The fact is that the Taleban remain alive and well in the Pakistani FATA and will move back into Afghanistan when we leave in 2014. We should have had that fight in 2001 when we had the initiative. Now, it's too late.

I do give credit to the enemy. I believe OBL and his lieutenants correctly read our domestic political climate and limitations. He read correctly that we probably weren't going to go into Pakistan because we didn't want to send a large force package. We thought we could go in and get it done quick and on the cheap. But if we had opted for a buildup, larger troops numbers, and been willing to pursue or head off the enemy wherever he went, things may have been different.

Either way, your points are well taken. It would take a much longer discussion to iron it out adequately. Thanks a lot.


Tue, 11/13/2012 - 4:49am

In reply to by Stallion9

You just ignored my previous post without addressing one fact or issue I shared with you.

"We could have waited to gather our forces before invading." No, we could not. America was chomping at the bit. It wasn't going to wait six months even IF that was sufficient. Do you not remember the constant questions about what are we waiting for? Why aren't we launching cruise missiles and air strikes? I do. There was a palatable anger in the air.

"We could have sent in a much bigger force package." No, first you refuse to even address how many troops would be necessary and even try to do an analysis of what it would have taken to position them. Then you assume Pakistan as a staging point when it never was. They wouldn't allow the Marine BATTALION going to Kandahar to stage in country. It had to be a direct movement except for fuel. They only allowed a small SOF footprint that was supposed to be only for SAR that we ignored only a handful of times to insert special ops teams of less than 20 men. Pakistan wasn't an answer. Musharaf would not have let us mass tens of thousands of troops let alon the hundred thousand that may have been necessary. You can't just wish that away.

"We should have went after him into Pakistan, using Afghanistan as a base of operations." Agree, but you have to take Afghanistan first and massing huge forces in countries that don't want you there isn't a course of action. Going light was the only way.

Finally you don't give the enemy any credit. Bin laden had a plan to address exactly what you propose but you refuse to analyze it. You wrote a good article. Afghanistan is just a bad example to make your point. Just saying it would work is what Rumsfeld did in Iraq when Shinseki said it would take 400k. It didn't work for him either.


Sat, 11/10/2012 - 8:20am

In reply to by major.rod

I fully believe that we could have built up a more deliberate force to contain and eventually isolate most of the Taleban/AQ or even OBL inside Afghanistan and destroy them. I don't believe there was no way it could have been done. We should have used spec ops and local forces the same way, but if we had given ourselves more time to build up before starting the operation, we could also have put in the whole of our conventional airborne forces as well, followed shortly by bringing in air assault. At least we could have been sure they were all fighting on our side. The way we did it, the initial fighting was done before conventional forces even hit the ground.

So long as we were going after the bad guys, the public would have been patient. Plus the administration's political capital was through the roof at the time. The public remembers the concept of a buildup from the Gulf War. They don't question the military too much anyway.

If we had fully committed the levels of troops that were necessary applying the Powell Doctrine we could have secured Afghanistan, more than just Tora Bora. I'm not going to name troops numbers or which units we should have put where, but if we weren't in such a huge hurry and actually planned the operation through like a real war and not a police action it could have been done. It is a fundamental tactic to locate your enemy, fix him, and once you've got a hold of him, do not let him go. We did none of those things. We chased him up into the mountains and let him go, opting for speed.

OBL's plan may have been to run for the mountains and into Pakistan no matter what, but he may also have tried to dig in somewhere in Afghanistan and stay put to fight to the death. That would have been great because we would have crushed him. I think giving him and us both more time to prepare for an invasion would have increased the enemy's confidence and increased the likelihood he would have stayed and fought, after which we could find him, fix him, and f*** him.

Our goal was not to 'take Afghanistan'. Our goal was to get bin Laden, destroy AQ, and their supporters the Taleban. If that meant going into Pakistan to do it, we should have done it. If you're going to take Vienna, take Vienna. Once you have identified a strategic threat and decide to eliminate it militarily, you eliminate it. Instead, we acted like the police in an old bank robber movie where the U.S. cops can't chase the robbers into Mexico and the bad guys got away.

We could have waited to gather our forces before invading. We could have sent in a much bigger force package. We should have went after him into Pakistan, using Afghanistan as a base of operations. We should have kept after them until we got OBL, were satisfied that AQ and the Taleban were sufficiently suppressed for the time being, and then went home. No huge hardstand troop bases. No KBR and PXs. Just pushing the fight forward until its done and then going home without 'nationbuilding'.

We lost the initiative and now our troops go out on patrols in order to get ambushed and defend their punk bunks on mountainsides. We shouldn't have let them get away. Now we're just playing defense and trying to make nice with the locals who just want us to leave. Never should have happened like that and we shouldn't accept that it had to.


Sat, 11/10/2012 - 1:01am

In reply to by Stallion9

"We could have encircled them, cut them off, and destroyed them."

Not so easy nor would the American public been so patient. I think you're either forgetting or minimizing the problems that existed in 2001 and exercising hindsight in believing we'd only have to secure the Tora Bora area. In Nov 2001 there was actually talk of Afghanistan being a quagmire because we weren't moving quick enough out of Kandahar and Bagram. The administration wasn't the impatient ones.

How many troops do you think it would take to isolate the Pakistani border? Where would we have marshalled all those troops? How long would that have taken? How would we have supplied them? The Pakistanis only allowed a small special ops footprint in Pakistan.

We defeated the Taliban and AQ with around 3000 ground troops. One division of 15k (five times the size of the force we put on the ground) wouldn't have been enough to do what you propose.

You're also ignoring the enemy's vote to include building up his forces.

Hindsight is 20/20 but you have to fully think out your course of action.


Fri, 11/09/2012 - 6:19pm

In reply to by major.rod

I see your point. I think the administration was impatient. I believe we still should have used the Powell Doctrine. Giving bin Laden time to build up support and marshall his forces, so to speak, would have given him false confidence and fixed him where he was, along with all his minions. To me that would have been preferable. There is no scenario in which the Taleban/AQ would have defeated us in a head-on fight. We could have encircled them, cut them off, and destroyed them. I think we took a risk in going in light and fast. Taking tactical risks is okay and sometimes it pays off big. This time, it didn't. We ended up chasing them like a cat after mice into terrain they had prepared. If we had done a slow buildup and couldn't get around behind Tora Bora, we'd have been in the same spot we ended up in anyway, namely he escapes to Pakistan. We could have gotten around behind Tora Bora in Pakistan if necessary (doing what the Pakistanis were supposed to do), or as close as we could,trapped them, pounded them with strikes, and simply kept them under siege. Couldn't have been any worse than what we ended up with the last 10 years.

Yeah, we should have chased him into Pakistan. But hindsight is 20/20.


Wed, 11/07/2012 - 8:31pm

In reply to by Stallion9

No Chris, I understood you and I agree we need to go in with overwhelming power but Tora Bora is a bad example to prove a worthy point. We were able to pin Bin Laden there because of the light and incredibly quick manner we were able to put forces in Afghanistan.

(FWIW and as an aside check out the Comm. on Foreign Relations (US Senate) -Nov 30, 2009 hearings chaired by Sen Kerry. Contrary to popular belief we didn't have the lift to put in an isolating force behind Tora Bora, provide them resupply, support and Medevac. No ome less than the Deputy CENTCOM commander said so under oath. Captured documents show Bin Laden expeted us to do a slow build like we did in Desert Storm. That would have provided him time to prepare and rally support.)

Tora Bora happened because we went in light but still with enough force to be decisive with the enemy. I think you're right when you say we should have kept on going into Pakistan to get Bin Laden. We should have especially after the Pakistanis double crossed us. They were supposed to seal their side of the border and didn't.

So to be more specific, we should deploy with overwhelming force to defeat the enemy that does not necessarily mean go BIG depending on the enemy. We did that early in Afghanistan.


Wed, 11/07/2012 - 11:37am

In reply to by major.rod

Hi Major.Rod-

No, that was exactly my point. We were successful in Libya because we went in light, but when we do go in on the ground it needs to be heavy. If you're going to go, go all the way. But if you're not going to commit ground troops, stick to the air and providing non-lethal effects to locals forces. Dynamic Maneuver Warfare and light force packages don't work.


Wed, 11/07/2012 - 9:46am

While I don't agree with all the author's examples (the reason we were so sucessful initially in Afghanistan was because we went in light) he nails the general tenets.

Define a specific endstate before we go.
If we go, go big.
Don't stay for the insurgency.
Rinse and repeat when necessary.

COIN and nation building should be by exception and determined by our national interest.