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20 October 2005


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John Kirkman

Geez Pat, get over it. When Ike sided with DeGaulle and stiffed Minh, ignoring the promises made for his efforts against the Japanese, we were toast in that part of the world. Remember SEATO and the prop aircraft, the On-Mark USAF B-26’s and how that didn’t work, nor did the Thuds up the same valley years later. We were not on the same side as the people who lived there. I had the short hair and your attitude until dawn, late April, 1971, on final approach to DaNang, viewing the fuel dump fires on the east side of the field; Charlie’s calling card and the reason I had to wait so long to land. And that Navy pilot had been in prison for seven years; I figured that was long enough. We supported the wrong guys.
We were way wrong to go into Iraq but it was a civilized country with a problem that could have been solved without a war. Afghanistan is not a civilized country and we have no business being there at all! I recall a friend, years ago, a MATS pilot explaining why the Afghans eat with only one hand (the other is the toilet paper) and now think of all those land mines that never get mentioned.
Wasn’t it Will Rogers that said something about “if you start a war 5000 miles from home you’re just looking for trouble.” Generals like war, but privates fight them, and civilians wind up paying for them forever.
But it all takes money, and we don’t have that anymore. To me the enemy is the Pentagon, and Ike covered that subject long ago. Unfortunately no one listened, and now I fear we have lost our way, probably forever.

Patrick Lang


You seem to have missed the point that this "artist" agrees that mere "victory" in a COIN war does not equal national triumph.

How did you miss that? pl

Patrick Lang


Maybe you should "get over" the kind of cultural bigotry that makes you want to write about how Afghans wipe their butts.

The "Pentagon is the enemy?"

Very clever. A profound thought. pl


My only beef is with al-Quaeda and not with the Taliban. Bush neglected the war on al-Quaeda and unfortunately chose to go after Saddam. He has now driven Iraq into the hands of the Mullahs in Qom. By taking his eye off the ball, Bush has been the midwife to the rebirth of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

My belief is that a counter-insurgency against the Taliban in Afghanistan would only be winnable if there were no Taliban in Pakistan. As long as they have that safe haven, then they cannot be eradicated. IF you give them a safe haven like we gave the North Vietnamese then you can never root them out. Air strikes will not do it, RPV Predator strikes will not do it, leaving it to the Pakistanis won't do it. And our treasury cannot afford to put several American infantry divisions in the NWFP, the FATA, and Baluchistan.

I say give long-lasting support to the Northern Alliance and any other anit-Taliban groups. Also flood the tribal areas in Pakistan with HUMINT dollars to root out al-Quaeda. But why mess with the Taliban - let them bring their people back to the stone age as far as I am concerned. I personally find all religious fundamentalism distasteful, regardless of whether it is in the name of Mohamed, or Jesus, or Moses, or Shiva. As long as they do not ally themselves with al-Quaeda, let them beat their women and keep them ignorant and let them impose death penalties on beardless men and on music sellers. We do not need to be the policemen to the world. We cannot afford it. Bush has already shifted our tax burden to our children, if we pursue this course then our grandchildren and great grandchildren will be paying for it in 2050 and later.


Colonel Lang,

This is essentially the problem with guerrilla wars in general, isn't it?

With smart application of sufficient force, the "conventional army" can generally win counterinsurgency campaigns, but, in most cases, the value of military victory is outweighed by the costs (political and otherwise) and the lack of tangible benefits other than that of "victory." So, guerrilas almost always (with a number of telling exceptions) wind up "winning" not because they "won," but because their adversaries have run out of reasons to justify continued fighting, despite strings of military victories.

Bill Wade, NH, USA

Mr Kiracofe says:

"1. what precisely is the US mission in Afghanistan?

2. what vital (repeat vital) US (repeat US) national interests are at stake in Afghanistan?"

Sometimes my girlfriend will ask me that question and sometimes I ask her, we've been asking each other for 7 years or so now.

Mr Kirkman says:

" Generals like war, but privates fight them, and civilians wind up paying for them forever."

I don't agree. My own take is that high up civilians like and start wars, Generals tell them what's feasible and what isn't - said civilians tell Generals what to do anyways, Privates on up to Generals fight the wars, and WE ALL pay for them in one way or another except the military folks just pay lots more.


"No country poses a greater potential threat to US national security than does Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake." - Andrew Bacevich, retired Army colonel and professor of international relations.
And again, what is our strategy, President Obama?



If, as General McKiernan states, this is a 5 year commitment then it is time to put up or shut up. As the neocons, couch commandos and other pledge of allegiance patriots like to remind us, 'freedom isn't free'. It is time for all of us to agree with them and demand that President Obama pass a 'War on Terror' tax. Just a modest 20% of the gross income for all inside the beltway millionaire columnists (like Brooks), TV and radio commentators, corpoarte lobbyists and Wall Street traders. Obama can add a nice touch by signing this bill in Arlington National Cemetery and issuing his signing statement (with something nice and biblical, like Luke 12:48) in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

frank durkee

A question: Isn't our bottom line strategy in the Afghan war to deny that territory and/or any parts of the population to be utilized for purposes of plotting and acting against the US and others? If so, what is the least costly and most efficient way to do this?
Please advise. I make no claim to being either a participant expert or policy expert. Yet it seems to me that the complexity of the problem is getting in the way of defining the core need and a coherent plan to obtain it, give "the best laid plans of men" problem.

anna missed

I would agree that the COIN agenda was successful in both Vietnam and Iraq (or Algeria) only in so much as they, at best, represent a method of putting a whole people under military "lock down" - that temporarily stills the water the insurgent fishes swim in. If that water is not distilled through adequate, culture sensitive political reforms and compromise, then it remains a stagnant, if not a festering cesspool - so that when the lock down is removed, the original irritation is reopened with a vengeance. Given the failure rate of such interventions, they should not be undertaken unless they are willing to commit the lives, and treasure necessary to keep a population in lock down for an indefinite period of time. But more importantly, they should never be attempted unless an equal commitment toward long term political/cultural accommodation and resolution is also undertaken. If these neo-colonial expeditions were simply military operations, then we have been going to war armed with real weapons, and fake ammunition. Because as long as we continue to assume that the peoples of other cultures will automatically adopt our values over their own, we will continue to use one arm to cut off the other.


I think the economic situation in the USA will dictate our eventual plans for our adventures in Afghanistan. We do not have the time, political will nor a well rested military force to take on a prolonged COIN operation that will bring a solution to the problem that many cannot define.

My suggestion is to take 20% of the expected 5+ years COIN op cost and give it to our intel groups and let them define the outcome, then give them free rein. That means our troops can pull out leaving only those needed for logistical and operational purposes.

Maybe with a little creativity the Taliban can be turned to the task of eliminating Al Qaeda and its leaders.

Radical yes, but out of the box thinking is needed in these difficult times.

John Howley

I will leave the military aspects to you (though I shudder when I consider the logistical challenges in that landlocked nation).

As you say, the military is subordinate to the political anyway. In Afghanistan, one of the over-arching political objectives was to demonstrate to the world that NATO could mount major expeditions outside its territory.

Bush poisoned this at the start with his detain-and-torture policy which hampered cooperation with the limp-wristed Old Europeans who thought human rights mattered.

Then, as the situation evolved into more of a fight, the restrictions on combat imposed by national governments became more of a problem.

The question now is: What combat forces are available to defend Kabul when the snows melt?

The credibility of the USA has been greatly tarnished. Now, the credibility (both political and military) of our chief alliance is on the line.

Tick-tock, tick-tock...


wow has it been 4 yrs? and so little has changed.

the biggest strategic changes are Iraq counter insurgency method and Iran has enough low enriched uranium (show more than enough capability to create nuke)

otherwise....nooooothiiiing has changed. gawww...

my over caffeinated brain opinion:

- why are we in afghanistan? The most honest answer: we have unfinished business with alqaeda.

- unfortunately, we are confusing taliban, afganistan, and muddle through with pakistan, fata, Iran, Russia, -stans, etc. very stupid. (some of these are no doubt because pentagon state dept, and politicos are penetrated by Israel to make sure US is eliminating israel's rivals) anyway.

1. Al Qaeda. This is who we are at war with. Find out who, how they operate, how they function. (isn't this an old problem by now?) hunt them down every single one of them. The primary people at least. Even if it takes the next 1000 years. This has to be done. They blow us up, we kill them all.

- Taliban. Simplistically, taliban is a social system, a movement. It is the social foundation of al qaeda. It is true that there are key people in it, but the key point is the "social system". Unlike Al qaeda with definite group of people we want. (bad metaphor ahead) Think eradicating taliban like eradicating bad "teen fad", shooting teenagers would hardly stop a fad, one has to observe how the 'fad functions culturally (the idea, the dissemination, why the idea is widely accepted), then one can maybe stop it. (this may even involve taking out key people, or closing down some school section and banning certain things.) but the big point, talibanism is a "cultural system". Shooting bunch of peasants and bombing village won't do much.

The problem of Al qaeda unfortunately will require:
- dealing with FATA (which is where talibanism thrive)
-dealing with Pakistan. (Fata, ISI, Pakistan slow economic and social implosion)
-creating functioning afghanistan government. (or else the vacuum will be filled with al qaeda version 2.0)
- dealing with all afghanistan neighbors. Iran-Russia-Pakistan-China. I think afghanistan-Pakistan stability are on everybody's interest. More so than US. (refugees, opium, civil war, constant geopolitical instability)

-Specifically Iran. (nuclear Iran, Israel) Nuclear Iran is not our business. It's their and Israel problem. If both want to blow each other up. who gives a shit. Realistically, neither Israel nor Iran will give up their nuke, and it just not making any sense from their point of view to give it up.

US primary concern is creating stability and viable state in Iraq and afghanistan. Therefore we should make a pragmatic deal with Iran. (We stop talking about nuke, unless you proliferate, you help us clean up afghanistan and Iraq mess) In general, we are not going to jump in bad, make grand bargain, or other dreamy proposals. But we simply won't kill each other, leave everybody be, and stabilizes Iraq/afghanistan. We'll talk more afterward (hey this mess will be long enough to make everybody sick)

Israel-Iran conflict. None of our business after Iraq/afghanistan are taken care off.

so next:

- how to hunt al qaeda?
- how to separate alqaeda/taliban?
- how to destroy taliban as social system?
- how to deal with fata? (pakistan social and economic problem?)
- how to create viable afghan government? (the entire thing, since everything has been destroyed from 40 yrs of civil war)
- how do you develop afghanistan?
- what policy should be created to tie diplomacy, trade, aids, military operation, etc. (and explaining to the nation, and let the rest of the world understand and play part too.)

.. and who is going to pay for all these?


why using too much herbicide is bad idea. (to eradicate opium, which pays for taliban operation/weapons)


A reliable genetic transformation protocol via somatic embryogenesis has been developed for the production of fertile, herbicide-resistant opium poppy plants. Transformation was mediated by Agrobacterium tumefaciens using the pCAMBIA3301 vector, which harbors the phosphinothricin acetyltransferase (pat) gene driven by a tandem repeat of the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S promoter and the β-glucuronidase (gus) structural gene driven by a single copy of the CaMV 35S promoter between left- and right-border sequences. Co-cultivation of explants and A. tumefaciens was performed in the presence of 50 μM ATP and 50 μM MgCl2. Root explants pre-cultured on callus induction medium were used for transformation. Herbicide-resistant, proliferating callus was obtained from explants on a medium containing both 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 6-benzyladenine (BA). Globular embryogenic callus, induced by removal of the BA from the medium, was placed on a hormone-free medium to form somatic embryos, which were converted to plantlets under specific culture conditions. Plantlets with roots were transferred to soil, allowed to mature and set seed. Both pat and gus gene transcripts, and PAT and GUS enzyme activities were detected in the transgenic lines tested. Histochemical localization of GUS activity in T1 opium poppy plants revealed transgene expression in most tissues of all plant organs. The protocol required 8-12 months to establish transgenic T1 seed stocks and was developed using a commercial opium poppy cultivar that produces high levels of pharmaceutical alkaloids.

FB Ali

Yes, if the US puts in about 200,000 combat troops into the Pashtun area, it can conduct a successful COIN operation. Provided, of course, it can also afford the five years and half-trillion dollars that will be needed for this success to be achieved. Then, when it hands over the country to the Afghan government, the Taliban will come back. South Vietnam lasted about a couple of years after the US pullout. Najibullah, the successor left behind by the Soviets, lasted about three years. Karzai or his successor would do well to last a couple of years. (Note: the Taliban will take over the Pashtun area, not the whole of the country – at least initially).

Then – Surprise! Surprise! – the USA will discover that the Taliban has no intention – never had – of waging jihad against the US or the West. Their jihad was (is) to recover their lands from a foreign occupier and its proxies. But, while all the US’s efforts and attention had been focussed on Afghanistan, jihad central will have established itself in Pakistan – not the tribal borderlands but the country’s heartland. No COIN solution there.

It is truly depressing to see the new administration blundering down this path. But what can you expect when policy in that area is to be fashioned and executed by someone who considers the people who did 9/11 and Mumbai and Swat as one lot! (Richard Holbrooke on PBS – Feb 18). Ably seconded by a political general like Petraeus, keen to win fresh laurels in Afghanistan before his supposed success in Iraq fizzles out. Supported by a chorus of NATO chickenhawks who probably couldn’t find Afghanistan on the map.

G. Hazeltine

Look familiar?


Maybe we should let the Afghans work it out for themselves, and not again let the honor of the Americans who serve be abased by the dishonor of those who send them.

G. Hazeltine

Today gold topped 1000 dollars an ounce. Citibank and Bank of America shares dropped thirty percent. Steve Clemons tells us that he pulled his FDIC insured deposits from Bank of America. No point in risking getting tied up in a nationalization of a bank. Paul Volker says the world economy is falling faster than in the Great Depression.

That's today. That COIN 'worked' in Vietnam or Algeria is perhaps not the main issue before us. My own feeling is that Vietnam was the Great Misdirection. From which we have never recovered. Or been permitted to recover.

In any case, we are in very very deep trouble, and worrying much about Afghanistan might not be in our best interests.

Perhaps we should come home.

G. Hazeltine

Not to be repetitive, but Afghanistan?

The kool-aid pourers gave us delusions of the threat of radical Islam, while capitalism unleashed was giving us this:


Never fear, Volker tells us that "capitalism will survive":


Whether most of the readers of this blog will, in anything like the way they had in mind, remains to be seen.


I will try again.

This "Dolchstoss-Legende" stuff about Vietnam can only be explained by US inside politics - not by facts on the ground in Vietnam. The US never "won" in Vietnam. This is Wikipedia's summing up of the end-game:
"The communist leaders had expected that the ceasefire terms would favor their side. But Saigon, bolstered by a surge of U.S. aid received just before the ceasefire went into effect, began to roll back the Vietcong.[144] The communists responded with a new strategy hammered out in a series of meetings in Hanoi in March 1973, according to the memoirs of Trần Văn Trà.[144] As the Vietcong's top commander, Trà participated in several of these meetings.[144] With U.S. bombings suspended, work on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and other logistical structures could proceed unimpeded.[144] Logistics would be upgraded until the North was in a position to launch a massive invasion of the South, projected for the 1975-76 dry season.[144] Trà calculated that this date would be the Hanoi's last opportunity to strike before Saigon's army could be fully trained. A three-thousand-mile long oil pipeline would be built from North Vietnam to Vietcong headquarters in Loc Ninh, about 75 miles (121 km) northwest of Saigon.[144]"
You do not "win", when you negotiate a ceasefire to withdraw and the enemy to regroup.
Frankly, I would compare the situation the US is in now comparable to the situation the USSR was in under Gorbatchev. And it is sublime irony that, again, the turning point will be Afghanistan.


I suspect it will soon be apparent that the initial question should be: 'Can we, from an financial perspective, fight a COIN War (or any other kind, as well)in Afghanistan?' Depending on the answer we could move on to the "should we". I suspect the answer to the first question will be 'no, we can't afford it'. To do otherwise will distract us, and hinder us, from dealing with the coming financial crisis and the coming environmental crisis.

Cold War Zoomie

No, we should not fight a COIN campaign based on my limited understanding of the subject. COIN implies a Top-Down strategy against a rebellion. We should use some tools from COIN, but there is no central government to support from what I can tell.

What we have in Afghanistan is a free-for-all at the bottom with Kabul playing the role as a singular city-state. So we must use a Bottom-Up strategy where we turn sets of villages against the Taliban and work our way up to regions, then call it quits and leave. Don't even try to unite the regions in Kabul.

There, I solved the world's problems before breakfast.

Clifford Kiracofe

Mexico WHICH IS ON OUR BORDER is in a free fall and increased violence is spreading and will spread and spill into the US at an accelerating pace.

Frankly, I should think sentient beings (there may be some left) in the US have had enough of the fairy tales about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The OBVIOUS reason we are out in Central Asia etc. is owing to the US foreign policy establishment's love affair with our very own Polish Geopolitician: Zbig Brzezinski. Just read the neo-Mackinder drivel in his "The Grand Chessboard" (New York: Basic Books, 1997) and ask yourself whether or not the main lines of policy here were that of Clinton-Bush. Obama too? On vera.

Why not let Pakistan and Afghanistan both become part of Wahhabi-land with the Saudis picking up the tab? Deobandi-Wahhabis can run Pakistan and the Taliban-Wahhabis can run Afghanistan. Plenty of opium to eat for all. Anyone not agreeing can get slaughtered...a population control measure for the wogs and all that.

On Mexico, note the Joint Staff report at:

John Howley

Military strategy should support one's political strategy.
AQ's political strategy involves inflaming the world's one billion Muslims against the United States. AQ's military strategy supports that objective, so far, successfully.

The problem is that US military strategy (occupation of Muslim lands by force, missile strikes in Pakistan, support for Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza) also supports AQ's political strategy.

Which begs the question of what is the US political strategy? Either there isn't one or it cannot be stated explicitly.

G. Hazeltine

" In pursuit of that goal the development of the civil communities in the country and their self-perceived welfare has first priority. "


Terence Doherty

I also served in Vietnam -two tours, one as an advisor. I also taught at the JFK Center at Bragg. What no one has mentioned about our failure in Vietnam was that we supported an unsupportable corrupt South Vietnamese government. COIN doctrine then as now requires a viable and a legitimate government worthy of the support of the people.

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