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02 June 2008


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John Howley

A cover article in the Feb NYT Magazine also visited the Kornegal Valley. It's a bit more extensive, both on the social terrain and the conditions for US fighters.


I'm still waiting for some knowledgeable observer to provide an analysis of how the beans, bullets and barrels get into landlocked Afghanistan. Even COIN requires secure logistics.

Ever heard of the Kohat Tunnel?


Two recent pieces from Der Spiegel people might be interested in:

Why NATO Troops Can't Deliver Peace in Afghanistan

ISAF Commander McNeill has said himself that according to the current counterterrorism doctrine, it would take 400,000 troops to pacify Afghanistan in the long term. But the reality is that he has only 47,000 soldiers under his command, together with another 18,000 troops fighting at their sides as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and possibly another 75,000 reasonably well-trained soldiers in the Afghan army by the end of the year. All told, there is still a shortfall of 260,000 men.

An interview with Karzai: 'I Wish I Had the Taliban as My Soldiers'
SPIEGEL: During the Taliban times there were no checkpoints at all.

Karzai: That was the best aspect of the Taliban. They did a lot wrong, but they also did a few things right. I wish I had the Taliban as my soldiers. I wish they were serving me and not people in Pakistan or others. When we came back to Afghanistan, the international community brought back all those people who had turned away from the Taliban …

SPIEGEL: … you mean the brutal commanders who fought in the civil war …

Karzai: … who then became partners with the foreign allies and are still paid by them today for their support. It is not always easy for me to find a way that can enable Afghanistan's administration to function.

frank durkee

I read somewhere this maorning that our senior General in country pointed out that by COIN Doctrine, including their army such as it is, we're still something like 287,000 troops short.
What the hell do we expect?


In reality, the value/cost of becoming the colonial ruler of Pakthun lands was not high enough.

And as to "What they never do is adopt the "civilization" of the invaders, or accept them as masters." - just what are the sources of the civilization there then?


As to the undefeatability of the Pakthuns, Afghans, etc. - they do pretty well conquering each other.


The Pashtuns have defeated Alexander, the Mongols, the Soviets and apparently now the Americans because Pashtun tribal codes/honor demands continual war until the enemies leave the tribal areas.

Form the little I have read on Pakistan, Pashtuns have also driven away from the tribal ares the mighty Punjabi Army.

Would adding 250,ooo-plus troops really be the answer or only add more fuel to the tribal requirements for Jihad (resistance)?

In Iraq, the tribes turn in our favor, can we really expect the Pashtuns to do the same?

Dan Bradburd

In thinking about the Pukhtun/Pushtun, I would echo in spades Pat's earlier post, "They do not want to be like us." For some interesting ethnography, look at Charles Lindholm, Generosity and Jealousy; F. Barth, Political Leadership among the Swat Pathans (both dealing with Swat, but with Pushtuns); Schuyler Jones, Men of Influence in Nuristan; and Akbar Ahmed, Social and economic change in the Tribal Areas. Pay particular attention to the discussions of Pukhtunwali. Jacob Black-Michaud's Feuding Society is also worth a read.


I have often heard people quote the history of Afghanistan vis-a-vis the repelling of invaders and talk of current invaders doing so without learning from history.

Its not that each Army has gone in not knowing that those before it had been defeated. The Soviets knew the beating the Brits got much like the Brits knew the beating the Mongols got.

The difference is that each time the leaders of the invasion think they can do it better, smarter and with more force.

And this administration thinks it is better, smarter and stronger than anyone on the planet.

Richard Whitman

To get a good idea of Afganistan's history and geography, I refer you to James Michners 1963 novel "Caravans". Its an easy read and should be available at any public library.

William R. Cumming

When boys of 12 or less are given their first knives and guns in the states they usually look for easy prey of the four footed variety. In Afghanistan the prey is the outsider of family, tribe, whatever. No need for 2nd amendment rights in Afghanistan. A system perfected over thousands of years to promote the warrior spirit. Try reforming a defeated Japan after WWII with the assets in Afghanistan where no one is sure of its human population, paved roads are few, and water is scarce. A huge country geographically.


An enthusiast described the Flashman novels thusly: "There are volumes in this series that cannot be read without laughing out loud." One wonders if the same will be said of the memoirs penned by the various actors in our own "Great Game" to justify their own blamelessness. Can they ALL have been surrounded by idiots?

Duncan Kinder
"We want to get to the point where there's long-term sustainable employment that leads to economic growth. … If the insurgents do decide to come back, they will face a great wall of resistance from a population that has experienced economic development."....I ask one officer how long it is going to take to make this new strategy bear fruit. "Look," he says, "we're still in Germany and Japan 60 years after that war ended. That's how long it can take. I fully expect to have grandchildren who will be fighting out here."

This passage reminds me of the passage in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations where he states that it could be possible to grow wines in Scotland by using intensive greenhouse techniques and other contrived methods, but such efforts would yield poor wine and at far greater costs than simply importing from France.

Of course, Scotland, while being poor soil for viniculture, nevertheless produces fine malt whiskeys.

It seems to me that - rather than turning Afghanistan into a wine greenhouse, so to speak - we ought instead to be looking for the fine whiskeys to be found there.

And, who knows, should we thereby succeed, we might actually want - and feel privileged - to be able to remain there - even if as guests rather than as landlords - 60 years from now.


One problem with afghanistan/pakistan border:

It's the most hostile war terrain in the planet. Pure rugged high mountain. (second highest peak in that battle zone.)

no radar, no plane, limited radio, no tank, no car ... nothing. No fancy gear. It's pure gun on foot battle.

Nothing changes since the soviet invasion in the 80's


" we're still in Germany and Japan 60 years after that war ended." What kind of thinking is this? Both countries surrendered and there was no 60 year long guerrilla war. Guess the 2004 campaign talking points go along with power point thinking. I've read the book Major Berdy is reading, Queen Victoria's Little Wars (Byron Farwell, 1972). I forget which British until was wiped out, but it would do well to ask just why only one man returned from Jalalabad from his regiment in one of those 'little' wars.

"We're trying to raise the opportunity cost of picking up a weapon or growing poppy" What is the 'opportunity cost' of losing one's soul?


I'm traveling and don't have time for an extended comment, but wanted to make a few points about the article.

To begin with, I think Mr. Saunders makes a mistake many in the press do, which is to extrapolate from the specifics of one situation and one small region of Afghanistan and paint generalities about the entire "nation" that I don't believe are accurate. Afghanistan is very diverse and US and NATO operations and objectives differ from area to area. I don't pretend to have much depth of understanding of the tribal, religious and ethnic relationships and complexities in and among Afghans, particularly at the district and local level. However, I do understand that those complexities exist and their reduction into tidy categories by the media tends to reduce overall understanding and perpetuate myths like the homogeneity of Pashtuns that lead to banal and simplistic analysis of things like Pashtunwali.

Secondly, the tribal system in the area of Kunar province referred to in the article, along with other areas of eastern Afghanistan, has undergone significant change since 1979. Specifically, traditional tribal loyalties have been weakened in many areas as a result of decades of conflict and the influence of foreign fighters, money and other factors. Significant population displacement and the education of many male children in foreign-supported Pakistani madrassas has produced a male cohort where traditional tribal loyalties are weakened in some cases and broken in others. Part of the US strategy in Kunar and elsewhere, as indicated by officers quoted in the article, is the strengthening of the traditional tribal system as a bulwark. In other areas tribal loyalties are still strong and different approaches are utilized. What's important is that strategy is local and based on local conditions - or at least that's the ideal. Although I'm not sold on the HTS concept, the human terrain teams are designed to help provide commanders local knowledge so that local solutions can be intelligently attempted. At least that is my understanding - I have not been in Afghanistan since 2005, so my specific knowledge of operations, strategies and the changing environment is pretty limited.

Finally, I disagree with the idea the US has colonial intentions in Afghanistan. For that to be true, the US must have some enduring beneficial interest beyond preventing the recreation of AQ's safe-haven. There doesn't seem to be much there for the US to exploit as a colonial power in terms of resources or as a pawn in some kind of 21st century version of the great game.


Uh, base on the boarder with China and Russia

Dana Jones

"Finally, I disagree with the idea the US has colonial intentions in Afghanistan. For that to be true, the US must have some enduring beneficial interest beyond preventing the recreation of AQ's safe-haven. There doesn't seem to be much there for the US to exploit as a colonial power in terms of resources or as a pawn in some kind of 21st century version of the great game.

Posted by: Andy "

Also pipeline route from the Caspian region to the sea, bypassing Iran. US oil interests heavily invested in acquiring Caspian basin oil. Not to mention the reason posted by Char as well. Lets us put the squeeze on Iran by having them face two fronts of possible attack.

John Howley

Last year, a Chinese company paid $3 billion for a lease on one of the world's largest copper deposits in the Aynak Valley.



Here's a marvelous article on designing a war simulation game for such complicated conflicts which is as sarcastic as it is true. It's on a humor site of all things.




On the border with Russia? Russia is 1500 miles from Bagram. What is there in western China that necessitates a forward military base?


Afghanistan it a landlocked country. Any caspian project would need to go through Turkmenistan and Pakistan to get anywhere. It's been seven years, why no construction yet, much less a contract?

Sidney O. Smith III

Don’t have enough info to make even a guess re: colonialism or counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. However, FB Ali’s insights make complete sense to me.

And Ahmed Rashid’s (pre 9.11) book “The Taliban” has an entire section devoted to the “The Great Game.” If memory serves me correctly, it focuses on the proposed construction of the Afghanistan oil pipeline.


One quote in the Toronto Globe article linked at sst piqued my interest. Here’s the quote: "Our goal," one officer tells me, "is to rebuild the government and society from the ground up in our model."

Our model? I don’t know what the officer means, but defining “our model” would have been one of my inquiries.

I would have been more impressed if he has said “their model” or “the Model desired by the Afghans” Something along those lines.

To use Sherman Kent’s terms -- the quote may add further proof that the functionalists have overtaken the regionalists in US foreign policy. In other words, the driving force here -- articulated as “our model” -- is the neoconservative idea of imposing Western democracy on the rest of the World, by force if necessary. Such is very consistent with the intent of the Shulsky and Schmitt paper, as it aims to disconnect intel from reality.

Alternatively, even if “our model” refers to a regionalist approach, then I believe FB Ali’s insights reign supreme, as he states: “they make nice and take their money when they must; then turn around and slit their throats when they can again. What they never do is adopt the "civilization" of the invaders, or accept them as masters.”


"Finally, I disagree with the idea the US has colonial intentions in Afghanistan. For that to be true, the US must have some enduring beneficial interest beyond preventing the recreation of AQ's safe-haven. There doesn't seem to be much there for the US to exploit as a colonial power in terms of resources or as a pawn in some kind of 21st century version of the great game.

Posted by: Andy "

There's also the tar pit principle, where a foriegn power, pretending to be an ally, induces us into entrapping ourselves in a conflict in which we have little legitimate interest because they really don't like us and our founding principles and would like to see them wiped from the face of the earth. Naturally, we have to have a national leadership that can be dupped in such a manner.

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