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26 February 2009


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Why does our political "leadership" want to become Afghanistan's "godfather"? Is it just ego and vanity?

I can see that the cost argument will not carry much weight since its "only" taxpayer money and military family blood!


I saw an article somewhere on the tubes that cited a conversation between Obama and McKiernen (sp?). the gist:

Obama: what do you intend to do with the 30K troops?

McK: ummmm...well..hem & haw

Obama: only 17K troops for a guy who can't describe the reason he needs 30K troops.

evidently a conversation with the Joint Chief of Staffs went similarly.

q. what is the endgame in Afganistan?
a. *crickets*


Over ten years that $150 billion would be very low. $150 billion per year is the more correct number.

Since 2005, CBO has revised its estimates of GWOT costs several more times. Most recently, in March 2008, figures released by CBO indicate that, over the long run, costs per troop/year would average some $775,000. This is some three times more than CBO projected in 2002, based on the cost of recent past wars, and about 70 percent more than its estimate from 2005. In this case, the estimate appears to be based primarily on an extrapolation of funding levels included in the 2008 supplemental request, adjusted for inflation and changes in force levels.
Cost of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Other Military Operations Through 2008 and Beyond - Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (pdf)

How many 'western' soldiers would be needed to do real COIN in Afghanistan? 200-300,000 at nearly a million a year (logistics in Afghanistan are much more expensive than in Iraq)?

Is anyone willing to spend that?

Keone Michaels

I don't understand what you mean by it can "work?" Just what would you define as it "working?" Isn't this the same area that defeated every outside invader since Alexander's time? Did it work for him? Did it "work" for the British? Did it "work" for the Russians?

William R. Cumming

I think Americans in general are fearful of establishing some kind of protectorates in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet they have never been really given good explanations of both wars other than the GWOT. When will someone be allowed to articulate the underlying rationale, not just for or against the effort, for either event. After all soon it will be a decade since it all began. What is the effort supposed to accomplish? What resources will be needed and for how long? We may have issues closer to home (Mexico) erupting that require armed force to meet. PL gives us please you rationale NOW for both efforts and as a former INTEL officer what facts you see that justify your conception of the US role and needs? Thanks!

João Carlos

"The question is not if COIN will work in Afghanistan. The question is whether or not we should pay the exorbitant price that COIN will exact from us for the privilegege of using this methodology in that country."

Sorry, but I think that is the wrong question.

The question is not SHOULD, but CAN.

CAN the US pay for the exorbitant price that COIN will exact from you?

The world and USA are going for a big Depression. Currently, the big US banks are "zombie banks" and that is a recipe for a prolongued recession. The house's prices will continue to fall until 2010 or maybe 2011-2012. GM and Chrysler are bankrupt and Ford is not far away that.

The coust can be too big for an economy that will be weak for 5 or more years.

Empires like the Roman fell because they don't were capable of support the Legion's cousts.

Patrick Lang


I have never sought to justify any such relationship and have always opposed it. I am not going to seek to justify it now.


If you are going to play here you will have to educate yourself. I am getting tired of telling people the same things over and over again.

COIN is a specific form of warfare developed in the 20th Century for the purpose of defeating insurgent campaigns. Political Action + Nation Building + counter-guerrilla operations would be shorthand for the method.

There are many books on the subject. Someone here will suggest a few.

The Russians, the British, the Macedonians, etc. never did COIN in Afghanistan. They just fought there. pl

Cato the Censor

How do we also implement COIN in Pakistan, specifically the NorthWest Frontier and tribal areas? Pashtunistan extends into both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban draws support from both areas.


O.K. here comes a radical idea that might work:

1. Buy the Tribal Areas from Pakistan for 50-100 billion dollars (forgive me BG Ali).

2. Offer the Pashtuns (Pathans, Pashtos, or Taliban) a free and united Pashtunistan in exchange for handing over all of al-Qaeda.

3. Also offer them a cash-buyout to be determined latter as an additional incentive.

Tribal honor would be saved because they are doing it for the homeland plus this will be cheaper in the long-run for America.

The Pashtuns were drug-growing, goat-herders when the Colonel was in Vietnam.

They were drug-growing, goat-herders when the Soviets invaded.

They were still drug-growing, goat-herders after 911 and in twenty years I can predict they will be doing the same.

As for Pakistan, well they never really controlled that area anyways.

Mad Dogs

I noticed that Pat did not say we could "win" in Afghanistan, but instead merely said that COIN could "work".

I thank him for the essential discrimination.

To "win" is far too much a personal and subjective term.

That COIN could "work" may have its genesis in that timeless quote of Archimedes of:

"Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world."

Yea, infinite resources coupled with infinite patience, then stuff can happen.

And as Pat notes, the real question is whether we, the Americans in particular, and the West/NATO in general, are "willing" to pay the price.

WaPo's "cheerleading" polls notwithstanding, I believe the conventional wisdom is more predictive.

Americans, and the West/NATO, like a "free lunch".

Meals that max out our credit card in blood and treasure tend to be skipped.

Give us our "Happy Meals" and we be happy.

Make us pick up the tab for folks we don't even know, we be not happy.

Farmer Don

"I did COIN. I did it in South America. I did it in SE Asia. I did it in Arabia. I did it."

Pat, looking back at your career, would you say your work was worthwhile?
Would you say you were on the morally right side of these fights?
Was your work for the good of the world as a whole, or just the USA, or both?

Not looking for a fight here, but your work, was at major turning points of history, and thus merits these questions.

Don S.



Patrick Lang

Farmer Don

Sam Huntington wrote in "The Soldier and the State" that he thought that "in the military modern man can find his monastery." I found mine.


Was Cato a censor? Ah- Pakistan. They have to do COIN in Pakistan or whatever it is they decide to do. pl

John Howley

Col. Lang wants us to distinguish the military and the political.

Yes, the military side, using COIN, can "work" IF we put in enough money and bodies (that's a big IF, as noted).

So, what is the political objective? If it is sufficiently clear and compelling, then yes, the United States will devote the required resources. It's in the political sphere that "win" is defined.

We would all like the politicians to stop weaseling around with other people's children and money.

Instead, the politicians will not decide. They will put in not enough resources and keep the political goals (the "win") vague. This maximizes the opportunities for blame shifting.

When, as a result of this half strategy, the U.S. is forced into political failure, it will be the White House incumbent who takes the blame. Hence, the desire to put off the tough decision and leave it up to the next guy.

Nancy K

I think we should first do nation building in our own country, building up our educational system, our health care system and our infrastructure. And then and only then move our eyes towards Afganistan and Pakistan.

FB Ali

A friend sent me the article in today’s WAPO by Henry Kissinger: “A Strategy for Afghanistan”. My reply was:

These people who pontificate from the ivory towers of Washington etc forget a couple of basic points about Afghanistan :

(1) However effectively your troops can fight the insurgents in an area, to the people of that area you are, and will always remain, foreign occupiers. Unless you are prepared to stay there forever, the insurgents will always come back when you depart. What kind of victory or success or solution is that?

(2) The Taliban have no interest in waging jihad outside their borders. Based on their experience, they are unlikely to allow al-Qaeda to set up bases in their areas of control in Afghanistan. This lesson can be reinforced by carrying out air strikes on any suspected bases.

Pvt. Keepout

One way to neuter a religious/nationalist patriotic self-defense movement is to stop killing them and their country's non-combatant men, women and children and get out of their country. Any of our national security geniuses given that some thought?

Also, what're the code words for bribery, ethnic cleansing and negotiated truce?


this is from Al jazeera
"Last year, Ahmed Jan, an intermediary for the Taliban and tribal elder from Helmand province, was sent on behalf of the Taliban to Kabul for talks with the Afghan government, our correspondent said.

Jan was arrested after US officials discovered talks were to take place, and is now being held in US custody at Bagram, an Afghan political figure told Al Jazeera.

With the arrival in Kabul last month of Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan of the new administration of Barack Obama, the US president, resistance to talks with the Taliban may change.

Ahmadshah Ahmadzai, another former Afghan prime minister, said trying to bring all Afghan parties – including Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader - to the negotiating table was the only option.

"If Mullah Omar agrees [to talks] and those around him do - this is the real Taliban faction - then they can bring peace."

Degennaro said: "It's really important to at least test the waters and see what's happening, and what response we're going to get, which is probably what they're doing right now."

The Afghan foreign minister is currently in Washington DC to discuss the future of the region."


There's a traditional/classical view that says development and governance aid are necessary preconditions for COIN "success" - in other words, have at least a framework in place that includes a popularly elected government with the minimum of functionality, such that state organs are in place to receive the benefits from COIN operations which remove or neutralise anti-government insurgencies. Now, what we've heard from Obama/Gates (setting the generals aside for the moment) is continued "anti-terrorist" operations aimed against al-Qaeda and affiliates, and the Taliban, on either side of the Afghan-Pak borders will claim immediate priority; the "nation-building" commitments have yet to gain any traction, judging from public comments already put out or leaked, not only on the part of Americans but those originating from Nato/Isaf sources as well. Lots of boilerplate stuff about "needs", but little momentum behind implementation of programs at the scale actually required. The WaIndy has run several good articles currently (gathered by Spencer Ackerman) summarising the situation in Afghanistan, and "what is to be done":
Preempting a Progressive Split on Afghanistan


Shadow-Pentagon Think Tank Releases New AfghaniPakistan Policy Paper


Essentially, there is a "progressive" v. "centrist" division, i.e., "development first" as opposed to "COIN-now", and for those interested, the above links will provide ample arguments for each side. But again, we have to deal with not only in-country realities, but the domestic situation in the States as well, where - if stated honestly - the "sufficient funding and long time commitments" to gain even a modicum of "success" in Afghanistan doesn't have much of a public reservoir of support. Of course, Obama could just continue with the incrementalist approach: a half-arsed "development" effort linked to a narrow military objective, and the war could just drag out for the next several years at basically a stalemate. IMO, the administration has to go "all in" in order to pull off something close to the ideal outcome, and that just won't be happening, because of the potential political downside, especially given the parlous state of the US financial/economic status.


I doubt we can afford to rebuild another country right now. We'll be lucky if we can rebuild our own. Those are simplistic statements, I think, but one thing about this sort of war is that you have to be willing to commit to it as a country. I suspect a lot of Americans feel as I do right now.

If we can't afford this war, and we can't get enough help in fighting it, then we should figure out how to leave while causing the least amount of damage.

Patrick Lang

Pvt. K.

Y'r a bitter man, laddy. I hope you realize that I would agree with all of that.


You missed the part in which I said that developmental aid is an intrinsic part of COIN? How did a smart person like you miss that? You must be a diplomat or a political scientist. Actually "the generals" are not advocating anything other than classical COIN. i.e., CI=Political action+ developmental aid + counter guerilla operations.

Careful that you don'r slip into systemic anti-military thinking. Like ant-semitism and a few more "anti-s" that rots the brain.


Sidney O. Smith III

Be curious to know how an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran would effect Kilcullen‘s “conflict ecosystem” in Afghanistan. The Gaia approach. Or maybe the wrathful Kali approach.

Regardless, based upon Dennis Blair’s conclusion that Israel and Iran will engage in a “major military confrontation” in 2009, it seems to me that US analysis should (and maybe already does) proceed upon the assumption that such a war will take place. Odds exist that such a catastrophic event would send shockwaves throughout COIN operations around the globe and perhaps even call for an adaptation of Bernard Fall’s time tested formula.



a couple of notes:

Afghanistan is deeply messed up because of good reason. It is a very old place and historically very difficult place to conquer. It's a place where empire goes to die. Everybody underestimated the afghanistan challenge.

The valley and mountains are perfect place for hide out and small trade route. No major size of infantry can ever enter afghanistan for millenias. Roads are narrow and the logistic are impossible. There are only two successful pure military conquest: Alexander the great and the mongolian. Alexander army size, organization and technology was several hundred years ahead of anybody in the area. His army number was nearly the size of small kingdom in that area.

Second was the mongolian, their trick is to enter fast and kill everybody who they think are useless to their cavalry conquest.

The last one is Islamic conquest, a combination of cavalry and social engineering.

Everybody else failed to create consistent government. China, Persian, Indian dynasty, British Empire, Soviet, Pakistani Secret service.

The reason of failure are all the same throughout history: logistic which leads to breaks down to military effectiveness. Afghanistan cultural fracture which is a direct result of each empire tried and failed conquest leaving pieces of its influence. Coherent national culture never really congeal because afghanistan is the balance between stagnancy of isolated mountain and vibrancy of cosmopolitan global trade. And lastly, it has always been the boundaries of competing regional power. It's the flux in great power equilibrium.

So looking at recent history we have predictably odd events: stingers vs. mi-24. Taliban blowing up giant buddha statue. Or Marxist-Islamic Speeches by a mullah. Al-Qaeda (modern counter insurgency guerilla + religion + multi-national logistic organization)

... , afghanistan from military point of view has very deep history. Every single world power since the beginning of time has been there except the Roman. Military technology hit a wall in afghanistan. So people in charge better quit the clown show and start sitting down seriously.


Some people would classify me as a right wing warmonger. Wether that is true or not, I can recognize a losing hand, and Aghanistan is a loser.

There is always a right time and place to fight, but this mountainous"sand pit" is not it!

The Colonel is the expert, and if he says a COIN strategy can work there. Then given time, I expect it can.

But we as a nation simply do not have the TIME or TREASURE to spend on that God forsaken land. Which as near as I can see holds none of our vital national interest.

I didn't vote for Obama, but as he goes so probably will the nation. I wish him a successful Presidency. Marching on into an Afghanistan quagmire will probably doom him from the start.

Right now, Afghanistan is still perceived as Georgie Bush's "screw up", soon Obama will in the public mind inherit the blame.

We finaly got a few things to at least temporarily break our way in Irag. Let's not push our national luck.

Obama needs to blow off the camapign rhetoric about "the real fight is in Aghanistan". He should declare victory, load our boys up on C-130s. And get them to hell out of there while the getting is good!

Mark Logan


There is a site that has a soup-to-nuts reading list called Abu Muqawama:

Some of those are articles
and essays more than books and don't take very long to get through.

Where to start? Bernard Fall?

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