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26 February 2009

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feocito

Passing judgment is so easy from thousands of miles away.

I spent a year in A'stan as an advisor shortly after the Taliban was toppled. I can't tell you how many Afghans implored us to help them develop a country worth living in -- patriots willing to work directly for the government, a growing middle class of merchants who had crawled out of hiding, wait staff in restaurants.

I can't relate to them as mere objects or foreign policy pawns. I would like to think that there are enough of them to get things going right if we give them the power to do so. The challenge is to "get it right".

barrisj

Col. Lang...having stated more than once either explicitly or implicitly, the easiest course when faced with an anti-government ("our" government) insurgency always will be to bring down the military hammer, then do the necessary cleaning-up, i.e., "nation-building", which - in some cases - results in propping up flawed or unpopular "leaders", and then begins the cycle anew. Whether - for example - you sign onto the views of Ahmed Rashid, or other close observers of post-Taliban Afghanistan, you must admit that after 7 years of "aid and reconstruction" FUBAR, to try to restart the clock with yet another "dedicated commitment" to salvage Afghanistan is a mug's game. Given the "facts on the ground", it is almost impossible to predict if even a fraction - or if any - of developmental support will eventually reach its respective target, no matter of how much more funding is allocated. Most of the participating countries sort of "get it", thus the "donor fatigue" we are now seeing. Which leaves only the military component, with its concomitant civilian casualties, 3am house raids, burgeoning jail populations, etc.,etc., the entire panoply of foreign occupation-induced trauma. It's not a question of knee-jerk "systemic anti-military" reaction on my part, but more of a recoiling against militarism as a policy imperative rather than an adjunct in a nation's foreign affairs. There was some early talk from the Obama camp about "negotiations" and "diplomacy" in a first-line approach to sorting out the Afghanistan business, but we hear little of that today. I fear that any "new thinking" that may be brought to bear will be subsumed by COIN arguments, where those conditions that best suit such a course of action simply don't exist, full stop. Which brings us round to your POV: COIN can succeed if and only if sufficient funding, troop strength, and an enormous patience amongst the US public be directed to the objective at hand. What seems to be lacking, however, is any sensitivity to how all this plays with the Afghan people...are they really granting "the West" the "privilege of using this methodology" in their country? And - ultimately - does it matter?

mike

Colonel -

Off topic I know but could you give any insight now or on a future post regarding DOD intel undersecretary (and retired Air Force Lieutenant General) James Clapper. He was appointed by Bush and has been retained by Obama. I realize that his background was not in HUMINT like yours. But he did serve as DIA Director for awhile.

Jose

Colonel, Sam Huntington once advocated accepting Vietnam for what it was, and not what we wanted it to be.

He always explained that what was the reason we lost Vietnam.

Focus on the rural, tribal "imagined communities" and not modern democracy we wanted to create.

In Afghanistan, we face a similar situation, because we either have to accept a tribal, Islamic fundamentalist whose main industry is Heroin or we reengage on the foolish notions of turning the Afghans into Switzerland.

Our military can do anything we order it to do, the question is can we really accomplish the political needs of Politicians to make the long-term commitment required.

We must accept Afghanistan for what it is, not we want or can't afford.

In four years, Obama will probably need a withdrawal from Afghanistan to get re-elected.

That is not enough time for COIN to work.

"Just make them an offer they can't refuse."



china_hand

The Pashtun did not become drug producers until the the Mujaheddin began using it to finance their war against the Russians, back in the 80's.

Before then, opium growing was a tiny, miniscule part of their economy. Where opium is grown today, typically walnuts were before.

People here can debate whether or not this involved official or "plausibly deniable" U.S. involvement if they wish, but it's a fact that, up until the eighties, the Golden Triangle was by many times over the world's "Opium Garden". As Afghanistan production increased, cultivation in the Golden Triangle decreased.

As regular lurker on this blog, what i'm most curious about are the ideas presented in a recent article in The Nation, suggesting that COIN is really just a euphemism for "Colonialism." I thought the reasoning a bit stretched, but provocative.

Colonialism traditionally involved the energetic resettlement of the colonizers among the colonized (and, less so, vice versa). The current political and cultural situation seems to make such exchanges virtually impossible. Yet clearly, the U.S. is in Iraq because of oil, and that is an unambiguous colonialistic motive.

So I'm curious if anyone else here finds any truth in the analogy. Is it worthwhile to liken COIN operations to colonial-era policies? Is it really just "lipstick on a pig", or are there substantial differences that I don't understand?

Sincerely --

CH

Patrick Lang

Col. Lang...having stated more than once either explicitly or implicitly, the easiest course when faced with an anti-government ("our" government) insurgency always will be to bring down the military hammer, then do the necessary cleaning-up, i.e., "nation-building", which - in some cases - results in propping up flawed or unpopular "leaders", and then begins the cycle anew. Whether - for example - you sign onto the views of Ahmed Rashid, or other close observers of post-Taliban Afghanistan, you must admit that after 7 years of "aid and reconstruction" FUBAR, to try to restart the clock with yet another "dedicated commitment" to salvage Afghanistan is a mug's game. Given the "facts on the ground", it is almost impossible to predict if even a fraction - or if any - of developmental support will eventually reach its respective target, no matter of how much more funding is allocated. Most of the participating countries sort of "get it", thus the "donor fatigue" we are now seeing. Which leaves only the military component, with its concomitant civilian casualties, 3am house raids, burgeoning jail populations, etc.,etc., the entire panoply of foreign occupation-induced trauma. It's not a question of knee-jerk "systemic anti-military" reaction on my part, but more of a recoiling against militarism as a policy imperative rather than an adjunct in a nation's foreign affairs. There was some early talk from the Obama camp about "negotiations" and "diplomacy" in a first-line approach to sorting out the Afghanistan business, but we hear little of that today. I fear that any "new thinking" that may be brought to bear will be subsumed by COIN arguments, where those conditions that best suit such a course of action simply don't exist, full stop. Which brings us round to your POV: COIN can succeed if and only if sufficient funding, troop strength, and an enormous patience amongst the US public be directed to the objective at hand. What seems to be lacking, however, is any sensitivity to how all this plays with the Afghan people...are they really granting "the West" the "privilege of using this methodology" in their country? And - ultimately - does it matter?

barrisj

Patrick Lang

mike

I have a suspicious nature, and I think we both know Clapper.

I worked for a number of directors of DIA. He was not my favorite. Nor was I his. That was a long time ago and I hardly remember the points of disagreement.

Nevertheless, I understand that he has done a good job as DoD intelligence chief and I am not surprised that Gates wants to keep him. pl

ISL

Just to add a late parse of the Colonels words, which fits into the equation.

"COIN can work."

does not mean in will work. War (and most human endeavors) often do not proceed the direction forecast for unforeseen, random, reasons.

So is the treasury worth the potential?

Plus, I think if we keep pushing on the Russians (financially these days), then they will find a way to push back. I can guess a likely location....

Andrew

'Colonialism traditionally involved the energetic resettlement of the colonizers among the colonized (and, less so, vice versa).'

Not at all. Look at the Egyptian experience, for instance. Colonial settlement was big in parts of (sub-Saharan) Africa and of course in America, but in much of India not only was there little colonial settlement, but many of the existing Indian governments were left in place until 1948.

COIN is by definition a colonial technique, because it is not about imposing the will of one government upon another (as in classic nineteenth century European warfare) but of a government on non-state actors. Of course British experience shows that it can be used as part of a strategy of colonial exit as well as colonialism per se.

Andrew

Nancy K

Highlander, You say you re considered a right wing war monger, I consider myself left wing, and while I am not a pacifist, I am also not a warmonger. However, I agree with you 100%. Scary thought isn't it.

Cieran

Nancy K and Highlander:

I consider myself left wing, and while I am not a pacifist, I am also not a warmonger. However, I agree with you 100%

As do I, and I'd not consider myself left or right in orientation, or particularly pro- or anti-military (much of my career has been spent in national security circles).

I think the principle that folks of all political persuasions can agree on here is that of benefits vs costs. We have seen the immense costs of the so-called "war on terror", but the benefits are harder to define, much less to imagine.

Exactly what benefits accrue from our being in Afghanistan? Who gains those benefits? Are they worth the costs in blood and money?

I find that the most reasonable understanding of this situation is found in Luke (12:34)... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

So where exactly is America's heart?

Clifford Kiracofe

The recent comments by feocito and china-hand raise important issues.

We do need to consider carefully how to make things work given the mess we and our friends out there are presently in. We cannot simply walk away from the mess which WE to a large degree have made. We have to devise an appropriate policy and extract ourselves from the mire in an honorable manner and in consideration of the operational security of our troops.

Feocito reminds that there are those in Afghanistan who wish for some positive engagement with the US. China-hand reminds that the narco problem was exacerbated by ourselves. On the other hand this latter problem was exacerbated by some French whispers, as I recall from my own conversations with a certain influential "high ranking" French official (now deceased) who wanted the narco weapon aimed at the Soviets.

Every day that passes there seems to emerge more confused advice by the welter of various "players" (some neocon and MANY otherwise) inside the Beltway from all manner of think tanks and etc. Do some seem a bit COIN-ish in direction?

But how best to formulate the problem (challenge) we are dealing with? What are the facts bearing on this problem? How should we assess these facts? What are the realistic and effective policy options?

Col. Lang has indicated that COIN, although a valuable tool in the right circumstances, is not the correct choice in present circumstances we face and other methods are available to us and are preferable.

IMO he is trying to help us understand that the COIN option in this case means a long and sustained and expensive in blood and treasure undertaking that we cannot afford and that the weary and distraught American people would not support over the long term. Thus, we have to carefully think through other options.

G. Hazeltine

Col. Lang - I am curious as to your thoughts about the appointment of Chas. Freeman.

Lobe calls it a 'stunning' appointment. That might be an understatement:

http://www.mepc.org/whats/usleadership.asp

Patrick Lang

G. Hazeltine

It IS "stunning." Freeman is the ideal man for the job. pl

ed

PL,
In your reply to Don you quote Huntington "in the military modern man can find his monastery". Can you please eloborate as to what that quote means to you.

Thank you

annie

Re COIN . I thought the Russians tried to do loads of nation building in Afgh ? I thought a lot of the ' nation building' we'd done consisted of repairing Russian roads , dams , schools etc .
I thought the Macedonians had a policy of buying vicious local warlords to look after their conquests . Because the US thinks that policy has worked in Iraq , doesnt follow it would in Afgh .

curious

http://www.a1b2c3.com/drugs/opi012.htm

Driven by the unequaled profitability of heroin, the Cali cartel has introduced opium cultivation to the northern slopes of the Andes, harvesting some 20 tons annually since 1991.

Increased opium supply has led to a dramatic proliferation of heroin abuse around the globe--a phenomenon so vast that we can speak, without hyperbole, of a globalization of heroin consumption.

Paralleling the rise of use in established consuming regions like Western Europe and North America, heroin abuse shot upward in new areas--Eastern Europe, southern China, mainland Southeast Asia, India, and Pakistan. Rising from a situation of zero heroin addicts in 1979, Pakistan had, according to official statistics, 5,000 addicts in 1980, 1.2 million in 1985, and 1.7 million in 1993.

James Montgomery

Col. Lang--

I still do not understand what you mean by "work."

Do you mean that after COIN has "worked" we will see the local population from which we have extirpated the insurgents welcome us forever as an occupying force?

Or, do you mean that after the US makes COIN "work" the people from whose midst the insurgents have been driven will then turn to the government and we can leave?

Thamk you,

dipsop

steve

Start with Galula. Short and readable, hits lots of relevant stuff for Afghanistan, like geography.

Steve

Ken Roberts

Saw an interesting remark on Marvi Memon's website, Feb 26th diary entry, "give us the drones and we will do it ourselves". Wonder about expert opinion re that. Seems sensible if the approach is to avoid US negative image yet get job done of keeping supply lines open.

curious

Pakistan is simmering again ...

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aGe4Dz3GglVQ&refer=home

Meanwhile, the government is still trying to recover a senior American United Nations official kidnapped last month in the southwest. And Zardari is facing the prospect of public demonstrations over a court ruling that barred his chief rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, from public office.

Pakistan has arrested 100 people in connection with yesterday’s attack, GEO television reported, without saying where it got the information.

Succeeding Bhutto

Sharif, who is backing a call for nationwide anti-government protests beginning March 12, accuses Zardari of being behind the court ruling against him. Zardari, 52, was elected last year following the December 2007 assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

While Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in a statement in Islamabad that “we suspect a foreign hand behind this incident,” Salman Taseer, the provincial governor of Punjab, of which Lahore is the capital, noted parallels between yesterday’s attack and November’s terrorist assault in Mumbai, India, in which 164 people died.

Pakistan last month announced it would prosecute at least two members of the banned Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrilla group among those it accuses of plotting the Mumbai violence.

As in the raid on India’s financial center, the guerrillas in Lahore were wearing sneakers and carrying backpacks, automatic rifles and grenades in a coordinated ambush, video footage indicated. Police said all 12 gunmen escaped.

curious

seriously, this is the most important news out of afghanistan. (they just want fun gadget and shiny objects like the rest of the planet. next up fast food join.)

http://www.businessinsider.com/former-taliban-ambassador-addicted-to-iphone-2009-3

One byproduct of the Taliban's ouster: There's a tech boom going on in Afghanistan. For a profile on the subject, the AP interviewed Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador who spent almost four years in Guantanamo -- and is now "never without his Apple iPhone."

AP: Zaeef, who reconciled with the Afghan government after being released from U.S. custody, says he uses his iPhone to surf the Internet and find difficult locations, employing the built-in GPS. He even checks his bank account balance online.

"It's easy and modern and I love it," Zaeef said as he pinched and pulled his fingers across the iPhone's touch screen last week. "This is necessary in the world today. People want to progress."

curious

http://icga.blogspot.com/2009/03/bhasin-pakistan-matryoshka-doll-of.html

The second development contributing to the emergence of a new form of terrorism is the gradual distancing of the Taliban from the al Qaeda. Though rarely realized the Al Qaeda and Taliban are historically and ideologically distinct. The Al Qaeda is inspired by the more extremist Wahabi School of Islam and does not recognize national boundaries. The mission of the Al Qaeda is to establish the rule of pure Islam across the globe. The Taliban are ideologically linked to the Sufi and Deoband Schools of Islam and largely comprise of local fighters from tribal Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban also favor spreading the message of pure Islam but their operational sphere is limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nationalism is a strong sentiment among the Taliban which distinguishes them from the Al Qaeda.

This difference in ideology has become prominent in the past year. In February 2008 there was a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar that his movement wanted to maintain positive and legitimate relations with Afghanistan and its neighbors. Mullah Omar’s contention is the stationing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and not the existence of Afghanistan under non-Taliban rule. In the words of Mullah Salam Zaief, Taliban’s Former Ambassador to Pakistan, “The conflict in Afghanistan doesn’t mean [the Taliban] has to confront the world…Taliban doesn’t want to rule the world.” As early as 2005 Ayman al-Zawahiri had pointed out that the Taliban members had retreated to their tribes and villages after the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan and showed little attachment to the global Islamist struggle. In making peace deals with the Pakistani Government, the Taliban are attempting to regain local orientation and avoid entanglement in a never-ending global jihad.

curious

quick thought: Can we stop sending a**hole as negotiators, or is it a policy up top to screw with people?

second. $2B???!!!. THAT's entire afghanistan annual budget! WTF. if the point is to fix afghanistan, that much money would have fixed most of afghanistan basic problem. (why do we need a giant air logistic base? just because that's how we do thing? Are we fighting taliban air force or al qaeda tank division? )

... and the clown show continues.

http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Kyrgyz_open_for_talks_on_US_base_999.html

In an interview with the BBC, Bakiyev said a new deal could be forged that would reverse an order he gave last month to close the Manas airbase, a vital support post for operations in Afghanistan.

"If the United States wants to maintain its airbase at Manas, the doors for talks are open.... In this case, the conditions of the agreement would be different," Bakiyev said, according to a transcript issued by his office earlier.

"Negotiations on the US airbase at Manas could be renewed," he added.

Bakiyev said he understood the need to stabilise Afghanistan and hinted he wanted a better offer than the current US financial package.

"Kyrgyzstan... is interested in stabilisation of Afghanistan. We're ready to look at new American proposals.

"We deserve more respect.... Our partners, whether Russia or the United States, should be able to listen to our opinion," he said.

The Central Asian state ordered the closure last month in a move analysts described as linked to Russian opposition to US military moves in the region and a Russian offer of 2.3 billion dollars in aid and loans for Kyrgyzstan.

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