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11 July 2009


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William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang.

I have a couple of disagreements. Not about your counter -insurgency conclusions,which should be blindingly obvious to the policy makers, but, rather on the point that we will not be emerging from Iraq with loot, indicating that we didn't invade Iraq for tangible benefits. Adverting to testimony before congress by Wolfowitz and others, various news items, and deduction, I maintain that simply because we don't seem to be leaving with lots of goodies doesn't mean that we didn't invade with the expectation or aim garnering them. Also, along with some of the others who've commented, I'm skeptical about whether the withdrawal is what it's cracked up to be.

My other quibble is with the notion of westernizing? civilizing? pacifying? democratizing? Afghanistan in order to prevent Al Queda from plotting. First, they can concoct perfectly good plots without Afghanistan. Second, we can prevent them from establishing bases in that country without resorting to a complete reformation of Afghan social,economic and tribal life. Actually, that may not be a disagreement with your post, but I had to throw it in.

It's a beautiful day and I'm going sailing.


Patrick Lang


I happen to know a lot about US motives in invading Iraq. Maybe you ought to read my piece, "Drinking the Koolaid" in MEP.

This was all about stupid ideas firmly held by people educated beyond their level of actual intelligence.

Get over the economic determinism crap that some professor sold you. What do you think, that we planned to force the Iraqis to sell us their oil at concessionary prices in long term contracts. Such contracts written under military occupation would be illegal in international law. Having obtained such contracts we would then enforce the terms of these illegal contracts by force indefinitely? Is that what you think? Iraq has nothing worth having but oil.

The other business about the civilizing mission is their theory, not mine. I said clearly in my piece here that to attempt such a thing would be foolish in the extreme. pl


I have actually been rather clear about those two little problems.

I checked under the "Afghanistan" category and see your suggestions. I think the bottom line from your April 2009 "put up or shut up" post is playing one faction off against the other in Afghanistan to squeeze the "raisins" and poppies, and in Pakistan tolerating a military coup.

With respect to Afghanistan, I wonder if Taliban successes in retaking territory means that a greater Allied military presence, and offensives like the one we are currently pursuing, are necessary lest we lose the ability to play factions off against one another, . . . because the Taliban controls most of the real estate.

With respect to Pakistan, my problem with the military dictatorship solution is the nefarious ISI, which I see as fundamentally inimical to US interests. Then again, I guess the question is the risk of ISI sponsored nuclear proliferation threatening us with or without a coup.

Again, I wish I had suggestions rather than questions, but this isn't my labor grade. Which reminds me, I've got to work on a US asylum application today. :-|


I don't know much about the military and/or intelligence, or about COIN other than our host's position on the issue, but these arguments sound convincing:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n13/stew01_.html>The Irrisistable Illusion, Rory Stewart

Even if – as seems most unlikely – the Taliban were to take the capital, it is not clear how much of a threat this would pose to US or European national security. Would they repeat their error of providing a safe haven to al-Qaida? And how safe would this safe haven be? They could give al-Qaida land for a camp but how would they defend it against predators or US special forces? And does al-Qaida still require large terrorist training camps to organise attacks? Could they not plan in Hamburg and train at flight schools in Florida; or meet in Bradford and build morale on an adventure training course in Wales?

Furthermore, there are no self-evident connections between the key objectives of counter-terrorism, development, democracy/ state-building and counter-insurgency. Counter-insurgency is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for state-building. ...

... But Osama bin Laden is still in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. He chooses to be there precisely because Pakistan can be more assertive in its state sovereignty than Afghanistan and restricts US operations. From a narrow (and harsh) US national security perspective, a poor failed state could be easier to handle than a more developed one: Yemen is less threatening than Iran, Somalia than Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan than Pakistan.

Do we actually know were Bin Laden is, or if he is still alive? Does it still matter, given the huge recruitment PR provided by the War against Terrorism, or WWIII/IV scenario?


Col, Thank you very much for this post, and I agree completely. It certainly seems though from the WaPo article that the train is leaving the station and the COIN faction is winning.

Re: "there is a massive subterranean fire burning in the US government between two factions."

Could you please provide more detail about who is in the opposing faction? Jim Webb maybe? Since the special operations forces will be bearing the brunt of any long term COIN strategy, are you aware of any institutional pushback from those quarters? And finally, I'm curious how these criticisms are taken by COIN proponents, particularly whether they are taken seriously, or whether they are considered to be 'defeatist' like criticism of Iraq was under Bush.

Patrick Lang


As I have written before, policy making is largely a matter of making unpleasant and dangerous choices.

What would be your policy? pl

William R. Cumming

Let' separate Iraq from AF-Pak for the moment. Looking back at our effort in Viet-Nam wonder what the bottom line PL take is on that effort not for US but for Viet Nam as the generation passes from power that led the fight against first the French and then the US. If your reading is that by indirection (meaning the totality of how different the culture of the US impacted Viet Nam) created a long term much different Viet Nam than if US had let Communists take it over after French departed, perhaps then there is a long-term sea change in Iraq that will be underway as soon as US departs. Personally, I think there will be civil war and perhaps a breakup. But I see Iraq (or its derivative states) as being deeply influenced by the US effort. Again indirectly. I don't think Iraq will be part of OPEC but could be wrong. Certainly Iraq and its possible derivate states all will need the oil resource. I see a grand bargain possible because of the oil resource (Iraq seems to have by consensus the world's second largest reserves)but US will not be involved. Again the Iraqi State may wish for US presence but that will not happen again for many reasons. But the long-term strategizing in Arab world and Persia/Iran over Iraq has bound to be really complex and difficult.

As to AF-PAK and I really consider this a whole theatre that needs to be looked at together, the dynamics are against anything but blood and treasure being expended and wasted by the US for the next decade. Probably Obama will be a one termer over this issue and his failure to grasp that only the federal government was big enough to resturcture the economy and instead he just used his opportity to reinforce a failed FIRE sector (Financ, Real Estate, Insurance Sector). AF-PAK even more than Iraq will within the next year show how really devoid of leadership both civilian and military the US has become. Hey "Change" did not mean "reform" but events are now in the saddle and even without reform the US will be changed but probably a really hard lesson about to be learned as described by BABAK's point #2. Islam was just a US problem a while back. Now it is a big problem for many nation-states, those that are and are not dominated by Islam and its renunciation of reason for faith. I think each day how right Samuel Huntington was in his analysis!


I don't want to stir the pot to much, but here is the obvious answer to Twit's question:

Kerry: "We are going to take a hard look at Afghanistan" | GlobalPost on July 9, '09

When Congress approved funding for the additional troops, “I think we gave them a fairly defined and limited scope of engagement,” Kerry said. “I remain concerned about the nature of the footprint and how this is going to be implemented.”


I am a fan of Senator Kerry without apologies and in full cognizance of his faults... but I also agree that Jim Webb is a critical figure (and it's worth noting that as far as I can tell he has been very reserved on this subject since the beginning of the year). Their conclusions, if mutually reinforcing and informed, should go a long way towards any substantive critique within the Congress of the current policy...

... but even more so, the testimony of ordinary soldiers and Marines back to their families and communities will be very telling.

505th PIR

The STRATEGIC crossroads is seemingly this:

Context Now: Vastly different than 2001

AQ and Taliban now are intact and in fact, gaining strength (Taliban at present disproportionately to AQ for time being)and are actively destabilizing not just Afghanistan but Pakistan as well. A US withdrawal coupled with things going really bad again in Iraq would place AQ in a position to rightly or wrongly declare that the caliphate and their vision of 21st century Islam to be on its way to reality..The Infidels in retreat on all fronts etc.

The US seems to be in a position of a no win scenario if it keeps to the status quo or goes broke trying to win a long term nation building enterprise in Afghanistan and to be bogged down in the Pakistan quagmire.

The choice therefore is to pick the lesser of two evils in Afghanistan which is to support anyone in competition with the hardcore Taliban/AQ, not embark on nation building (just leave the damn place balkanized and tribal as is) and do invest $ in current and successor UAV technology et al, combine it with intelligence from friendly competitors of the Hardcore Taliban/AQ and hunt the enemy leadership elements in perpetuity from a distance. Ultimately this would stalemate and perhaps deny any lasting sanctuary/staging from our enemies while not being stuck with the massive bill in blood and equipment that a long term intervention will ultimately produce. Secondly, it keeps AQ on the defense. It seems there are plenty who would contest our enemies if they had some support and could bring forth some lightning from the sky when needed.

Invest in remote fighting technology guided by the deft hands of our special ops crew with help from all the "friendlies" we can cultivate and plug away.

Moores law holds true in terms of technological evolution and we largely own that immense and increasingly incomprehensible power. AQ and company don't and will find themselves increasingly falling behind. If we keep them at arms length and hit em with increasingly and exponentially effective technology/human capacity to use it we can at the least, bring the conflict we are now losing to a draw, bloody on their part.

Cold War Zoomie

I've been flying around installing a system for the last few months, and was extremely lucky last week. My flight was filled with a unit of Army Reserve soldiers returning from Afghanistan, and a Sergeant Major (SGM) took the seat next to me. I was hesitant to bring up Afghanistan since they were all obviously ready to get home and maybe he needed a mental break from his deployment - a time to veg out. Luckily, he was quite willing to talk about their experiences and we spent about an hour on the subject. So, here's a distillation of that unit's experience there from our conversation.

They had been there training the local and national police forces, as well as Afghan Army units. Most of the training sounded like "embed" types - our soldiers deployed with Afghan troops and mentored their counterparts; our officers mentored their officers, and our NCOs mentored their NCOs all the way down the chain. They were doing all sorts of jobs, including "snatch and grab" operations.

If I remember right, overall the national police force was coming along the best, whereas the local forces were the most corrupt.

Progress is slow, but steady. He thinks we can get the job done if we are willing to continue for a long, long time. Our guys aren't stupid. They know there is a small percentage of Taliban getting trained. They know corruption makes things difficult. They know there are cultural barriers to deal with. As far as the cultural barriers are concerned, though, our SGM thinks the "mullahs" sometimes feign cultural problems or offenses as a way to get what they want. I think that's probably true to an extent and a risk we run if we become too culturally sensitive. He explained that when negotiations started breaking down a bit, and it was obvious the "mullah" wasn't going to get his way, then some minor cultural offense was used as a pretext to end the negotiation. How convenient!

Turns out both of us had spent time in Central America and we compared the cultures. They sound very similar - little long term vision and a lot of personal corruption. Everyone grabs what they can, when they can, with little thought about the long term.

I brought up the HTSs - he had not heard of them. He said they sounded like a good tool.

One thing I had been wondering about was the success of the Pakistan Army's offense in the Swat valley. Our SGM advised that the news reports were pretty accurate - the Pakistan Army was hammering the crap out of the Taliban, pushing them to us on the border where we are the anvil. That's good news.

Also interesting is the amount of Taliban killing themselves building IEDs. He suspects 50% blow themselves up while building them. I asked if he thinks Iran is providing anything and he doesn't think so. Turns out there is plenty of old Soviet ordnance floating around from the Cold War, including 100s of old Soviet tanks.

Finally, he told me of one of the methods they use to pinpoint "the bad guys." I'll just say it was a great idea and appears to be working.

All in all, my impression was that this unit had done a good job, and part of that was because they are a Reserve unit. Each individual can apply experience from their civilian lives as well as their military training.

I was extremely grateful that our SGM was willing to tell me so much since our news organizations are seriously falling down on the job. And even people like me, working inside DoD, don't really know what's going on half the time.

Oh, almost forgot, we also talked about contractors over there. We both agree it's insane, and he had some serious problems with the contractors at first, but he is definitely drawn to the idea of making boatloads of money over there as a contractor rather than returning to his civilian job. He basically validated what has been written here before about the security contractors.


"Such operations must be a hazard for the insurgents and NOT for the population. We have not been doing well at that in Afghanistan."

It is not a great secret that I have been viewed as an advocate for "airpower," but in this case I am reminded of another wise Colonel, T.E. Lawrence, who is alleged to have said in a similar context, "The knife is the best weapon, the airplane is the worst." One might almost add that an unmanned aircraft flown from thousands of miles away may be worse yet.



Perhaps this has already been mentioned, but is this in any way an attempt for SOCOM - particularly the Green Berets - to reassert their traditional role as IW and COIN people?

I think it was you that had a post some time ago about the 'Big Army' turning the GBs into direct action types, i.e. the Army Rangerization of Army SOF.

If so, does this necessarily mean that McChrystal has bought into the COIN gospel, or is just prepping the way to turn over the mission to SOF - knowning that our commitment in forces will not be expanded significantly?




A grand shura (council) was convened in the southwest, bringing together big and small commanders, including Abdullah Saeed, al-Qaeda's commander-in-chief for Afghanistan.

Mullah Omar, a source from the al-Qaeda camp told Asia Times Online, emphasized that each group should set up a coherent fighting strategy, and their preference should be Afghanistan.

Significantly, a major role was envisaged for al-Qaeda and the Afghan war will now be its prime goal. Al-Qaeda will continue to shift its manpower from the Middle East to the South Asian war theater, especially from Iraq. These men bring with them vast experience, especially in the field of improvised explosive devices and ambush techniques.

The shura also integrated several small commanders from Logar and Kabul provinces into the larger structures of the Taliban. Previously, these players had received a minimum of funding, but now, due to their strategic position, they will receive funds and human resources from bigger commanders like Sirajuddin Haqqani. The aim is to jointly launch attacks on NATO's main arteries, such as the supply line from Jalalabad to Bagram air base just outside the capital Kabul.

Green Zone Cafe

"Special Operations officers" would include Civil Affairs officers, who are mostly reserve but already well-integrated into PRTs. So this is not something remarkable.

In fact, they've been pulling officers from all branches and services out of their assignments and civilian life (the IRR!) and putting them through a shake-and-bake civil affairs course at Bragg for Iraq.

Patrick Lang


I like it. I like it!

No more phony e-mail addresses. pl

N. M. Salamon


On this issue I wonder what Senator Kerry proposes to examine in August or so, as the chair of the Foreign Relation Committee:

Any thoughts Colonel?


This post on Afghanistan has made me go back and reflect on recent history...2001 to now. I remember hearing on NPR in early 2001 about the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan and being distressed that the US wasn't doing anything about it. I would have supported an invasion based on that at the time. I couldn't stand someone destroying their heritage.

Later in 2001 watching the nightly news, were ominous reports about fighters in Afghanistan poisoning dogs, etc. I'm sorry I can't remember whether this was prior to 9/11 or not. Probably after because we wouldn't take kindly to poisoning animals.

So 9/11 WTC attacks happened and alot of people seemed to spin out of control. I didn't wet my pants and get hysterical about the whole thing. I was just kind of mystified by it all. After about 2 weeks it was like, well, there is a reason this happened and it's probably not because they hate out freedom.

Bush comes on TV later and says he has ordered the bombing of Afghanistan and I thought, why?

I never could figure out what the strategic advantage would be. I don't think one was ever articulated. It was just a knee jerk response in retaliation against someone or something presumed to be responsible for 9/11.

Then when Bush pivoted off onto Iraq I thought this is madness. We have one mess we can't control and we're going to compound that with another mess.

Maybe someone here can educate this lefty, liberal, never too interested in the military, except to the extent it is supposed to protect America, why we are in Afghanistan. I know how it morphed into Iraq, I remember that propaganda.

Thank you.



I got a huge wave of deja vue, all over again, when I read Stars & Stripes Heroes 2009 articles about my old battalion and company 38 years later. “Charlie Company” then. “Chosen Company” now. Nothing has changed except the scenery and a slick multimedia presentation paid for by Boeing.

Then as now, pacification is dependent on the number of boots on the ground and how long they will stay. Economics and politics will determine the length of time American troops will occupy Afghanistan. Asking if America will win in Afghanistan is the same as asking did the Germans defeat the French or did the Russians defeat the Germans in WWII? Sooner or later, if the culture can withstand the onslaught of the invaders and resist the occupation, the foreigners will be forced out.

“Winning hearts and minds” echoes again.


Everything made good sense up to:
"It would be sad to see Obama leave office as a one term president."

I'm certain we can't survive 2 terms of this socialist/pacifist whose foreign policy is "bend over."
This guy does NOT like this country - and he's an economic illiterate.


man... afghanistan, whatta mess.

few random note:

1. taliban and alqaeda upper leadership are still intake. their ability to analyze and create coherent strategy only diminished slightly. Why is this? the top 100 people are irreplaceable, those with battle experience, analytical ability and connection in the network.

however taliban obviously loosing a lot of capable and experienced fighter. their ability to execute larger coordinated offense seems to degrade. They resort to smaller 3-5 men bombing operation.

2. Where does taliban get their bigger bombs and equipments? Soviet era weapons can't possibly last so long.

2. ...has anybody look at this very obvious demographic strategy yet? (really, this is so obvious.) take out the manpower resource from taliban hand.

eg. kandahar. population 400K.
Assuming it has typical afghanistan population distribution, that mean that town has about 40K fighting age men. (in 20's-30's) Taliban draws their strength from these men.

Now suppose out of those 40K, we can greatly reduce the pool for taliban a great deal.

- hold them for "paid basic education" for few weeks during 'peak fighting season' (that should cost $1-5/person for few weeks.) Making room to draw 10-15K people seems trivial to me. Specially with unemployment so high. Reading-writing-civic education-selection for national services branches.

- out of those 10K, draw the top 10-20 percentile into further training for various government services. controling 1000 smartest males in a small city means directing the entire future of that city.

- out of those 50-100, send promise them training in NATO countries.

How many big cities are there in afghanistan the size of kandahar or kabul?


So, instead of asking smaller NATO countries to send troops, they can't afford sending. How about asking them to train people in european facilities? (they only need to provide instructors, and training material.) Way cheaper for them than sending 1000-2000 contingents that makes little difference on the ground.

Germany for eg. should quit sending troops. Instead ask them to commit a long term civil service, key basic industrial need training for afghanistan. 10-20K short term civil apprentice training. Several hundred university level training.

These will greatly increase afghanistan long term stability as considerably lower cost than keep sending more troops to patrol small strip of lands.

total program cost over 5-10 years probably are pennies, compared to overall afghan war budget.

basically: coherent national training for afghanistan. scoop up the fighting age men.

small eastern european country can contribute so much more this way soviet era weapon training) at much lower cost than actually make them fly combat units in afghanistan.

taking out 5-10% able fighting age men and putting them into government service for 3-4 planting season will seriously crimp taliban recruiting pool during peak fighting season.

Once all the brightest men are on government side. they can recruit their own buddies. It's all market competition for manpower.


Off topic, but I once had a three-week assignment to Rio during The Carnival...talk about COIN operations...lol

Our enemy is al-Qaeda, not the Afghans, IMHO we can cut a deal and save ourselves a lot of trouble/cash.

Patrick Lang

Greywolf and Highlander

Ah, brothers, do ye na ken irony?


Slaney Black

Your 3-point summary of COIN is a rather complimentary one. In practice, it looks more like this:

1. Segregate populations and wall them off between checkpoints.
2. Pay the local goons to keep order behind the checkpoints.
3. When things get hot, mass-arrest the usual suspects.

See, e.g. the Malaya campaign, where the Chinese were shut up in "New Villages", with the local KMT/triad branches paid to act as heavies. Local Malay squirearchy kept order on the outside, with both demi-elites given economic privileges to sweeten the deal. Also, the Internal Security Act (still on the books today post-independence) allows for arbitrary mass detention.

But you do have to be sure not to squeeze too hard (like the British did in South Africa) and that's your COIN doctrine right there.


Col. Lang, Thank you again for shedding important light on a very dangerous development. Clearly we cannot plunge into a prolonged counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, in imitation of past European colonial powers. What I see is something akin to a "Hail Mary" play in football: A desperate manuever, aimed at extracting victory from the jaws of defeat. Here are the elements as I see them, and they map rather precisely on the picture you have presented.

First, Secretary Gates, a career CIA man who cut his teeth as a young officer during the Vietnam debacle, and Gen. Jones, another Vietnam era veteran, know perfectly well that they are losing the war on the home front, and that they have no more than 18-24 months to pull a miracle out of the hat. Otherwise both Congress and the American people will reject a continuation of the Afghan-Pak effort, cut off the money, and demand that the boys come home.

Confronted with that deadline, we have a two-pronged effort now underway. Admiral Mullen is working closely with Gen. Kayani, to get a maximum effort out of the Pakistani Army in places like the Northwest Frontier Province, the Swat Valley, and the FATA. CIA teams are augmenting this with targeting of "high value targets." Indeed, top Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders are more likely in Pakistan than Afghanistan at this time.

At the same time, the U.S. military, with greater emphasis on special operations personnel and tactics, are escalating across the border in Afghanistan, also targeting the "high values" and now conducting a larger scale operation in Helmand.

They are hoping that operations on both sides of the border, combined with an assassination campaign against the list of insurgent leaders, and efforts against the drug trafficking organizations that provide billions of dollars, as well as equipment to the insurgents, can somehow achieve the kind of near-term breakthrough that will buy more time with Congress and the American people.

Is this likely to succeed? No! That is why I called it a "Hail Mary" program. The U.S. economy has not hit bottom yet, and this is going to only intensify the pressure on the home front.

Gen. McKiernan said he saw Afghanistan as "mission impossible," and so he was, rightly removed. Now, the question is: Will Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Rodriguez (he is Secretary Gates' eyes and ears on the ground in AfPak) soon figure out that Gen. McKiernan and others like Col. Lang have been right all along?

And what then?

Topm Burke

I am not sure I disagree with Mr. Lang's concerns, although I believe we need to give McCrystal's considerations some room to maneuver in. If everyone is expecting the Provincial Reconstruction Teams to be the "mechanism" to bring stability and peace into Afghanistan, and then become the spring board for a similar movement in Pakistan, I think people need to rethink their expectations. PRTs are not and will not be the "silver bullet" to bring peace and stability into Afghanistan. Rather, they are a group of individuals, who share a common goal, with subject matter expertise in governance, finance, economic development, rule of lwa, city planning and the like, who are to become mentors to their Afghani countersparts. It will be up to the Afghan people to determine their own future. All PRTs can provide is a spring board for development within the country. I am not one for militarism PRTs, having led an embedded PRT in Iraq. I believe that there are a group of dynamic leaders and managers who are culturally savy, who can and should take over the led of PRTs from their current military commanders, just as soon as security is stablized and civilian organizations can better move throughout a province. Civilianizing a PRT has a dynamic impact on how problems and solutions are addressed as well as more culturally sensitive in enabled. I think though that the ISAF commander has a point in considering having having those PRTs in provinces that are not secure, led by representatives with Special Operations background. They are trained to engage in cultural diplomacy and are quite adept in changing situations. Not too hung up on rank or status, our colleagues from the Special Operations Community have a great deal of expertise, that when tied into that of subject matter experts from the Foreign Affairs agencies, can have a lasting impact in mentoring those they come in contact with. Lets give the ISAF command an opportunity to expand his strategic thinking into the dynamics of PRT development, encompassing our NATO PRT allies as well, and perhaps the abilities of a PRT to provide this interim assistance in building capacity until a central government can become effective, has some merit.

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