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23 September 2009


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"I would not oppose the noble idea of a COIN war in Afghanistan if I did not think it likely to fail from a lack of long term political will."

This is it in a nutshell. What reasonable expectation should anyone with even a basic knowledge of US history have that the people would tolerate a 10-20-whatever year war to transform a country in South Asia? None, right?

So why do we have so many folks behaving as if this commitment will be tolerated? I'm stumped.


ahh, b/ everyone aske where does Petraeus weigh in?

andrew exum of abu muqwamma provides he link. human terrain blah blah blah




I hope during the extended discussions the participants agree on the meaning of the various proposals. Last night on NewsHour the high level discussion on future strategy was between COIN (fighting everybody) verses Anti-Terrorism (only killing Al Qaeda). The basic conundrum is that America is unwilling to spend the blood and treasure to really pacify the “AfPak” theatre. And, even if America went ahead full steam, it is not sure that it would even succeed. The Soviet Union and British Empire failed.

At least now the President is using the formally verboten term “occupation”.

The Spanish never pacified the Apache. America pacified New Mexico and Arizona with settlers, left over Civil War veterans, and forced tribal resettlement. With remote sensing and drones and a pull back to Kabul, the “Indian Country” outside of American control just expanded.

Will the discussions ever raise the likelihood that the Long War is unwinnable? A Western strategy of ending the Neocons’ “Holy War” and returning to a policy of containment, the blood and money being tossed around the Hindu Kish Mountains would end.

On the other hand, even before America withdraws from Afghanistan, all hell could break loose because the current Israeli government will bomb Iran before the Ayatollahs obtains nuclear weapons.

Clifford Kiracofe

One of the advisors to McCh. is a French analyst, Etienne de Durand.

An article in Le Monde (Paris) indicates Durand is among the more skeptical while noting the majority of advisors want a surge. The desired timing of the surge corresponds to outcomes in 2010 which would impact the US elections. Voila....

"C est un aspect décisif pour la
suite des evenements, souligne
Etienne de Durand qui raconte
que la majorité des experts consul
tes par le general McChrystal pen
chai! pour un tel « surge », en plus
d une accélération de la formation
des forces afghanes M Obama se
décidera t il vite ? Pour des raisons
logistiques, un nouveau déploie
ment de troupes américaines pren
drait environ six mois Pour faire
sentir ses effets en 2010, annee
electoralement importante aux
Etats Unis, le renfort devrait donc
être lance des maintenant."

Also, Durand is concerned the Americans do not grasp cultural issues sufficiently:

"De même. Etienne dè Durand
conteste t il l'idée, tres en vogue
côte americain, que les problèmes
en Afghanistan sont imputables sur
tout a la corruption dans I entoura
ge de Hamid Karzai, ou a ses accom
tances sulfureuses Un faux debat,
juge ce chercheur En faisant ce pro
ces a M Karzai, les Occidentaux
minent leur propre appui dans le
pays et projettent leurs propres
conceptions culturelles, inadaptées
a la réalité afghane « qu'il f out pren
dre telle qu'elle est» Le debat sur
l'Afghanistan n est pas fini •"


from the above-cited Petraeus link

" A successful counterinsurgency strategy does, of course, have traditional offensive and defensive kinetic military components, including a subset that is the kind of operations associated with counterterrorist forces.

Conventional military operations obviously enable you to clear areas of extremist insurgence elements and, together with special operations forces, to stop them from putting themselves back together. The core of any counterinsurgency strategy though is that it must focus on the fact that the decisive terrain is the human terrain, not the high ground or river crossing, though those features do remain of importance.

Focussing on the population can, if done properly, achieve a number of important effects. First and foremost of course, it can improve the security of the population, which is all important, and thereby help local authorities extend basic services to the people. A population-centric focus can also help to delegitimize the methods of the extremists, especially if you can contrast your ability and willingness to support and protect the population with the often horrific actions of extremist groups.

Indeed, exposing the extremist ideologies, indiscriminate violence and oppressive practices of extremist movements can help the people realise that their lives are unlikely to be improved if under the control of such movements.

For the strategy to work, moreover, it’s also necessary to find ways to identify reconcilable members of insurgent elements and to transform them from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution. That is not only important from a security standpoint in the local area, it’s also important in generating the kind of momentum that can result in a spread of thinking that is time to reject resistance and embrace political participation.

The goal, of course, is to mobilise local opinion in opposition to violent ideologies, and on this point I might note that it was British deputy in Iraq, Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb, also a former 22 SAS, armed with lessons he’d learned in Northern Ireland, who was one of those who was in the development of the concepts of reconciliation that enabled us to capitalise on the so-called Anbar Awakening, and to help transform it into a broader Sunni Awakening in Iraq in 2007. I might note that Lieutenant General (retired) Sir Graeme Lamb is now in Kabul by the way, helping General Stan McChrystal develop concepts to guide the reintegration of reconcilables in Afghanistan. "

[Extra Paragraph breaks Supplied by me for easier reading]

What are missing in his overall remarks is that is truly clueless is that a Palestine Centric Approach would defuse the whole shooting match. Petraeus, a true NeoKon is wholly bereft of any strategic sense of why the heathen rage.

Maybe, Obama does. At least he is working on Israel-Palestine on his first year in office rather that waiting till his last.

sd nadh

Pat, to have the scaled back forces and foothold you propose and Biden seems to want (and my apologies if you've discussed this already), just how many troops are we talking about? As well, what operations would they undergo, what kind of equipment would they have, and where would there the bases be? Where they are now? Other?


The general direction is pretty much obvious.

"Obama himself backed off from calling for a settlement freeze and merely said:

[Israelis] have discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity."


1. To the Israel-Palestine conflict will escalate between Hamas-PLO-Israel.

2. Saudi probably will at least hold the $70+ oil price if not escalate extreme price squeeze. (They will make sure US cannot financially afford more middle east policy that they don't want to see.)

3. Everybody prepares for war, because Israel attacking everybody is back on. (Saudi doubling their air force size overnight, diversifying with Russian gears. Jordan adding their air force and army for tank battle. Iran will have to put their chips in as many tables as possible. Iraq, Russia/air defense, China/oil/air defense, Afghanistan, etc) Syria and Iraq too, and we'll see how Turkey is doing. These are huge purchases, Saudi buying Russian gears obviously means they realize their military gear continuity is not secure with US supply. (eg. They expect big diverging path.)

If any one of them doing major tank upgrade, then it's big time land war.

Then there is the nukes.

Basically, the foundation of next Arab-Israel war is being laid, and this time Iran will play too. We'll see how Egypt preparing itself, that place has all the hallmark of backlash against US backed regime.

3. Saudi, Egypt and Palestine all have very old leaders with shaky succession line. They all are about to drop dead or becoming senile in the next 5 years. All of them has highly polarized, pent up underground politics and murky political scene. ... and there is Yemen (another young and shaky country with very old and complicated politics)

Considering all that, at least these mean continuing high oil price, complicated geopolitical chess game in the entire length of central Asia (Yemen up to Syria all the way to China western border.) The trend is heating up of Arab-Israel conflict all the way to Islam (look at the map) vs. Israel-US major tension.


... afghanistan?

Suppose there is a clash in Golan Height, Southern Lebanon and Egypt or Saudi getting shaky.

Israel attacks Lebanon and they shoot at Iran, then Iran enters. Syria and Lebanon enter as well. Massive pinch in Israel northern front. After about 3 weeks, they run out of bomb and money. They ask for help ... suppose Syria and hezbollah now think flanking Israel as they enter Lebanon by way of Jordan is an effective way to pressure israel instead of doing pure defense. Something basic like industrial sabotage and planting land mine. Then what?

In that scenario we are automatically at war with Iran. 180K troops pinned down in Iraq and Afghanistan are fair game since they have to be transported into Israel conflict. (All roads will now have modern anti tank mined. One or two major ports will be radio active. It's easiest to target with nuke by sea. I would vote Kuwait or Haifa likelihood. Persian gulf is closed. Major world oil facilities blown up to drive up price. High intensity battle will then have to depends more on air route. Cris crossing so many airspaces and land in hostile area airports? The soviet tried that trick before.

All those logistic points in Indian sea and around the gulf are open. A simple fishing ship and load it up with chemical weapons turns out to be far more effective than any destroyer ship.

Afghanistan will be an obvious battle front, since everybody knows how to play in there one way or another (better fight them there than home.) Iraq will jump into the chaos. Kurds and southern Turkey will see some shooting and bombing.)

Then opportunist militants/terrorists enter as well. (Hey, gotta make some statement.) So, obvious places like Pakistan, Turkey, Yemen, India, Indonesia, .. maybe even egypt and saudi will see bombing.)

If there is one strategy that will have to be played and everybody prepared for, it's the Al Qaeda dance, go global and hit everywhere, bring down global money flow and oil, then make sure the war will last forever in as wide are as possible. Only then actual front line is a game changer strategically. There is no true defense for that.

That's my current most probable general scenario if current trend continues.

William R. Cumming

My sense is that American policy in AF-PAK is driven not so much by fear as b unease at the misuse of American Armed Forces by both the politicians and military leadership. While it is a volunteer force, many have misgivings as to whether the Armed Services are a so-called "Wasting Asset" meaning in reality only usuable once [and note that as far as conventional forces not unforeseeable that vets of 5 or 6 tours in AF-PAK and Iraq will soon be appearing--few of these of course are flag ranks]! Even with the growing ranks of non-citizens and those dependent on the military for some kind of successful future should they live---Americans in general are uneasy with the notion that this essential asset of national power can in fact be misused and not so very easily replaceable or even perhaps if destroyed in morale or actually may really cause demands on the civilian world including possibility of a draft. What that adds up to is that by the 2010 election time will have definitely run out on both Iraq and AF-PAK whatever labeled "success" or "failure" by then as far as the military and civil leadership. So what to do? We are faced with the cruel dilemma of being the principal target of non-state actors for the rest of this century unless other nation-states by their actions lighten the load by their actions or by becoming targets. Whether Islamic fundamentalism, JIHADISTs, or others with grievances, it does appear that certain of Malcom Gladwell's "Tipping Points" may arrive through the front door or backdoor for American economic system, culture, or whatever. Will that passage be marked from success to failure or failure to success perhaps the eye of the beholder but those who viewed the OBAMA Administration as a bearer of "change" whether or not reform do seems to be viewing the efforts of the administration and closer to the past than somekind of future pattern of success for American lifestyle, culture, economics, and politics. We (US) are much more closely studied by the rest of the world than some may know. American studies in other countries or my our enemies certainly has to reveal that theres is little seamlessness in American life, economics, and culture. We are totally dependent of others for energy, economic viability, and our future yet we continue to act out of hubris and ego as if our policy reviews and control mechanisms mean that "we [the US) control the future" instead of having to adjust to the realities of others. That is the challenge. We blew proliferation when we desseminated nuclear power technology and allowed theft by Israeli's of special nuclear materials. Now the past haunts more and more and we (The US) keeps trying to run faster and faster to keep up with its past mistakes. Instead of a comprehensive new look we remain tied to the paradigms of the past that seem to me to be leading to disaster. What nation in the world or what ethnic group or even our own citizens thinks that it can reliably predict US policy on almost any subject when policy is in fact largely left to corporations and those with no long term interests but greed and sustainment of their privileges. Time has run out. Now for time of real change but it won't be dictated by US.


I found this story very reassuring--they may not get the "right answer" (not that we will know what the right answer is for some time), but this is the kind of delibrative process, taking military and political constraints into account, that the top level of the government should do. Given what people who "already knew the answer" have brought us, I'll take people who admit that they don't know yet, and are trying to find out. (And yes, I appreciate that this is not what you can do in battle--but that's why they call it strategy).

Patrick Lang

sd nadh

I haven't been asked to do a campaign plan on the back of an envelope for some time, but, since you asked...

The function of the US/NATO contingent would be to prevent capture of the capital and protect our own bases while also contributing light conventional forces to the "muscle" involved in US led targeted anti-terrorist operations.

There would have to be several bases in different parts of the country. The Kabul/Bagram, Kandahar and Herat areas are all appealing locations. Perhaps something in the north in the Kunduz area as well.

These bases would all have significant airfields with fixed wing and helicopter assets based on them for support of the anti-terrorist raiding operations as well as normal transportation and high priority logistics. Additional air would be available from bases in the region. Ordinary logistic re-supply operations would be conducted as they are now. A local trucking operation hauls the long haul bulk supplies in. They get through by application of a version of the "rent an Afghan" program.

The bases would all be provided with a lot of artillery to stiffen the defense to the point that a major assault against base facilities would be welcomed.

Clandestine HUMINT operations would be run from the bases as well as the management of the "rent Some Afghans" program. These two programs would be the "guts" of the counter-terrorist ops agenda with additional muscle provided by US/NATO combat forces as required.

I would think that this set up would require something like 25 to 30 thousand US/NATO forces and could be sustained politically for a long time. (fight them there rather than here, etc.)

Oh, yes, we would continue training and using Afghan Army and Police forces. pl


A bit questionable on my part to give tactical advice to the Col.....but what the hell.

The Kandahar base seems highly problematic to this amateur observer.

Patrick Lang


what would you suggest? pl

sd nadh

Pat, thanks for the response. Do you think anything like you've outlined will come to fruition? I'd presume the "long time" also means staying at least a couple of decades.

Patrick Lang

sd nadh

Probably not, the forces of the COINISH faith are too strong.

You might have to be there a long time. My crystal ball is a bit cloudy today on "how long." pl


I suspect that the hearts and minds of the US public have already been lost and will not easily be regained. The politicos can and will do what they want anyway. For a while. But eventually public opinion catches up.

Particularly, if the economic hangover from the housing bubble years lasts for years and years, as is generally predicted (caveat, general predictions can be very wrong; yet its hard to see where the next growth wave comes from.), then IMHO, it is hard to see the public being supportive of the cost in the long term, unless, the conflict disappears from the headlines - i.e., very few casualties. Yet there are many US competitors and actors and even allies (made quite hostile and alarmed by 8 yrs of Bush? and wondering who will follow Obama, perhaps in just 3 yrs) whose interest is better served by the economic and military bleeding and the loss of focus from an interminable, low-level guerilla war.

In such a future, spending tens of billions on corrupt Afghanistan, while politicians skimp on US infrastructure / health care / etc. (yet trillions of subsidies for captains of finance) will IMHO become harder and harder to support politically.

Aside note: I saw an estimate on Bloomberg that the Fed had loaned about $5 Trillion (!Yes!) by around February to cover losses, and the lending has continued. That is a gift of a third of GNP.

N. M. Salamon


I appriciate your prognosis for possible USA {I doubt if NATO would be part] scenario for long term OCCUPATION OF AFGANISTAN. It is reasonable, though the supply routes are not certain.

I see two difficulties with your project:

1., The Afgans are SUNNI, thus Saudi's friend - has repercussion on oil prices, which are very hurtful to a country on economic knees.

2., Imitating the Israel SOLUTION : Occupation with random killings [as we see in the pastl, the US FORCES is often used to settle inter-tribal problems] is not amicable to long term solutions.

The above two, of course, do not point to the MAJOR PROBLEM: the USA can not afford a war, when the homeland is in economic trouble.

Patrick Lang


OK. What is your solution? pl

N. M. Salamon


My opinion, for what it is worth, not being a military man, is that the USA should withdrew from afganistan and Pakistan, and using the SOME of savings re war, to do the Chinese game, invest!!

Possible sources: buy up the opium [was also suggested from UK earlier] for medicinal uses [and or destruction] thus gaining friends where heroin/opium are problems {Iran, Pakistan, Europe, USA, Russia].

Using as much Afgan employees as possible, invest in best arid land farming infrastructure.

Perhaps, you, Colonel, are aware that the constant military aid to Pakistan does not play well with the populus thereof, so perhaps design aid packages which by-pass the corrupt ruling elite [also applies to Afgan gov].
Utilizing the overwhelming eletronic and other spyware of the USA, without doubt your government could [if it so decides] have sufficient intelligence to intercept any major AQl Quada efforts aimed at the Homeland [and help other nations if they are endangered]. This does not take 60000+ troops and various mercanary subcontractors.

Essentially my view is that the best way to fight AQ is to take away the reason for culture based WAR: No US tropps interfering in Muslim lands, Solving the Israel/Palestinian dispute.

To achieve any of these ends, The USA needs to depend on Farci, Urdu, Arab, etc language foreign service, for as Goethe remarked, you can not understand a culture without speaking their language.
Examples which work against USA interest [though help AIPAC] is allowing mistranslation of political speeches by muslims of all sorts, by refraining from stumbling into unwinnable military fiascos [Iraq, Afganistan, Somali for 20+ years, etc]

As background, I was raised til 15 in USSR occupied Hungary, and felt resentment against the USSR and the powers which gave E Europe to the USSR at Yalta. Hungarian history is as full of imperial invasions as Afganistan, with Turks, Austrians, Russian and minor other sremiches. For better or worse, Hungary does not have any occupiers [aside form the NATO interference, a allience which has outlived its rational reason de etre!

I trust, Colonel, that I have made a reasonable attempt to answer your question. I do not question your patriotism, in fact I am elated by it, but, Sir, you do not have the memory of living under occupation [fortunately], thus you are not well placed to analyse the cultural aspects of such life, and its strong attempt to get rid of the occupation.

Your proffered solution above is occupation light - far superiar to anything in the last 8 years or so, but occupation nevertheless!

Patrick Lang


Unfortunately, for the state of my soul I am not terribly concerned with the feelings of the Afghans except in so far as they influence the safety of the US.

I suppose that you consider the time of our experience in VN to have been an "occupation" as well pl


Thanks Colonel for this post.

@WRC: Even with the growing ranks of non-citizens and those dependent on the military for some kind of successful future should they live---Americans in general are uneasy with the notion that this essential asset of national power can in fact be misused and not so very easily replaceable or even perhaps if destroyed in morale or actually may really cause demands on the civilian world including possibility of a draft. Yes. Yes! YES!!!

At least this VPOTUS, unlike the last, seems to grasp the limits of our power (both in terms of soft/hard power projected overseas as well as in terms of electoral power needed by his party in 2010 & 2012). That in of itself is a huge breath of fresh air (no matter whatever else Biden's failings may be).

Also of interest that he seems to be the lone voice left in the Admin advocating the President's first articulated, scaled, anti-terror centric stratgey in AfPak. It must be lonely for Joe, but I suspect he's more than ready to battle both General Dave and Admiral Mike.

And General Dave finally speaks, noting publicly that he AND Admiral Mike support General Stanley's call for more troops. I think the line I heard was without more troops, the mission is lost. So, prey tell, is the mission won with more troops, General? I can only hope our Congress and CinC have the guts to ask and expect the honest answer.



"I would not oppose the noble idea of a COIN war in Afghanistan if I did not think it likely to fail from a lack of long term political will."

A couple of commenters above have indirectly alluded to the notion of opportunity cost in our foreign policy.

I can understand the appeal of a long-term COIN war in Afghanistan (e.g., might be the noble thing to do), but am not convinced that such large scale investments (as would be required) are "worth it" in terms of cold economics.

What I like about "Biden's plan" is that it might "free up" resources that can be "invested" in other programs/theatres to strengthen our overall national security position.


Col, simple as forward deploying the 10th Mountain (Mountaineer, actually preferred the 87th Regiments Climb to Glory) Division to selected bases in Afghanistan and making a one year hardship deployment like the 2nd (Second to None, never liked the like the Warrior nickname) Division with combat support, air support, and of course an SFG or two?

Sounds simple, doable, and cheap versus the reality of creating a new Switzerland in the Hindu Kush.

Patrick Lang


I would not have you think that I would like to see a COIN campaign in Afghanistan.

This was a statement of regret that so "noble" an idea is just crazy. pl


Col. Lang

"This was a statement of regret that so "noble" an idea is just crazy."

Thanks for the clarification...I see what you mean now.

As for myself, as someone whose career is in "international development," I've tended to support investments in development aid because it's the "moral" or "right thing to do," a position which is of course not politically or economically viable.

At least in my field, it's often possible to estimate the outcome of investments in aid programs (e.g., one can estimate, say, the number of TB cases cured or prevented).

I don't envy those whose job it is to, e.g., figure out and implement the best "mix of programs" for, e.g., reducing the appeal of a takfiri jihadist career path.


Col, I would have to know more about the present day tribal relations in Kandahar, to proffer a suggestion. My hope would be, I leave Kandahar alone, it leaves me alone. Hopefully, I can find someone/group with aspirations to power that clash with Omar. I don't know the likelihood of that. Would like to find out. Last piece of the bargain....A.Q. stays outside of Kandahar.

But setting up a base there seems to be a bit too risky for my taste.

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