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13 December 2009


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"A full-blown COIN campaign in Afghanistan is not politically sustainable. "

But there is much money to be made and honours to be received until the kissing stops.



I am surprised. I agree with the facts in your paper. We’ve observed the Elephant though I was towards the tail and you were near the trunk.

In any invasion if the opponent is not conquered but has resources and safe havens, the conflict will continue until the occupier gives up and leaves. Afghanistan is approaching the conditions of the 100 Years War, a cultural invasion with lots of mercenaries; and Henry the Fifth or Obama-Bush, “Once more into the Breech, Dear Friends. Once More”.

No more than the English or Germans could conquer the French; Americans have even less of a chance of defeating the Afghans.

Conflict breeds religious fanatics. The only way to tamp them down is by containment, development, education, police, the rule of law and, most of all, peace.

Clifford Kiracofe

"COIN is a badly flawed instrument of statecraft: Why?
- The locals ultimately own the country being fought over. If they do not want the “reforms” you desire, they will resist you.... truth is that most people do not want to be deprived of their ancestral ways and will fight to protect them."

Yes, thus, a low key and minimalist approach as recommended above was a reasonable policy option for Obama.

As that policy option has been discarded, for whatever combination of reasons and factors, policy failure and mission failure are on the horizon, IMO.

Will such (inevitable) failure be enough to alter the dynamics of US politics for 2012? Combined with a bad economic situation?

Obama as a one term president?

As a Carter with Republicans winning the White House in 2012? As a Johnson challenged from within his own party? Hillary then to the fore?

What will be the attitude of international financial circles, other world leaders and elites, etc.? Mission failure in Afghanistan would seem to be a factor poised to further weaken the dollar and the US economy. We can note the economic and social consequences, "stagfalation" and domestic unrest, of Johnson's escalation to derive appropriate "lessons learned."


OUTSTANDING Analysis! This needs further play with the Puzzle Palace, MSM and the blogosphere.

Charles I

"until some satisfactory (to us) deal is made among the Afghans."

And yet the Taliban at the end of our day, will have to be incorporated into an eventual governance structure. That presumably would aspire to monopoly status regarding the use of organized coercive mechanized violence within its domain(s).

I agree you could secure what you have, corrupt warts and all, and pick the jihadis off, but where's the drug trade in all this - the dope's grown outside the cities. Supply lines ore outside the perimeters. The Durrand line is a long way from nowhere except where the jihadis are.

In the end we're paying the urbanized to escape the contested hinterlands and deal with our incessant demands for change in it, while we, er, our soldiers, be they volunteers, draftees or mercenaries, shoot at it.

I do recall from contracts that satisfactory, or satisfaction guaranteed, were mere terms of advertising art, meaningless puffery so subjective in nature and quality so as to be legally incomprehensible let alone ascertainable and hence, more to the point, completely unenforceable.

We are there.

The future is more war on the border.


i have nothing intelligent to add to the conversation. i am just commenting because i always learn something here. thank you, Col Lang -- and commenters!



Hard to disagree, and thanks for providing the background. Your
comments on Latin America brought to mind one case where the US did act
against elite wishes and undertake land reform: Japan, where MacArthur
imposed it. I experienced Japanese remembering and praising this forty years
later. Unfortunately the subsequent association of land reform with Communism
seems to have made it anathema to US policy.

Reading a history of the 60's decision to become more involved in
Vietnam, it seems like there are plenty of parallels on the DC end. Whenever
the JCS were asked what to do about some problem in Vietnam, their answers
seem to have always involved more troops and/or nukes. They never said,
"the solution to this problem lies mostly in other parts of the government";
still less "adding more resources costs more, in blood and tresure, than
the added benefits to the US".

In a democracy, the public eventually makes that final cost/benefit
call--as you say, it doesn't seem like the policy being followed will
pass that test.

SAC Brat

I've been told from someone who lived in northern Thailand during the seventies that the Thai government was able to resist the the communists by addressing the "political reform + economic development" variables in the COIN equation that the communists were trying to exploit. Supposedly Thai soldiers worked to observe the communists but avoid direct conflict that might drive more people to the communist's side. Is any of this accurate or was it a local observance? I think Thai nationalism and the communists being against the king may have been factors in the communists losing favor also.

Patrick Lang


Yes. It was a small scale COIN effort conducted in villages within the assigned area of operations of their units in the north.

It was dwarfed by CORDS which operated within the same provinces. pl


Agreed that NORMALLY "COIN wars are expensive, long drawn out affairs that are deeply debilitating for the foreign counterinsurgent power."

What's different this time around is that those effects have yet to be felt by mainstream America. Policymakers discovered how to fight a "cost free" war. Doubling military funding was underwritten by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund and by Chinese loans. The war was fought by volunteer forces. There is no draft and no war tax to generate opposition.

But all that is about to change. More troops are needed, and there is no obvious source but a draft. More money is needed, which will have to come from four problematic sources--more dependence on China, increasing taxes, cutting benefits (Social Security, Medicare), or printing money. Policymakes have so far avoided telling us which bad choice is being adopted and continue to postpone opposition.

But it is clear that the Afghan policy is bumping up against Americans' priorities. Some Senators have actually proposed delaying health care reform so that the money could be used for Afghanistan! But postponing Obama's health care initiative would threaten Democrats' chances of reelection. For the moment the money for more war will come from somewhere, but no one knows where that is. But time is running out. The chickens are about to come home to roost. Those debilitating effects will be felt. And the impact will be severe because the bubble of war debt has been allowed to accumulate for so long.


We misuse the phrase 'COIN' when we really mean something much broader like the phrase developed by the Marines 'Counteirng Irregular Threats (CIT)' or the UK 'Countering Irregular Activity CIA' of which COIN is a subset. COIN strategies, especially the purist 'hearts and minds approach', do not always translate well into strategies for other types of campaigns against other forms of destabilising activities. A successful CIT/CIA programme may never get to the stage of requiring a kinetic military option if the developing issues are caught early. The two essentials to CIT/CIA are a comprehensive approach involved all branches of government + NGO + corporate/commercial agencies; AND a clear and lucid understanding of the specific environment for any specific theatre including very clear strategic endstates. Without these two prerequisites, failure is almost a given.

So in terms of COIN, let's not blame the tools until we have taken a good hard look at the tradesmen...

Patrick Lang


We occupied Japan. We were the government. That makes a huge difference.

The same thing was true of the Phillipines. We knocked the nationalists flat and then did COIN for forty years. pl

Patrick Lang


Come on! What do you think this is, a game to be played by academics in journals? pl



Absolutely - our blogs are simply extensions of that arena - and that is not necessarily a bad thing - healthy debate and fresh ideas are surely more beneficial than the old days of concepts and doctrine developed in isolation in the back rooms of national military institutions?

The campaign in Afghanistan has dragged on for years without clearly defined goals or objectives; nor I would offer, much in the way of impartial analysis as to what THAT environment needed to meet any objectives post-destruction of AQ training camps and cadres, apart from 'attack the bad guys' and do some of that 'reconstruction stuff'. There wasn't a broad spectrum JIIM approach to the campaign, contrary to just about anyone's COIN/CIT/CIA doctrine - it was military-led and even the surge is a military option which is unlikely to secure an environment safe for NGOs etc in 18-24 months.

Your five points most likely are sustainable but to what end? The eventual demise of the Taliban? Sustained and uncorrupt democracy in Afghanistan? Securing PAK nukes from AQ et al? Securing this part of the GWOT and moving on to the next theatre?

There wasn't an insurgency when OEF started so treating it as a COIN campaign is somewhat moot. If OEF became the cause of the insurgency, then the solution is pretty obvious. If the US/NATO move on to the next campaign how many of the current Taliban fighters will remain in Afghanistan? Of course, that will leave Afghanistan in much the same state it was in the early 90s but it the big scheme of third world nations going down the gurgler, is trying to fix that worth the price in blood or treasure?


Cold War Zoomie

It's all fine and dandy to evaluate whether or not the right decision was made. Bottom line: the decision is made, and the troops are doing what they always do - going where they are told to go.

At my new job I don't support our troops in that part of the world. But I sure do hope those "bad guys" in the field keep yakking it up on those nifty radios.

The only choice now is to support our folks in the field as best as possible within the parameters of their mission.


@SJPO - "Your five points most likely are sustainable but to what end?"

Different question requires a different answer. I think what COL Lang appropriately points out is that one needs to develop a strategy that is tied to resources. If you really, really think that COIN is the operational underpinning of your success, then you need to know up front that you're in for a decade and plan accordingly. As the computer said in "War Games," the best move is not to play. But if your govt intends to play, resourcing it at $100 billion a year and hundreds of dead and wounded soldiers is not sustainable.

A man (and a govt) has to know its limitations.

Clifford Kiracofe

"Nevertheless, the “Alliance for Progress” can not be considered a strategic success. Why? The local elites in all these countries quickly perceived the COIN campaign as a threat to their political privilege and wealth in land and simply refused to institute the reforms sponsored by the alliance."

Yes, and also the local elites stole Alliance for Progress funds, allocated such funds to relatives and friends for juicy contracts, and the like. Illicit gains in Latin America are typically offshored in European or US financial institutions.

Where do the present Afghan (and Pak) elites offshore their ill gotten gains (from drugs, stolen US funds etc.) these days? Asia? Europe?

Is drug money, for example, providing liquidity in the international banking system these days? How much?

Anyone recall the BCCI scandal?

Jim Montgomery

I first encountered Bernard Fall when I was a brand new foreign service officer in 1958 in the introductory course at the Foreign Service Institute. He was lecturing on Viet-Nam and countering the insurgents.

To illustrate the difficulties American were going to have in countering the insurgents he showed a clip from a recent TV news show where a US correspondent was interviewing, via a Vietnamese interpreter, some farmers. The exchange went this way:

Reporter: Are there many Viet Cong around here?

Interpreter to the farmer in Vietnamese: Would you please be so kind as to count to ten?

Farmer in Vietnamese: One, two, three, four, etc., etc.

Interpreter to American reporter in English: He says there are many Viet Cong around here but he and his friends oppose them and support the Diem government.

After the introductory course, I went on with three colleagues to study Vietnamese full time for nine months before going to the Embassy in Saigon in July of 1960. I spent most of my time reporting on Diem's land reform efforts and saw first hand that if the local elite did not want to give up their privileges, there was nothing we could do to the stop them.

I think of that farmer every time I hear about the civilian surge coming in Afghanistan.

Jim Montgomery

N. M. Salamon

The rejection of the Colonel's view on Afganistan will run into:


agriculture will need the oil the USAQ wastes in Afganistan.

DE Teodoru


Permit me to add a most thoughtful article:
I draw it to your attention because it bespeaks the flaws in the "new" COIN book-- I say "new" in quotes for a number of academics deem it a mere plagiary (I'll leave that for later discussion). When Bernard Fall stepped on a mine my heart sank indeed for we lost one of our better thinking historians, but neither the best nor the only. He had the good sense not to over-abstract beyond Indochina, but for some abstractions from wide reading on Algeria and others. When you're a company commander with the ability to call air and ground ordnance then you can sort of afford to simplify. The Petraeus thesis on Vietnam by comparison makes one wonder how well would he have gotten along in Vietnam with only a concealed side arm walking among "natives" as so many of the Lansdale team did. For them being intel blind, language deaf and culture dumb was America’s biggest sin but no one listened until we just quit two decades later. In truth there is no COIN learning for we are on a momentum starting with a push from ex-Leninist neocons who sought indiscriminate smashing of Muslims-- Arabs in particular-- only because that's good for Israel. Hence we went from Afghanistan to Iraq and back to Afghanistan following a boiler plate manual that Petraeus imposed by playing media politics. All the other generals went quiet. Only McMaster stood up to say that we should fight the right war in th right way rather than drunk of formulas. But he disappeared into the camouflage wall they wear at Army school and McChrystal is the new "golden boy" putting before us a carbon copy of Petraeus-- it's good for McChrystal and its good for Petraeus-- but is good for our soldiers stolen from their families just before Christmas? What does it matter for America doesn't care as it suffers from "ain't my kid going to war" disconnect syndrome. So a couple of Midwestern Republican Senators are loud mouthing McChrystal's “we need more shooters” case: very simply, YOU CHOSE HIM, MR. OBAMA, SO DO WHAT HE TELLS YOU TO DO. That's more of the "ain't my kid..." disconnect syndrome to make Obama the hated "ni...er" whom the “teabaggers” think shouldn't be in the White House. Bravo, Petraeus/McChrystal and company did intimidate him and we are indeed suffering a mini-Seven Days in May because Obama ain't Truman. But read Stewart's article and see if you would want your biologic kid wasted in such a cesspool, shooting people until finally OUR victims are avenged one tribe at a time. The sending of soldiers to do the job that the neocons interrupted 8 years ago for their pet project, Iraq, will be avenged but by then the neocons will all be dead and innocents will suffer the retribution. In the end we are as ahistoric as the Taliban, only in a more sophisticated way. We write COIN manuals without a rear view mirror. Old Bernie must be tossing in his grave, having given up so much to teach so little.

William R. Cumming

Speaking of political reform as a predicate to COIN the British news mag a week or so back had an amazing and depressing article on the current context of "Politics" in AFGHANISTAN and Pakistan also. If accurate looks to me like the COIN train will soon be off the track.

The Twisted Genius

Discussions of COIN almost inevitably describe an action that we, or our allies, do to others. Other than in jihadist literature, we seldom get to see COIN from the point of view of those who are at the receiving end of COIN… especially a point of view that most SST readers can actually relate to in a sympathetic manner. Here is a description of the Lithuanian resistance to Soviet occupation that I found on a web site created by a young Lithuanian heavy metal enthusiast sometime around the year 2000. It’s still available at:


I believe this illustrates some of Colonel Lang’s points about why COIN is a “badly flawed instrument of statecraft.” Stalin strove to impose the “socialist paradise” version of economic development and political reform on Lithuania while conducting violently brutal counter guerilla operations. The Lithuanian insurgents were fighting for their very souls and, decades later, prevailed.

“The date of World War Two 1939-1945 is not correct! Here in Lithuania WW2 never ended in 1945! Stalin and Hitler started this war by signing a pact in 23.08.1939. All 3 Baltic States was the one of the first and the last victims of WW2. World War Two to all Lithuanians ended only in 1993, when the last soldier of Russian occupation forces has left our soil. In 1944-1953 we still have had WW2 in Lithuania - the vast armed resistance against outnumbered Red Army NKVD troops. 23.000 Lithuanian Freedom Fighters fell - they never surrender alive (this was unwritten rule). The most common way to do so was to burn all underground documents first, and to blow a grenade, as closer to the face, as possible. Because Russian bandits used to expose publicly remains of Forest Brothers (naking their dead bodies, disgracing them) in the main squares of towns and villages of occupied Lithuania for a weeks long. Mainly in front of NKVD headquarters. They forced local people to pass by. And if someone's mother, sister, sweetheart or wife could not stand not to show a shadow of grief, they were arrested to be sent to Siberia. Forest Brothers were forced to forget their real names and use pseudonyms for the safety of the members of their families, or what was left of them... Russians called them "bandits", but occupied nation named them "Forest Brothers", "Greens", "Lithuanian Partisans", supported them with shelter and food. Upon possibility, they were wearing Lithuanian army uniforms, acting under strict commands of their officers. Living underground in well covered underground bunkers in forests and farms. The average term of staying alive in such conditions was 2 years only. Few managed to survive longer. The last one - legendary SIAUBUNAS was shot dead only in 1965, fighting and waiting for Free Democracies to come with the help. Was it right to help them?

Was it right to stop mass suffering of 1,5 million people from Kosovo a short time ago?!... Seeing on TV this endless line of thousands refugees forced from their own homes in Kosovo reminded me something. We - approximately twice as big population, as of Kosovo, did suffer the same kind of cleansing in occupied Lithuania. But there were some differences. It was year 1941; 1945-65 but not 1999. It was not paramilitary or military Serbs, but Russian NKVD (KGB ancestors) divisions. It was not Slobodan but Stalin. There were no military, or at least, moral support for Lithuanian partisan war against Soviet Union Army, till the last one was shot dead in 1965. More than 23.000 of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters have died, fighting and hiding in the forests and desperately waiting for any sign of possible help from Democratic countries. And there was none... And there was none even humanitarian support from Stalin allies - USA, UK, France... to help our nation settle down in Siberian labour camps. We were left completely alone to stand this. And we did.

I had the echo of the same feeling in 13th of January of 1991, while standing unarmed in front of our just freely elected Parliament in Vilnius and waiting for modern NKVD troops to enter, and any support from powerful Democracies... This all history already. And Lithuania is hardly working to restore its democracy, economy to join EU and NATO. But Lithuanians would better prefer to beat Russians and Serbs in Basketball arenas but not real war... How lucky Kosovo Albanians are that they were not left alone. I think everyone from those 23.000 of Lithuanian partisans would agree with this.

There was Nuremberg trial to punish Fascism for its crimes. It's time for Communism in the name of it's more than 100.000.000 victims to do so. If you have some doubts about facts or numbers, please go to Vilnius to The International Congress on Evaluation of Crimes of Communism.

I've started this project "Heavy Metal in Lithuania" not as amateur historian, but as an artist. Sorry to say, but there is a gap and lack of information, attention and respect for those, who remain in proud standing, when others shamelessly fell on their knees... The Younger generation is really missoriented by the well done propaganda, led mainly from Moscow. I just want to show our Freedom Fighters in a different light. I've put this site in Top 100 LT ranking in Music category, to point to the kids, that there were heroes in Lithuania living next door, underground... And they looked really cool, much better, than some metal music bands. Imagine the electric guitars, but not guns, in their hands, and you'll find those images very familiar... I remember the time (10 years ago) when having such a Forest Brother picture was extremely dangerous and could led to KGB prison. So many of such photos of our heroes were simply destroyed. Some were found in KGB archives in Vilnius. Some of them with other partisan documents are still hiding somewhere underground in metal cases, waiting for some lucky coincidence to be uncovered.

Concerning first "hippie" movement this is other issue about our resistance. I was touched by philosophy of hippie movement during my younger years. The sacrifice of Romas Kalanta and events in Kaunas, following it, was our Woodstock. It gave me a lot of inspiration for my following art and political activity. I'm pretty sure, that while living on the very edge (without LSD or other drugs), they really first caught the wind of Freedom, that have came to Free World a bit later in late 60-ties. One of the main signs of it was long hair, as form of protest to the surrounding society and image of free men... So they were the very first hippies for sure! And they set us free!”

DE Teodoru

I don't how "twisted" you are but you sure are a genius. May I please diseminate your post further?



the track record for the coin doctrine is a proven failure.

the imperialist mindset that has taken over the united states has finally made americans hated (ridiculed) the world over...now that the money is running out ( indebted beyond our ability to pay) respect or should i say subservience will no longer be forthcoming from the rest of the nations that once used to play along to get along.

the debtor becomes the slave to the lender.

but we do have the biggest badest military on the planet and that is something that americans need to fear more than the rest of the world.

hard lessons are never learned they are experienced only.


Third World nationalism ought to be respected by the american hegemon.

hegemony=2 : the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group.

when the american revolution took place it was a Third World nationalist movement.

coin is an outcrop of a hegemonic world view whose aim is to invade by colonization any third world nation whose resources the hegemon wishes to appropriate, for strategic geographic reasons as in placing missiles or bases, or for the natural resources themselves.

our constitution does not allow for these interventions.

so lets consciously agree that we want to nullify the constitution of these united states first before we discuss the merits of a policy ( coin=intervention), that breaches the spirit of that document.

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