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14 May 2010


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R Whitman

I am the first to admit that I know nothing about military strategy but I do know when I am being bullshitted.

I watched the interview with McChrystal on the PBS News Hour lasdt night.

You could almost see his nose growing longer during the session.


Begging your pardon, Colonel, but Alexander's empire lasted for but an instant compared to the successive Iranian empires which fully incorporated Afghanistan.

If history is any form of indicator, Iran's historical states of Bakhtar and Aryana may one day return to their ancestral motherland.


10 years ago, the UK and the USA were developing a poppy fungus.

Now, there is a poppy fungus outbreak in Helmand and Kandahar.

Some Afghans are already blaming NATO for the outbreak. NATO denies this. Could the timing be worse for NATO?

Patrick Lang


I meant in his lifetime. Are you PS? pl



I just read your post while watching yesterday's "seminar" at the USIP:


I'm not going to comment on the obvious disconnect between your analysis and the picture painted by President Karzai and Secretary Clinton; instead, I'd like to posit three "simple" questions:

(1) Could you (and Dr. Silverman?) offer an opinion about a syllogism oft repeated by a friend who happens to be a political scientist at a major US university:

"If COIN works, then it probably wasn't necessary."

For what it's worth, I do not agree with this literally... but if I add the qualifier "COIN-by-outsiders", it rings truer...

(2) What one question would you have asked President Karzai if you had had an opportunity in this public forum?

... and just for fun, how do you think he would have answered?

(3) And appropriate to (2), Karzai was just asked about his brother in Kandahar and he launched into a blanket denial while Clinton totally circumvented it...

... so I'll ask you, if I may: is the continuation of the current power structures, though perhaps with greater attention to unpopular forms of corruption, a necessary part of COIN or do these personalistic phenomena undermine any potential progress, not to mention success?

For what it is worth, my aforementioned friend agrees almost 100% with your perspective on Afghanistan... and he has an Afghan friend who fought in the war against the Soviet Union in the camp of the late Mohammed Haq but who is now a US citizen... and my friend's friend is very, very critical of Karzai and the current course. Neither of the two has a "solution" other than for the US to leave, so I'm not sure it contributes much to elaborate further on their perspectives...

All I will add is that this situation, along with so many others where the US is entangled, seem increasingly and tragically intractable in the sense that General Petraeus' stock question - "How does this end?" - is a non sequitur sine qua non...

... and if I knew how, I would have said that in Pashto.

Thanks again for your contributions - including those of your primary correspondents - to the discussion of these and other important matters...

John Badalian

Dear Colonel Patrick- Does success require a man of Alaxander's unique genius?

Since you are both Warrior and Scholar, please favor me with an answer to this question:
Who would prevail in a contest between Alexander and his crack Greek Army and Atilla and the formidible Hun horsemen? Both were great Generals who could wreak havoc as well as play "11-dimensional chess". Neither lived to a venerable age. Need the price of genius be a steep one?

Patrick Lang


I see that you do not live in the right place to be PS. pl


Ian Welsh summed this mess up well; When you pay your enemy to guard your supply lines you've lost. The next step in this fiasco would be to 'mule' Karzai's brother's dope out with our empty supply trucks.


This is crazy.

We don't want to help the jobless here at home. There aren't nearly enough jobs for them -- 5.5 applicants per job now, according to NYT earlier this week. And yet people are all fired up about keeping illegal immigrants here and increasing legal immigration in the future. Sheer madness, all these promises we make to foreigners yet we're breaking promises made long ago to our own people.

And yet we have money for this stuff in Afghanistan? I'd really like to help the situation there, but if the good we do is undone, what is the point? My support is growing real thin and I can't be the only one.

When in God's name are the problems of average Americans going to be given attention? This summer seems booked up with worrying about upsetting illegal immigrants and wasting millions of minutes discussing Elena Kagan's confirmation.

Once again I wish I had a Tea Party-like group that supported my issues. This coach potato's ready to march and get some attention for Middle Class America.


Pirouz, The Iranians are not that smart, but maybe we are that dumb to believe we change the Afghans into being like Switzerland.

Regardless, do you really think the Afghans want to be under Iranian rule any better than under American rule?

Where are magister militum Petraeus or legatus Holbrooke in this debate?



The write-up of operation “Cooperation for Kandahar” has the same tinge of propaganda that American Prisoners heard in WWII when each German victory always occurred East of the previous victory; except, now it isn’t funny. The costs of the wars are too great. Robert Gates stated that “health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive”. Last year was the first in which hospitalizations for mental disorders outpaced those for injuries or pregnancies. Young men and women who are so ill from repeated combat tours that they seek help even at risk of their future military careers.

Since the Vietnam War, as a response to the draft and a never ending war, the Reagan Revolution and the Clinton Reinventing Government, has reorganized the federal government get off the backs of American citizens and serve only corporate stakeholders. This deregulation resulted in a financial system loaded with toxic debt, an electrical power grid that fails for hours for no obvious reason, regional airline system with under paid and overworked pilots, and a continuous deep sea oil well blow out. But nothing shows corporate power more than two unwinnable wars being fought with borrowed money with half of the manpower in the field contract mercenaries.


I believe that this shows that the Taliban (who are Afghans themselves), already know how to succeed at COIN. Wasn't that part of how they came to power?

It certainly looks like McChrystal is not succeeding with his plan. November is great timing, after the mid-term congressional elections a change regardless of outcome (of either the election or operations in Kandahar).



How can this not be happening as we speak.


CORRECTION: Oh my goodness, what a mistake I made above. I said:

"We don't want to help the jobless here at home. There aren't nearly enough jobs for them -- 5.5 applicants per job opening now"

Oh how I wish that were true, just 5.5 applicants per job would be heavenly. Unfortunately that is not the case. What I should have said was:

"We don't want to help the jobless here at home. There aren't nearly enough jobs for them -- 5.5 unemployed people per job now"

Making that correction was hard, just the thought of only five or six applicants per vacant job is such a wonderful fantasy. I think I must go reward/console myself with a gin and tonic. I hope my lime is still good.

John Kirkman

"Alexander's empire did quite well in what is now Afghanistan"

I would appreciate a readily available reference(book?)on the above.
Thank you.



Health care costs eating DOD alive? That's said every time they cut benefits. They also say "... the sacred obligation we have to America's wounded warriors..." That's why the 18 veteran in line ahead of me at the medical review board (back when I was on active duty) ad to demand a shore assignment so he could obtain his 20 year retirement rather than a 50% disability rating. At the time that rating wasn't 50% of his base pay as an E-7.

It would be nice if they would actually stop looking at retirement obligations as expenses to cut. Put a separate tax in the budget for 'war disability payments' or some such title. Lets see congress refuse to vote for that; then let Wall Street explain to the public why million dollar bonuses should get taxed at the same rate as the income of a $2.85 + tips waitress.

The Twisted Genius

"FB Ali had it right when he said that COIN is a boutique art to be practiced by those who have real expertise rather than by infantry colonels who have read a few books and who are swept up in this latest fad."

So true. If we are so intent on messing about in Afghanistan, let the Gants in our Army have a go at for a few years. There's no guarantee of success, but a more modest, patient and finessed approach certainly cannot do worse. Our current efforts are like a bull in a china shop. Another annoying fad that our generals are engaging in is information operations or more specifically, propaganda aimed at the U.S. public and Congress. It's almost as comical as Baghdad Bob... and far more repulsive.

The Twisted Genius

BTW, has anyone seen any war rugs immortalizing our time in Afghanistan?


"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier, So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!"

More seriously: what possible service to America's vital interests are we accomplishing on the Hindu Kush? Anyone? I very much like the suggestion above, that we turn the place over to the Iranians. That would elegantly kill two birds with one stone.

Patrick Lang


Yes. Give us our chance. The Army has now begun to argue that a balanced force is necessary. Bless them. pl

FB Ali


I would suggest we do not get carried away. What Gant described appears to be only a small part of SF operations in Afghanistan. What they seem to be mostly doing is ‘targetted killings’ (that’s the polite term, in the vernacular they’re called assassinations).

The success rate of these appears to be 50% or less, i.e, only half or fewer of the victims are related to the Taliban. But in practically every one of these operations, whether the trophy is Taliban Tom or Farmer Joe, quite a few family and neighbours get shot up in the process.

The SF in Afghanistan is not just US. Many other countries are using this priceless real-life training to hone the deadly skills of their SFs (I believe some of the East Europeans are having a lot of fun).

Patrick Lang

FB Ali

I do not think that either TTG or I are talking about the direct action operations of JSOC (Delta, Seal Team 6, etc.). You are largely correct in your description of what they do. Army Special Forces also conducts some direct action missions, but they are uniquely qualified to do "unconventional warfare." That is what we are talking about. pl


First, it is a positive step that the US is realizing that Operation Kandahar would flounder and is pulling back from carrying it out. It is understandable for the "Cooperation Kandhar" information operation to keep the demagogues at bay in the cable news industry. Though I wonder if backdoor progress on negotiations is being made with Afghani Pashto leaders?

Second an interesting article linked below on speech by Turki al-Faisal saying the US should shift to counter-terrorism in Afghanistan and that Obama needs to either get something done by September in Mid-East peace or get out of the way.

Phil Giraldi

Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan but only was its overlord for a short time before he moved on to India. After he died his successors, called the diadochi, fought over his empire. The Seleucids won most of Asia including Persia but a breakaway kingdom developed in the far eastern part called Baktria. I believe Baktria included a substantial hunk of Afghanistan.

BTW Kipling's lines on being left to die in Afghanistan is often cited, but I think his best poem about fighting the Pathans was "Arithmetic on the Frontier."

Adam L Silverman

Batandor: To answer your question - that is not an expression I've heard before, but I think what your friend is getting at is that COIN operations seek to reestablish the connections between people and their governments, governments and their people, and the communities within a given nation-state. If these things are reparable, then the existing structures, institutions, and/or leaders will be able to deal with questions and crises of legitimacy. At the point where a third party has to become involved, it is often too late for these corrections and something new has to be tried. That's my take away from the expression.

That said I think there are several other things going on here. 1) The ongoing confusion and conflation of just what an insurgency is, just what counterinsurgency is, and irregular warfare or other non interstate forms of political violence and the responses to them. As I've written here before, insurgency has come to represent all forms of political violence short of interstate war and COIN all responses to such behavior. This is not just bad scholarship or doctrine, its bad for policy making as it warps the discussion about what needs to be done. 2) COIN has moved past this to become a branded item. While I think it is very accurate to argue that most of the potential threats that the US and our allies face in the short to medium term are asymmetrical (ie we are military and economically more powerful than the actors which will challenge or threaten us), this does not mean that COINOps are the answer to each challenge. Some of these challenges, such as continued or increased narco-trafficking or terrorism campaigns, can not be solved by doing COIN because they're not insurgencies. Rather they require a law enforcement response followed by diplomatic and likely developmental work. Until the leads for responding to many/most of these threats are returned to their proper governmental agency locations, they will be dropped on the military, and then they'll get lumped under the COIN brand. 3) COIN, as a brand, has to be defended just like other brands. Those most involved in promoting COIN as the solution to our operational problems, and by COIN I mean COINOps as we currently do them, not a tailored response to the specific irregular or asymmetric incident we're concerned with, are beginning to put targets on the actual COIN practitioners. In the past four to six months several reports have come out blaming various things for the inability to accomplish the objective and achieve the COIN end state: information management is broken, we use too many powerpoint slides and they're unreadable (okay, this one is true!!!! especially the unreadable bit), our COIN leaders are failing to focus on politics or what politics is for the people we're helping, etc. Many of these reports or concerns have come from the same place, or places, all locations that heavily promote COIN as a brand. What we're seeing is the beginning of a PR (or IO) campaign to claim that COIN hasn't failed, rather its never been properly implemented, it couldn't be properly implemented, or it wasn't applicable to Iraq or Afghanistan! This shouldn't surprise anyone - some of these folks took credit for the surge, the most prominent, an AEIer who never served in the military and never served in Iraq even in a civilian capacity, but someone he gets the victory, even though he never had to face any risks other than paper cuts and carpal tunnel from working in his comfortable DC office! (this guy is a 3 Star general in the 82 CHAIRBorne Division!) In short what we're seeing isn't a nuanced discussion like COL Lang or COL Bacevich or several others argue for over what are the problem sets, what are the solution sets and therefore the operational outcomes we'd like to see, what are our capabilities in regards to them, and therefore how do we proceed. Instead its protect the brand, throw a 3 Star or an Ambassador under the bus, and get someone in there that can do the job because as the demotivational poster says: "consulting - if you're not part of the solution, there's good money to be made prolonging the problem".

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