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24 May 2010


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William R. Cumming

Again agree with the post. This is an extremely complex event and again probably beyond anyone's ability to predict the outcome. My question is always the same in these US intervention situations! First the impact on the participants as their knowledge of US capacity and capability is enhanced by a decade long effort? In other words did all the participants but the US learn more about the US then the US learned about them?
Second, what is the long-term domestic political impact of this decade long effort and its success (perceived?) or failure (perceived?)? I separate the political perception from reality because that is my experience. American politicians really are in to perception and not reality. Perhaps the people of the US also. Afghanistan does matter to the US and its polity but probably not for any of the publically discussed reasons. Instead, a large and strategically located country in an area of the world likely to be a potential partner to East Asia's economic condominium led by China and Japan may just render US interests in power politics almost totally irrelevant in another two decades. Will there be any interest in the US effort in Afghan another decade down the road? I think not but willing to listen to arguments that somehow the US effort will be reflected in future events a decade out. Again appears ineffectual political and military leadership has frittered away some kind of opportunity but not sure what exactly that opportunity was in fact. Hoping explanation will be found!

Patrick Lang


"a large and strategically located country in an area of the world likely to be a potential partner to East Asia's economic condominium led by China and Japan may just render US interests in power politics almost totally irrelevant in another two decades."

How about Mongolia? Are we going there next? That country appears to fit your description as well.

I don't accept the idea that Afghanistan is in any way worth the price that the US is paying and will continue to pay in the COIN/nation building process.

"A howling wilderness" in which the counter-terrorist and other SOF people should play.

You have become infected with the idea that we need to "save" the Afghans (whoever they are). pl

William R. Cumming

Mongolia already being peacefully invaded by Han Chinese.

Patrick Lang


IMO, they are welcome to Afghanistan as well. pl

William R. Cumming

My guess is they will be there in another century.

Got A Watch

Great analysis.

Coming up to a decade now, Afghanistan and Iraq. Exactly what has been achieved, again? How many dead?

Two of the longest and most expensive and most misguided campaigns in history. Debacles.

I'm just saddened by the whole tragic mess. Humans are very clever but not smart.

Adam L Silverman


The wheel's seem to be coming off too! McClatchy reporting (link below) shows that the commanders are starting to snap at each other, especially between American and British generals:
And this report from Channel NewsAsia indicates that the new British Foreign Minister wants his troops out ASAP (link below):
As soon as I can find out where the critical CRS and IGAR reports about Afghan Operations are I'll put the links to them up as well. The summary I saw indicated that neither of them is particularly positive in regards to what has been accomplished, especially in relation to what has been spent.

Adam L Silverman


I found the links to the CRS and IGAR reports. They were, of course, in the last place I looked...

Here they are:


William R. Cumming

The passage of the current emergency supplemental for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will put the total so far over $1 trillion. Lindsey was fired by Bush as Economic Advisor for suggesting that Iraq alone would cost $200 Billion. Not to mention lives lost and significant numbers of soldiers with traumatic permanent injuries.

Brett J

Excellent analysis and conjecturing of the Afghani end game. I hadn't heard the anti-India Pakistan military angle as being a chess piece in their hesitancy to sweep through their border regions; to delay the pressure on Afghani insurgent groups (for the sake of the final settlement). Good food for thought.


What, if any, leverage do we have with the Pakistani military -- portions of which are probably fundamentalist -- which will counteract their desire for a bastion against India?


Thanks FB for another enlightening note!

It seems that Pakistan is a significant cog in the Afghan wheel.

Why wouldn't it make sense for the US to get back home and leave behind a small team of Pat's SF brothers to work their magic to keep the jihadis on the defensive? The Afghan groups and Pakistanis and Indians and the Iranians can play their chess games on the Afghan frontier. Should we really care?

Patrick Lang


You know that I agree. A perfect result is not to be expected, but maybe good enough. pl

Eagle in the Mountains

Dear Brigadier Ali:

Thank you very much for a very clear summary of the situation. I wonder if you have any comments on the broader regional issues, for example, the role of the Afghan conflict in the 'New Great Game' in Central Asia. Do you think that such a regional and/or resource-oriented perspective has any valid role in the analysis of the evolution of the Afghan war?

Does China play a role in the war either directly or indirectly through Pakistan?

Does Russia play a role?

Gautam Das

Brig. Ali,

Yet another masterful and lucid analysis, thank you.

As an Indian with both Pakistani and Afghan friends and acquaintances, I see that many (most?) Afghans have nothing against Pakistan, but seem to positively dislike the Pakistan Govt, and hate the ISI. This is without going into the Pashtun versus non-Pashtun thing. Even without any Indian Govt influence in Afghanistan, this problem is going to persist for the Pakistani establishment's aims in Afghanistan.

Just adds to the complications.

Gautam Das

FB Ali


I don’t think the Afghan conflict (in its present state of a stalemate) is influencing what you call the ‘New Great Game’. Nor will its outcome, at least in the short term.

Russia doesn’t have much leverage in Afghanistan after its misadventure there. The only influence it can wield is through its former republics bordering the country, but they have so many problems of their own that they can’t do much.

China has effectively ‘bypassed’ the conflict by doing here what it is doing around the world: investing money, expertise and manpower in resource-extraction industries. Whoever wins, they’ll probably still be around. I don’t think China exerts much influence on Pakistan’s Afghan policy; of course, the anti-Indian slant of this suits them fine.


Thank you. I think the Pashtun factor plays a big role in ‘Afghan’ attitudes towards Pakistan, i.e, these are affected by the attitudes of Pakistani Pashtuns towards their own country and its rulers.

John Waring

FB Ali writes, "It is an open question who would fold first: the Pakistan military or Obama’s backing of the mainstream US position."

My money is on the staying power of the Pakistani military. I think they can play a much longer game than Obama.


I'm sorry to post so late, but great analysis General Ali.

Two simple questions if I may:

1. Why would anybody want to negotiated with the Americans since things are going so well? (Or why break with tradition and share the pie with another withdrawing Superpower?)

2. When are the next elections in Pakistan?

FB Ali


The (public) negotiations for a settlement will be between the Afghan parties. The US (and other players, such as Pakistan) will push their agendas in the backrooms.

Pakistan's next elections are scheduled for 2013.

Saeed Malik.

Sir,Yet another excellent analysis by Brig FB Ali,probably the best so far.I want to add here my sense of what is generally seen as the position of the Pakistan Army.I think that a position is characterized by the fact that this is more Gen Kiyani's position than that of the army as an institution. That has generally been the case i.e the Army takes the position crafted by its Chief.But in the present instance I feel that this is more so the case than before. The reason seems to be that Kiyani has few interests apart from work. With this he has a high IQ, so that when he has formulated a position,others have very little to add. Secondly,his is a case of one who would prefer to shun the limelight and eschew walking into the territory of another.But the government he is serving seems to have little time left over from pursuit of wealth,so that much that is left undone by them, seems to accumulate on his plate.
He thus is found doing much that should have been attended to by the government,and to those unacquainted with the real situation, he would be coming across as someone who is bullying the government into acquiescing in his decisions,whereas that is really not the case.The real dilemma will come in Nov when he retires, because the rebuilding of a very demoralized and vilified army is more his doing than anyone else's, and this change is more braod than deep.And of his likely successors none is nearly half as good.And one major flawed decision by a successor, could have incalculable ramifications for the army, given the situation as it stands.
And in such a situation if there is an Israeli/American attack on Iran, no one can predict what will happen to the much vaunted unity and discipline of the army. And should the army crack,the repercussions will be nothing short of catastrophic.

Gautam Das

Saeed Malik-Sb,

An interesting perspective on the subject.

My comment may well be in a case of 'A little knowledge is a . . .', but I have seen a little of that army over time. The Pakistan Army being characterised as 'very demoralized and vilified' appears a trifle far-fetched to me - January 1972 was a long time ago. IMHO, the Pakistan Army is far from being 'vilified' by the non-Pashtun population of Pakistan, and is unlikley to be 'demoralized' at the moment.

The effects on it of a bad decision by its Chief, impacting the unity and discipline of the army is another matter. Brig. Ali's opinion on this would probably be more correct than our speculations, though.

Gautam Das

Nayyar Hashmey

An excellent analysis Brig. Sahib,
The end game Afghanistan is on the anvil now. The minimalists having a more realistic approach to the Afghan quagmire are more likely to prevail on this policy matter.
Though its probably the end game yet it surely is not going to be the final round, for beyond Afghanistan, there are many other rounds to be played in the area called the Central Asia.
The oil wealth as well as the geostrategic position of the area of which Afghanistan and Pakistan form an integral part, are going to remain a hotbed of politico-militaristic adventures by all major stakeholders e.g. Pakistan, Iran, India, China, US and of course the Russian Federation.
Although U.S. leaving Afghanistan is the best available course to ensure peace in the region, however, leaving that country simply on its own would also not solve the problem. The country has been ruined through 30 years of continuous war. Even before the military duels between super rivals started in Afghanistan, Afghanistan was world’s poorest country but with the war expanding over three decades has turned that country into a totally devastated piece [of land].
What is required is that all the stakeholders use the United Nations as the forum to discuss the departure of U.S. and NATO forces and see how that war torn country can be rebuilt. A massive campaign to rebuild the country is a must for only in this way the genie called the Islamic extremism can be put back into bottle again.
Countries of the third world like Afghanistan and Pakistan do not need wars but more schools, hospitals, more jobs and that is what will strike at the very roots of ‘terrorism’. A solution based on purely geo-strategic considerations without taking into account the on ground socio-economic situation, the culture, the psyche of the Afghans in general, are the factors which would help rebuild Afghanistan. In this regard, Pakistan is in the best possible position to make a solid contribution towards rebuilding Afghanistan but it can’t alone do this massive job. The whole world needs to make a collective contribution too, particularly the US and her western allies who did everything to create the mess called Afghanistan.

Nayyar Hashmey


Brigadier Ali:

I think you omit one strand within the U.S. political system: the feminist one.
For a hardcore sample,
see Hillary Clinton's 2010-05-13 remarks.
I do not see how one can achieve a negotiated settlement
and fulfill the U.S. Secretary of State's pledge:
“I make [a] pledge to the women of Afghanistan.
We will not abandon you.
We will stand with you always.”

Does anyone see a way to fulfill her pledge
without permanent U.S. fighting in Afghanistan?


A very informative presentation. Personally, I don’t see the Northern Alliance welcoming Han colonists.

Also by the time the US left, Vietnam had an army capable of going toe to toe with the Chinese. Will not much the same be true of an Afghanistan-Pakistan axis? Would they even need to be that strong, given the terrain?

It seems to me that US/NATO has lots of room to maneuver.

different clue


I vaguely remember that during the early Bush phase of the current Afghan war, a group called RAWA (Revolutionary Afghan Womens' Association) condemned the American Occupation and declared that only the "women of Afghanistan" could secure rights for the "women of Afghanistan."

One hopes the RAWA could send its spokesfolk onto the stage once again to repeat RAWA's position as loudly as possible. If the RAWA spokesfolk could go further and overtly condemn the Clinton Feminist position as "imperialism under feminist cover", it could put the Clinton Feminist strand in check.

I hope RAWA speaks up loud, long, and often.

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