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16 October 2015


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James McKenzie-Smith

Dear Sir,

Great post, and I think that, while you have in fact been clear as to your thoughts on Afghanistan, this is a useful summary of your point of view.

I note that this strategic outline of yours deals with the current situation vis a vis Afghanistan. Looking back, how would you have done things back in 2001-2002? Would you have gone after the raisins and left the cake more or less alone? I ask this to gain insight as to what you would propose should a similar situation arise in the future.

Best regards,

James McKenzie-Smith

Patrick Lang


I would have followed the same formula. At that time I watched business people try to start basic industry in Afghanistan. They were frustrated by the lack of physical infrastructure and also by a lack of governmental structure and business law. Some assistnce in thiose areas would have been very good for the Afghans.

For us? We needed to go after the raisins.

Each country and situation wil require a fresh analysis of the situation. pl



Thanks for the breath of fresh air... in the form of a realistic vision based on a candid and well-informed assessment of the world as it is, instead of as we wish it might be.

William R. Cumming

Great post! I personally do not view Afghanistan or Islam and its radicals as some sort of existential threat to the continued existence of the US. I do think however that because of political correctness and intellectual laziness we did allow a threat to develop that might have been more easily dealt with earlier. Personally, I believe that the principal that nation-states are the seat of organized violence (See William McNeil's writings) because otherwise non-state actors will sow violence and disaster to civilization is correct. The problem now is designing within the nation state system a support structure to restrict the "violent" ones whatever their beliefs from infringing on those who are essentially at peace and only want to strive to improve their own world and improve things for others. Hey so far we seem to be forgetting the ends and keep being too focused on the "means". But I could be wrong. What messages does the US send, and what messages are received by others? May not be the same thing at all.


This is the most sensible piece I've read on the subject of Afghanistan.

Is Obama's strategy consistent with your views? It's difficult to tell from what's made public.


Bush should have gotten OBL and then we'd be out of there. He can't get enough blame for the 'mess' he's caused.

Dave of Maryland

They are like raisins in a cake.

Some like cookies with raisins. Some like cookies without. Eat the cookie whole. Picking out the raisins is silly, and too often the cookie crumbles & all you get are crumbs.

How should a nation make war on raisins found in some other nation? By invitation of that other nation? Who chooses which raisins? Washington or Kabul?

We're either at war with Afghanistan, nation to nation, or we are not. We are not at war with raisins.

our goal would be to disrupt, disorganize and destroy our enemies.

Childish twaddle. A rant. A mobster in a B-movie. A bunker mentality. Every country has enemies. So now we are to destroy them all?

We are a nation of hammers, not of brains. Cookies everywhere, BEWARE!

Patrick Lang


Dave, Dave...

How has it come to this?

AQ is not an Afghan movement. We are not "at war" with Afghanistan. pl

Patrick Lang


I am in the "transmit mode" with the Obama Administration.

I have the impression that they are still srguing among themselves as to what they are doing. pl


Several Pakistani professionals living in the US said to me more than once that the military was more acceptable than "popularly elected" candidates because they were less corrupt.

The reason I remember this (from at least 10 years ago) is that it obviously runs counter to "American principles".

In addition, when one looks at the military government in Egypt, for example, it is hard to be more than barely lukewarm.

I would love to read more about the Pakistani military.

Iran getting nuclear weapons? Pakistan's already got them. That's the jewel in the crown...I have always thought.


WRC, your post brought to mind the graduation speech I read a few years back from Neil Postman:

While I agree with your premise I would point out that our system did not work too well with Tim McVeigh. You can hear the outrage about the latest Department of Homeland Security report on right wing extremist, including militias. I believe these are the same kind of people who thing Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were great victories.

Ken Roberts

All good, very rational ... but perhaps it might be useful to include some other factors in evaluating prospects: greed, pride, stupidity, organizational inertia, career ambition, ...

What should do is easier than getting it done. I don't think the present day was arrived at thru rational ineptness, so how can it be corrected by rational competence?

Afghanistan mission(s) are opportunity to spend lots of money with less risk than Iraq of damaging relations with important players - so I expect it to continue at whatever level of cost (of men and material) the public will tolerate - pretty large right now, being due to receive an "Iraq unsurge" dividend. History says Afghanistan can be a sinkhole for virtually unlimited resources, if are careful not to "win".


Amazon link: Militar y Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy by Ayesha Siddiqa.


A few years back, I read a very informative book, called Battle for the Mind, by the late British psychiatrist Dr. William Sargant. In the book, he observed that when whole peoples go through a shared shock-trauma, they are prone to collective disruption of brain functioning. In practical terms, this means they are prone to accept irrational ideas, for a period of time, which can then become engrained in the national culture and policy. Usually, reality eventually reasserts itself, and the temporary ideological disorientation is corrected. I believe that in the aftermath of 911, America went through just such a collective shock trauma, and we bought on to all kinds of crazy formulations, including the Global War on Terror, Colin Powell's most memorable gaffe, "If you break it, you own it," etc. etc.

And so we went into Iraq, and so we totally distorted the original purpose for going into Afghanistan, which was to uproot the Al Qaeda, oust the Taliban, and prevent Afghanistan from continuing as a base of operations for those who hit us on 911. Remember that Congress, even in the immediate aftermath of 911, stood up to the Bush-Cheney White House, and rewrote the resolution, authorizing the Afghan operation, to narrow the focus on Al Qaeda, Taliban and Afghanistan. Bush and Cheney hoped for a global mandate--which they attempted to grab anyway.

So, yes, let us go back to the more limited mission in Afghanistan, which I presume is mostly a Special Forces/CIA mission, not the replay of Vietnam that some of Gen. Petraeus' advisors were peddling a few months back.

And, yes, let us provide the right kind of covert assistance and then international economic aid for both Afghanistan and for a "Musharraf II" (not necessarily Musharraf himself, but some appropriate general with a consensus in the Pakistani Army) Pakistani government.

It is not perfect, but it certainly beats trying to micro-manage a massive military counterinsurgency operation that we cannot afford or staff, in a part of the world that we repeatedly demonstrate we do not understand adequately.

More broadly, we must have a much clearer defined mission for our military, with personnel, training and equipment that matches that defined mission. Right now, the lack of that clarity has fostered a push towards a blind acceptance of "counterinsurgency" as the key to future wars. Col. Lang, perhaps you could take up this larger question on this blog. Until that larger issue is thought through, I think that the policy deliberations on such important subsidiary issues as Af/Pak will be flawed. I agree with one of the recent posts, suggesting that President Obama postponed any real policy decision, pending deeper understanding of the options, and just rejected the push he was facing from Petraeus, Kilcullen, Keane, etal., for a "surge" leading us to something akin to CORDS. He pushed back against that effort, but did not really set a clear way forward in either the Afghan or Pak cases. Maybe it will be left to that, and we will just launch the kind of appropriate actions without fanfare. We used to do that kind of thing.



Excellent post.

With the Revolutionary War, Civil War and colonial conflicts in Philippines, Central America and Vietnam, you’d think that Americans would know that a religious colonial war fought on the cheap was unwinnable; But, No. Each generation is a blank slate fated to re-learn the same lessons all over again.

Afghanistan is bad. Ever invader is fated to be destroyed like the British or if lucky retreat back across the Freedom Bridge like the Soviets. Pakistan is even worse. USA/India trying to steal the Islamic nuclear bombs will result in a least a couple of detonations killing millions.

As old as human history is the litany of savage hill people conquering the fat lowlanders. The only chance the West has in Pakistan is to give moral and material assistance to the educated and women in their struggle against the fundamentalist others. Opening a third front in the continuing religious colonial war would only lead to further disasters.

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

Your post's a good and logical marshalling of facts leading to a set of conclusions. The question, particularly as regards Afghanistan and as was discussed in the counter-insurgency discussion remains,
"is the game worth the candle?".

We Americans seem to be having problems lately in formulating policies that pursue the national interest. My list would include the invasion of Iraq, carte blanche and active support of Israel, attempting to extend NATO to the states of the former Soviet Union and the muddle in Afghanistan. I suggest that the reason is an inability to properly define objectives and that this inabilty is due to competing fiefdoms within the government, each with its views, interests and supporters. Is this the problem that the National Security Council and advisor were supposed to correct? Another obstacle on the road to formulating good policy is the amount of exaggeration applied to our problems. The equating of Iraq to the threat posed by the Axis Powers in 1941 was absurd, but many believed and such things seem to be required in order to sell policy.

At any rate, a defined objective has to be the starting point from which all blessings may flow.



Chuck Todd's question to Obama in the news conference was naive and misleading

obama could not answer his question and provide Chuck Todd with the knowlege he needs to be a good reporter

the idea that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is at imminent risk to Taliban capture reflects a uneducated perception of Pakistan

Pakistan includes the Indus Valley

the home of truly ancient civilzations

it is a big country - 170 million people - the 6th most populous country in the world (behind brazil)

3.5 million live in the federally administered territories and the Northwest Provinces

pakistan is a poor country and the most vulnerable poor are probably the 1 million displaced afghans living in these provinces

this group is a major social problem for pakistan

Pakistan is composed of many tribal groups

45 %punjabi
14% Sindhi
15% pashto
10% seraiki
7% urdu
26% other groups Balochi, Brahui, Potwari, Kashmiri, Farsi, Gujari, Dari, Hindko, Memoni, Marwari,

the 10,000 taliban fighters of concern are no match for the Pakistan army
and they have little to political support among non pashto groups

pakistan has a sophisticated army of 550,000, the 7th largest in world and the largest contributor to UN Peacekeeping efforts

taliban rule of pakistan is not likely

of bigger concern is how the united states addresses the problems of disaffected poor pashtuns in pakistan and afganistan so their energies are turned to improving their lives rather than warring

will pakistan regulation of the madrassa's reduce the fire of the poor young men educated in the madrassas (are saudi's still funding these schools?)

would the taliban be so militant if we were not there?

would they be a problem for pakistan if we were not in afghanistan?

can the taliban take control of afghanistan?

what kind of afghanistan
is acceptable to us?

can US military "get" al queda?

is the military the right tool for the job?


Jamzo: the home of truly ancient civilzations...

such as the Mughal Empire. It was founded by Babur, the warlord ruler of Kabul in the early 1500s. His dynasty ruled most of India for a couple hundred years, right up until they were supplanted by the British.

Pakistan is composed of many tribal groups

I'm not sure why you think this matters very much. I should think that the real danger is that the Pakistani urban poor might prefer rule by honest fanatics to rule by a corrupt and self serving military bureaucracy. Hezbollah (a very different kind of organization) gets its popular support from the fact that it does a better job of providing basic services to the Shia poor than the Lebanese government. The possibility that ultra-reactionary religious groups could gain power in Pakistan is a real one, though I don't feel I'm in a position to estimate just how serious the danger is.

Clifford Kiracofe

Sounds reasonable. A few points:

1. First and foremost Pakistan must NOT be Balkanized into little takfiri Wahhabistans. This could lead to instability in India.

2. Thus the unity of the Pak military, and particularly its Army, is essential. On the other hand, the military needs to behave and stop provoking India and interfering in Afghanistan through its terrorism/covert action programs, Taliban projects, etc. To limit the Pak military's ability to play too many games, the US must make some serious arrangements with China.

3. We need a broad regional arrangement to deal with both cases which brings in Iran, India, Russia, China, and other relevant stakeholders and players. The UN can provide some cover and the Japanese can assist on reconstruction and development etc.

4. As I have noted in other posts, a limited concept for Afghanistan would include the idea that Kabul and the Valley surrounding it are about all we can effectively "stabilize" through various security and economic development projects. Areas outside this zone would have to be dealt with using Col. Lang's "guile" concept.

If we posit that an appropriate US policy could actually "work" out there, the real issue is as Col. Lang has pointed out: JUST WHAT IS PRESIDENT OBAMA'S POLICY?

I would be most interested in some analysis of the various factions in the Obama Administration with respect to their POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS as to "AFPAK". Just exactly WHO is pushing exactly WHAT policy???????



You write: "President Obama in his announcement of policy with regard to Afghanistan, said that our goal would be to disrupt, disorganize and destroy our enemies. That is an appropriate goal given the actual size and intensity of the threat. Forget about nation building in Afghanistan. "

The basic questioning the COIN-oriented crowd would raise to that statement is that it seems impossible to do one without doing the other, unless you want to go back to cruisemissilestrikes on tents etc. Keeping a forcepresence in Afghanistan requires stabilization ops incountry, stabilization ops require nationbuilding etc. It is actually both cost and force efficient to divert funds to that aim, because it reduces the need to patrol the hinterlands. Tackling corruption makes the Talebans biggest sellingpoint go away, etc. How do you do CT missions in a scenario where Afghanistan disintegrates again, warlordism gets the better of the imposed current state, etc?

Its not that i dont halfway agree with you that the ideal mission may be to disrupt, not occupy. But at the current time, *when we are gradually loosing the war* its either surge or withdraw. And surging means actually comitting to some hard decisions. But you can build a bit of hospitals and smart solutions and educationcourses for afghan buerocrats for a few F22, I think its essential. If that doesnt get included in the new strategy, then it will just collapse and become a perpetual threat requiring perpetual presence.


From "Status QuObama: A Hundred Days of Fake-Progressive BS and Liberal-Left Surrender" by Paul Street

Pakistan is added on to Afghanistan by Obama like Cambodia was added on to its neighbor Vietnam by President Nixon. This time however, the dangerous territorial expansion is openly acknowledged with Obama merging the two nations "into one theater of war, called Af-Pak" (Glen Ford).
As Cole observes, Obama's call to arms is no more credible than Dick Cheney and John McCain's raving about the danger of an "al-Qaida victory in Iraq." The Taliban and al Qaeda are nowhere close to being able to take over Afghanistan and Pakistan. If anything, Cole notes, the greatest thing working on the weak Pakistani Taliban's behalf is the occurrence of U.S. Predator drone strikes on Pakistani territory, which help the extremists seem like sympathetic victims to parts of the Pakistani public.
(end quote)

Get used to hearing about Af-Pak War. This may the ruinous way US policy is heading...


lol. Not one answer to that challenge? Sirs (and ladies) you disappoint me.

Babak Makkinejad


In reply to your challenge:

I think the best strategy for US is to leave Afghanistan. Her involvement in Afghanistan is a net drain on US resources with no tangible benefit in the short, medium, or long term.

Any tactic that does not support the startegic objective of US leaving Afghanistan must be judged defective; in my opinion.

As to how us can get out of Afghanistan; by trucks and airplanes.


Asia Times:

There is an arrangement between the Taliban and ANA {the Afghan National Army}all over the south of Afghanistan, especially in Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Helmand and Ghazni provinces.

Under this, when ANA troops are sent on patrol inside Taliban areas, they pay the Taliban to avoid being killed. The price is arms, ammunition or rockets, which is handed over and then reported as having been lost during an encounter with the Taliban.

In turn, when ANA arrests any Taliban fighters, they demand cash money for their release. If the fighters are Pakistani or non-Afghan, ANA takes a little longer to negotiate a price, but if the fighters are Afghans, ANA personnel will not take unnecessary risks. Either they strike a deal then and there and release the Taliban fighters, or within a few days they hand them over to NATO. The reason is to avoid direct confrontation with the Afghan Taliban and their tribal constituencies, which could cause problems in any prolonged negotiations.


The story from which the above is quoted tells us that the Taliban muffed the negotiations for the release of some Pakistanis the ANA arrested; and these Pakistanis yielded valuable intelligence to NATO regarding the penetration of jihadi networks in Pakistan.


Ahmed Rashid
"Before 2008, the Musharraf government allowed the Taliban to resettle in Pakistan from Afghanistan. Musharraf wanted to maintain the jihadi nexus as a force against the Indians. Also, the emphasis then was on getting rid of Al Qaeda, the Taliban were not seen as a major threat.

After 2004/2005, when military operations did begin in Fata, the government pursued a stop-and-start policy, which involved several peace deals that did not hold. In the meantime, the Pakistan government and army failed to protect the people of the Fata and the traditional tribal hierarchies that were pro-Pakistan. About 300 maliks of tribes were killed and by 2007, there were half a million refugees from Fata in Pakistan. Having lost the goodwill of the population in Fata, the government will find it hard to reenter the area and rebuild traditional tribal structures."

---- Having failed to protect its allies once, it will be very difficult for Pakistan to deTalibanize FATA, even if it musters the political will to do so.

There is no good way out unless the Afghans themselves decide that they will not be Talibanized and take up the fight in earnest.

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