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05 April 2016


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The Twisted Genius


Amazing coincidence that you would write this today. With yesterday's announcement of the death of Merle Haggard, I was flooded with memories of my old mentor, MSG Albert H. Rivers. At one of the RPI ROTC military balls, he commented "That damned band ain't any good. They can't do any Merle Haggard." At various times he was with 46th SF Company in Thailand and a RT leader in CCC. RT Nebraska, I believe. He only left VN because the US Army left. He brought his Thai wife with him to become father goose to us ROTC cadets at RPI. I learned more from that man than from all the military schools I ever attended.

Patrick Bahzad


You're free to believe what you like. Just don't insult my intelligence pretending to lecture me about Sednaya or Syria in general. I'm also far better acquainted with the mechanics of the Syrian security apparatus and its work than you imagine.


Hmm, OK, one angle.


RE: M. Vandenberghe



1. As you are aware I concur with your post from 2009 on the subject of COIN and Afghanistan, and believe that it also applies to Iraq, and now Syria. Concur with Patrick's excellent suggestion that this deserves to be a separate topic.

2. Despite my experience, knowledge of Iraq and the Middle East, and good looks; I was not selected by GEN Petraeus to join his "Council of Colonels" who wrote Joint Publication 3-24 Counterinsurgency, even though I had just finished working for/with him in Iraq when he commanded MNSTC-I. I don't necessarily disagree with the concepts expressed in it, but I've always been unable to understand how we could apply it in Iraq. In Iraq COIN never made any sense to me because there were never enough resources to apply it, and from Petraeus on down our military commanders were either in denial or just ignorant about the conditions of the environment in Iraq. From 2003, many of the same geniuses who wrote the COIN doctrine were too dumb to adequately resource, or worse, refused to force the resourcing of the key mission of training the ISF (building partnership capacity), and unable to understand or accept the realities of Iraqi history, culture, politics and what was really possible in Iraq. When we tried to help them understand we were rebuffed, like when you came to Kuwait in early 2003 and gave talks to three different groups of cheering planners, intel analysts and senior staff officers; and offered to be the CFLCC Cdr's PolMil Advisor in early 2003; or my own relationship with Petraeus during the surge in 2007-8 when he refused to accept the sectarian realities of the Maliki regime.

Patrick Bahzad


Not sure what you're trying to say, just don't be a smartass. Got anything of substance to add, feel free to do so.


No offense intended, and I do take note that pressure to make concessions was only one part of the pile of fragments that led things to where they went, and still are.


Bob et al

I feel compelled to state that in spite of all the good things we did with the indigenous tribals and "rallied" assets in SEA we still lost the war on the home front when public opinion support collapsed behind us. That is perhaps, the greatest lesson to be learned regarding COIN as a concept. As Fall said, to my seminar in 1964 at Bragg, "you can win the counterinsurgency and still lose the war." BTW, you are right about resources. We were properly resourced for the nation building mission in COIN and fully engaged in COIN from 1967 at all levels of VN governance but still lost. the level of resources available in Iraq and Afghanistan was pathetic by comparison to the CORDS effort. COIN is not a useful doctrine unless the local government can handle it without much assistance. pl


Returning to Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan, I only see very limited possible ways ahead, not much different from what we have been doing, precisely because of the realities of the "local government", realities that "wishful thinking" can't change.
In Iraq, there is no future in training the ISF or establishing fire bases in a trail for the ISF/PMF to notionally follow to Mosul. "Build it and they will come" doesn't often work in FID.
Our assistance to the KRG and to arming Iraqi Sunni tribes to kill ISIL should be outside of Shia GOI control.
In Syria, I think we can coordinate on a limited basis with R+6, provide T&E to the SDF(AKA YPG), continue to try to build some consensus with the GCC and AL, provide humanitarian relief to refugees/IDPs, and whack Jihadi targets when available.
In Afghanistan, the conditions don't exist to reduce troops levels IAW the plan, so we need to keep them there.
In all three places (and elsewhere across the Islamic world from Mali to Bali...) we attempt to build consensus with our allies, even those who are difficult and tied to the Jihadis, like the Turks and and Saudis...



Why do we persist in treating both the Russians and the Syrian government as adversaries? Why is it only on a "limited" basis that we can coordinate with them? pl

Babak Makkinejad

I thought there was no formal treaty of military alliance between any state in the Muslim world and the United States except Turkey through NATO.

Am I wrong?


OK, you're right that R+6 is not a useful term here, but I was trying to be more realistic as opposed to idealistic here.
Increased CT coordination with Russia is certainly in our interest, even as we have other issues with Putin.
Extensive coordination with the Asad regime will be necessary in the course of any diplomatic solution, and to avoid fratricide while whacking Jihadis. However, even when we were eating chow together with Ali Habib and SY 9AD in the KKMC chow hall in 90-91, or along the SY-IZ border since 2003, working with the Syrians has been difficult, regardless of the Anti-Syrian lobby in DC.
Any coordination with Iran and LH and Iraqi Shia militias might be useful in reducing overall tensions, but is probably unlikely in the near term.
In the big picture, I am pleased that we've been able to start working with the Russians and Syrian govt to the degree that we have so far, despite the nut cases in high places calling for us to attack both of them.



"even as we have other issues with Putin." What "other issues?" pl


1. You are of course correct there are no formal treaties of collective defense between the U.S. and any state in the Muslim world except Turkey via NATO. However, the U.S. has had Defense Cooperation Agreements (DCAs) and other similar bilateral agreements with most of the Islamic World since the beginning of the Cold War.
2. It is OK for a retired US military officer who spent a career working with Arab Muslims to refer to them as "Allies".



To me the notion of "alliance" implies a willing reciprocity. I do not see that in the Saudis. pl


You have a good point with Saudi Arabia, although there are US interests that have certainly benifited from the relationship.
We might consider Afghanistan a useful test of "willful reciprocity", and look at who has contributed, and how they contributed.



"WILLING reciprocity," not "WILLFUL reciprocity." Afghanistan? I was opposed to the adoption of a COIN strategy in Afghanistan in 2009 and said so every chance I got. I thought then that a smallish (20,000 roughly) long term commitment to CT ops and field intelligence would have been wise just to keep the jihadis screwed up, but to imagine that you could make the geographical expression called Afghanistan into a more or less modern country was just silly. It had been tried before, most recently in the '40s and '50s with large scale commitment of development resources by donor countries. You remember that we built all that now abandoned agricultural infrastructure in Helmand. Hell, there were American USAID residential camps as big as small towns down there. And, it was all for naught. Why? I tried for several years to generate business opportunities in Afghanistan for the industrial group for which I worked. What I and other people in the group learned was that there was no there there. There was no legal, or physical infrastructure to support creation of a business as we understood it. There was no labor force worthy of the name. There were no markets for anything that was not bought by foreign NGOs or AID missions. The standard conversation with Afghans always led to their insistence that you should risk your capital by taking a blind leap into the dark. the idea that they should build some basic infrastructure did not interest them because what they really wanted was their "cut" of your capital investment or a similar "cut" of some USAID contract that the you might get. COIN was never going to work in Afghanistan. You had to be an ambition driven fantasist to think it would. Now we are basically back to the CT based strategy that I hoped for in 2009. pl


Sorry, Patrick.

These type of memorytrails that for whatever reason remain on my mind no doubt must be a bit irritating. Not least the "tread host". I am working on it ...

More to the point of "one angle". Releasing salafists, no doubt would have made sense considering the larger -- from Assad's perspective -- US/"Western" foreign policy double standards.

I have and had a larger task over here. Meaning my presence on Pat's blog at this moment somewhat serves distraction. Admittedly not the best of all motives. ;)

Besides, more personally: Apart from the fact that my more general praise of your contributions on this tread may feel a little standard, I do mean it.

Note taken. Take care

Babak Makkinejad

Thank you for your comments.

You may have seen some of my earlier comments elsewhere on this forum regarding the "Rectification of Names"; we need to be clear about the meaning of words lest we be misled.

Babak Makkinejad

And that dam that USAID built in Afghanistan which, I assume, is unused now, on the Hirmand River, harmed the farmers of Sistan by cutting of their water.

Turned the breadbasket of Iran into a desert.



Are you from that part of Iran? I agree. The Seljuk domain and other such places in the world should make their own way. BTW, do you think we could negotiate another deal to stop Iranian ICBM development? pl

Babak Makkinejad

No I am not from Sistan.

But the destruction of the farming in Sistan is common knowledge in Iran; every one knows.

As far as I know Iran does not have ICBMs, only IRBMs.

And I also have read public statements by Iranian leader that they do not plan on deploying missiles with range exceeding 2000 KM.

Since US has accepted the Iranian nuclear activities within NPT, the major obstacle for strategic negogiations between US and Iran are removed; in my opinion.

US: We hate jihadists, you hate jihadists.
Iran: That is a true statement.

US: We want Afghanistan not to be used against US or anyone else.
Iran: We are on the same page.

US: We want a stable Iraq that does not threaten those despised Gulfies.
Iran: We despise them too and we do not want Iraq to be again a threat to anyone else in the neighborhood.

US: Azerbaijan is irrelevant to our security.
Iran: We have no designs on Azerbaijan.

US: We do not want Kurds to suffer in Iraq but we do not want to become independent - we are mindful of our official NATO ally - Turkey.
Iran: We have been on good terms with KRG and do not expect that to change, provided they do not go for independence.

US: We want SAR to continue to be a viable state and we won't try to change the orientation of that state from the "Resistance Axis" in the future.
Iran: That is to be expected but how about Palestine and the "Occupying Regime of Quds"?

US: I am willing to discuss Palestine but do not expect to get anything for free.



I will take your word for it on the ICBMs. But, if Iran were to breach the nuclear weapons deal and this understanding on ICBMs that IMO would require a response. The US missed the opportunity for that with China but I doubt if we will with North Korea. Just my opinion. pl

Keith Harbaugh

Colonel, if I might provide a quote from Michael Hayden's memoir Playing to the Edge, page 263,
that I think bears on at least the Syrian part of your question.

He was DCIA (he reserves DCI for the pre-DNI period) in 2007.
Discussing the top-level U.S. response to the discovery that
the Syrians were building a nuclear reactor at al-Kibar,
he writes (but the numbering of the issues is added by me):

“[I]n the president’s mind the real issue was Assad and overall Syrian policy, not just the reactor.
Handled well, the coming crisis could give us unexpected leverage on a host of issues:
1) Syrian support to Hamas and Hezbollah;
2) the foreign fighter pipeline into Iraq;
3) Damascus’s continued meddling in Lebanon;
4) Syria’s alignment with Iran.

“Syria had been a regular theme in White House policy discussions,
largely along the lines of peeling the Syrians off from their Iranian sponsors
or, as Steve Hadley often put it, ‘flipping Assad.’ ”

I would add the thought that if were not for Israel,
the U.S. could care less about those issues
(with regard to Iraq, that is based on my personal assumption that if it were not for Israel,
the U.S. would never have invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein).



"your question." What question? pl

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