Afghanistan

Introduction

 

In the 17 years since the September 11 Attacks, I have thought often of an anecdote from Classical times.

 

Croesus of Lydia had a dispute with Cyrus of Persia.  Although he was not a Greek and did not worship their gods, Croesus queried the Python, the Priestess of Apollo who was the Delphic Oracle, if he should go to war.  The reply from the Python was succinct: “If you to war, you will destroy a great power.”

 

Croesus went to war with Cyrus of Persia.  In doing so, Croesus destroyed a great power.  Unfortunately, that great power was Lydia, rather than Persia.

 

Possibly, in waging what was formerly known as the Global War on Terrorism (“GWOT”) in the way we have, we are emulating Croesus.

 

Recently, Douglas Proudfoot posted an essay about how the United States might win in Afghanistan.  I think what he proposed was militarily feasible.  However, I do not think victory in this war is a purely military question.

 

What Kind of War?

 

The US has been fighting in Afghanistan for almost 17 years.  We have fought in Afghanistan longer than we fought in Vietnam, another divisive “Small War.”  Its length is comparable to that of the Seminole Wars in the early to mid-19th Century and the Apache Campaigns in the late 19th century, both of which were wars with tribal societies like the war in Afghanistan.

 

What the military categorizes as Small Wars or Low Intensity Conflicts (“LIC”) or Counterinsurgencies (“COIN”), generally involves conflict with small, lightly armed insurgent forces, which avoid decisive engagement with US forces until they can win decisively.  These forces enjoy some shifting degree of support from certain groups within the host nation population.

 

Given the fact that insurgents generally operate in small, lightly armed groups, it is difficult to bring the full panoply of US military force to bare against them effectively.  Because our military power carries with it an inherent potential of collateral damage, casualties and property damage for the host nation population, and because the insurgents are reliant on support from the host nation population,  “brute force and ignorance” approaches carry the risk of increasing support for the insurgents among that population the more force you use.

 

If we were in the Afghanistan purely to protect routes for gas pipelines or secure access to mineral resources, we could effectively control these areas with fires, as the author of the other article suggested.  The fact that we have not done this, tends to disprove the thesis that this is purely a neo-colonial war over natural resources.

 

I think we deployed to Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks in order to deny Al Qaida active sanctuary in a state ruled by the Taliban, a régime we did not recognize.  (The US has tended to be very willing to apply military power against what we consider “failed states” or “ungoverned spaces” at least since the Tripolitanian Wars in the early 19th Century.)  We further remained because it created a sort of an operational cavalry screen/covering force: deceiving AQ as to our intent; roiling AQ and associated Taliban communication links, allowing us to collect intelligence; and providing a cover to the “Black Side” special operations forces that ultimately killed bin Ladin.  (In accomplishing this, we arguably “won” our war in Afghanistan.  However, it continues for reasons I will suggest below.)

 

Why Are We Still Fighting It?

 

After we took bin Ladin, we had an established pathway to end our involvement in Afghanistan along the lines of our withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, developed in President Obama’s 2009 formal analysis of the Afghan War.   However, with the rise of the Islamic State in 2014 after our withdrawal from Iraq, we have remained because both political parties fear the question “Who lost Afghanistan?”

 

An oft-quoted Taliban maxim sums up our dilemma, “You have a watch; we have a calendar.”

 

The strategic objectives of this war dictated our tactics.  To meet the intent described above, we sent Marine and Army Infantry to patrol the rugged terrain.  We deployed Civil Affairs (“CA”) and Civil Military Operations (“CMO”) forces to scope projects and “win hearts and minds” in the tradition of CORDS in the Vietnam War.  Across the Military Services, in all the schoolhouses, junior instructors updated VGTs and PowerPoint slides to change “LIC” to “COIN.”

 

Some things, inherent to a technologically advanced force inhibited these efforts. 

 

The Army, in particular, had an institutional nostalgic affection for the idea of tank warfare on the Thuringian Plane or in the Fulda Gap.  The Marine Corps raised the valid question whether an Expeditionary force was best used in allocating significant amounts of a small force to repeated deployments to a mature theater.

 

 GEN (R ) McCrystal’s initiative to associate officers with the Af-Pak Theater also tended to stove pipe those officers and reduce their competitiveness for advancement in rank and selection to attend advanced Professional Military Education ("PME") courses, such as the Command & General Staff College or the War College.

 

Conclusion And A Possible Way Forward        

 

To end this, I'll reference another anecdote from the Classical World.

 

I read this in a memoir by a Soviet Paratrooper who served in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  During their tour, his platoon would pass a tower with an inscription in a local language the Russians could not read.  Finally, after a long time, the Soviet Paratroopers asked their Afghan guide/translator what the inscription meant. 

 

The translator said, "You can conquer Bactria, but you can't hold it."---Alexander of Macedon. 

 

"Bactria" is the old name for what is now Afghanistan.  It was conquered by Alexander of Macedon (called "The Great").  There may  really have been a deeper meaning: Alexander took a Bactrian Princess for a wife.

 

Afghanistan enjoys a (somewhat inflated) reputation as a"graveyard of empires." 

 

Afghan tribesman are not the greatest Soldiers in the world.  However, they are the greatest Soldiers in Afghanistan and the return on the effort does not justify besting them.

 

Great Powers, notably  the USSR in the 1980s and Great Britain in the 19th Century, tend to come to Afghanistan late in the game; when the "lower hanging fruit' has been exploited and they are also over-extended.  Alexander, in contrast, came to Bactria in the first flush of glory from besting the Persian Great King at Gaurgamala. 

 

The US should gracefully ceade this war to the PRC, the world's emerging great power, which has an economic incentive to bring Afghanistan into its One Belt/One Road initiative.  The idea of a declining great power passing on a "twilight struggle" is a great meme in history: Britain passing the torch to the US in the course of World War II or the struggle with Persia passing, in turn, from Hellenic City States to Macedon to Hellenistic Successor States to Rome to the Romaioi.

 

I have thought since the "Long War" began 17 years ago, that it would probably end with the US passing the conflict on to the PRC.    

 

    

Comments

George N Romey Added Sep 18, 2018 - 2:45pm
It seems as though the US is just there not doing much of anything other than making a few contracting firms extremely rich.  I guess from time to time there are some military deaths but its doubtful if it hits the news (way too busy with the Cold War 2).  
 
Sadly if there is any movement about pulling out the scare tactics come out and as usual stupid Americans believe every false word.
John Minehan Added Sep 18, 2018 - 2:49pm
The really sad thing is we really did what we needed to do there in 2011.  However, what happened in Iraq in 2014, precludes our leaving for mostly political reasons.
Michael B. Added Sep 18, 2018 - 3:07pm
I'm reminded of a quote from John Paul Vann:
 
"We don't have twelve years' experience in Vietnam. We have one year's experience twelve times over."
 
Surely, the fear of the Taliban becoming another ISIL is foremost in certain minds, but from what I see, the Taliban isn't going anywhere any time soon. As they've been more-or-less continously at war for going on 40 years now, another few isn't any big deal to them.
 
I see many parallels to Vietnam here, mostly in the sense that we're backing the wrong horse, and a truly lost cause. Much like the ARVN, the Afghans aren't able to hold their own in battles, and are completely reliant on U.S. air power and fire support. Their leadership, if one could call it that, is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent. The astronomically high desertion rates and the frequency of "inside job" and "friendly fire" incidents against U.S. and other troops also paints a disturbing picture. The troops are so hobbled with restrictions and potential penalties for incurring collateral damage that they wonder what the hell they're doing there. Not good, not good at all.
John Minehan Added Sep 18, 2018 - 3:29pm
When I was in OEF (in the Horn of Africa, rather than Afghanistan), that Vann quote drove a lot of what we did. 
 
We tried to  build a data base and tried to memorialize whatwe were seeing on the ground, even in basic things like collecting GPS Way Points or looking at the impact of heavy seasonal rains on (mostly dirt) roads.
 
I hope it continued and was beneficial. 
John Minehan Added Sep 18, 2018 - 3:38pm
"I see many parallels to Vietnam here, mostly in the sense that we're backing the wrong horse, and a truly lost cause."
 
A good thing about the Horn is that some of the people in the Transitional National Government ("TNG") in Somalia used to be part of groups like Al Ittihad Al Islamiya ("AIAI") and the Islamic Court Union that had Salafist elements aligned with AQ.
 
These people are people and, have a lot of motivating factors and competing objectives.      
John Minehan Added Sep 18, 2018 - 3:38pm
Sometimes that gives you a way forward . . . . 
Michael B. Added Sep 18, 2018 - 3:44pm
I'm sure that the saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" gets TONS of mileage on those parts of the world. The alliances change about as often as the interest on my credit cards compounds, lol.
John Minehan Added Sep 18, 2018 - 4:08pm
It started in that part of the world . . . .
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 18, 2018 - 7:28pm
John - Like your analysis. I am not in favor of the widespread projection of power across the globe. I am of this mind:
 
If there is a war that must be fought ( those do happen on occasion ) the only responsible course of a Commander in Chief is to do so with the utmost force and have done with it as swiftly as possible, come home and let their corpses burn.  
 
Our quandary is the asymmetrical nature of this warfare. The idea of a war on "terror" is absurd. Terror is a tactic, not the enemy. The enemy lives within the muslim world. It is not the muslim world in its entirety, but this is where it lives. We should have no vital interests with any of the states of this region. The war as has been prosecuted thus far is not with the purpose of winning, rather to see that it continues. Leave them all to hang! If the Russians and Chinese want to stick their peckers into that beehive let 'em
 
John Minehan Added Sep 18, 2018 - 7:42pm
Well, that "beehive" may have value to the PRC.
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 18, 2018 - 7:50pm
Indeed so....it is the 21st century realpolitik
 
They have their sphere, we have ours. 
Steel Breeze Added Sep 18, 2018 - 9:50pm
never go to war unless you have;
a clear objective
a flexible battle plan
a well concieved exit strategy
none of which we had in Nam or the current conflict
we are WASTING American lives
Katharine Otto Added Sep 18, 2018 - 10:35pm
John,
I guess Jim Mattis went to Afghanistan recently and claims the war can't be won militarily but needs to be won diplomatically.  Other "experts" are saying similar things.  I hope for everyone's sake they will push forward on diplomacy.
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 18, 2018 - 10:39pm
thats called exit strategy :)
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 18, 2018 - 10:40pm
I'm pro exit
Ward Tipton Added Sep 19, 2018 - 12:25am
Oh Pooooooooooooppppppppppppyyyyyyyy!
 
I know a lot of people will disagree with that but ... why are we still in Afghanistan? 
 
Think small airports in Arkansas, Iran Contra ... etc etc et al ad infinitum ... and the past repeats itself yet again.
Flying Junior Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:29am
I certainly enjoyed the history of Croesus and Cyrus the Great.
 
Of course I support withdrawal.
 
The US should gracefully cede this war to the PRC.
 
That's the Peace Resource Center?
 
Clearly China and Russia are particularly interested in partnering with the resource-rich nation of Afghanistan.  It is not much of a stretch to imagine that Afghanistan would have a preference for new partners.
 
The irony is, of course, that the election of the monster, seen by the deceived as the ticket to, "Make American Great Again!.." [sic]  actually created not only the mechanism, but the international relationships necessary to take down the world's greatest superpower in less than five or six years.
 
I could live with being number two.  It is by far the least dangerous threat of the Trump presidency.
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 11:24am
Actually, the "People's Republic of China.
 
It is worth noting that all of the alliances you are talking about have been coming together since the turn of the century and just before.
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 12:01pm
"Our quandary is the asymmetrical nature of this warfare. The idea of a war on "terror" is absurd. Terror is a tactic, not the enemy. The enemy lives within the muslim world. It is not the muslim world in its entirety, but this is where it lives. We should have no vital interests with any of the states of this region. The war as has been prosecuted thus far is not with the purpose of winning, rather to see that it continues. Leave them all to hang!"
 
I thing we very consciously tried NOT to make this the "Global War on Islam."
 
In fact we consciously did not make this the "Global War on Sunni Salafism" because some of our allies (the KSA, for example) are within that camp to some degree.
 
The "Global War on Al Qaida" would have been most accurate, but: 1)  it would have given AQ a lot of credibility; a superpower is fighting a war with an NGO; and 2) AQ has a lot of supporting forces, like the Taliban, elements of AIAI (like Al Shubaab) and Abu Sayaaf in the Philippines.
 
You could say that AQ (at least for a while) was the first non-national (or trans-national) superpower.  
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 12:21pm
"never go to war unless you have;
a clear objective
a flexible battle plan
a well concieved exit strategy
none of which we had in Nam or the current conflict
we are WASTING American lives"
 
In B-School, they call that an "escalation of commitment error."  At Army C&GSC, I believe they call it a "bus ride to Abilene"  (I attended, but did not compete, Marine Corps Command and Staff College by VTC in a combat zone, so I'm not sure.)
 
In 2001, we probably stayed in Afghanistan because our presence there masked our Blackside Special Forces Operators fighting a "back alley war" against AQ in Afghanistan and contiguous areas, which would have been harder to do from Tampa. 
 
Our conventional troops there also essentially served as an Operational-level "cavalry screen" or "covering force." to deceive the enemy as to our main effort and intent.  In 2009, Pres. Obama and the DoD agreed to wind down the effort, something more than justified by bin Ladin being killed in 2011.
 
However, in 2014 (after our withdrawal from Iraq) IS had its big run, capturing most of  Sunni Iraq and threatening Baghdad.  
 
Our plans to withdraw from Afghanistan in an orderly way sank in a big tide of fear of "Who Lost Afghanistan" from both parties.
 
To get back to the "bus ride to Abilene," fighting a war entails all kinds of enabling and implied tasks.  Unfortunately, losing a war tends to involve those enabling or implied tasks becoming an end in themselves or, in Mil-Speak a "slf-licking ice cream cone." 
 
     
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 12:32pm
"I guess Jim Mattis went to Afghanistan recently and claims the war can't be won militarily but needs to be won diplomatically.  Other "experts" are saying similar things.  I hope for everyone's sake they will push forward on diplomacy"
 
Few people have the legitimacy among the Military "Tribal Confederation" (to borrow a phrase) that Gen (Ret.) Mattis has.
 
This is a very good sign.
Dino Manalis Added Sep 19, 2018 - 1:31pm
 Afghanistan needs a permanent U.S. military presence to prevent it from becoming a sanctuary for terrorists, while we ought to have greater cooperation with Pakistan to control the Taliban and stop them from wreaking havoc in both countries.
George N Romey Added Sep 19, 2018 - 1:40pm
Katharine I'd say what diplomacy. The people there want nothing to do with our culture.  They are more than content to live in an evil and repressed world in which men beat the women and rape little boys.  The world unfortunately for some is a hateful and brutal place.  Its been that way since the dawn of time and the US isn't going to change centuries of retarded thinking.
Bill Kamps Added Sep 19, 2018 - 1:47pm
It is difficult to win in a place where we cant describe what winning looks like.  A stable democratic Afghanistan?  seems unrealistic just as a similar Iraq was unrealistic. 
 
It isnt  only that the Afghans are the best fighters in their country, it is that every bottle of water, every gallon of gas, every bullet has to be delivered from half way around the world.  There are no ports, to easily deliver massive amounts of supplies, it comes by air, or over the Khyber pass by truck.   The Pakistanis, allegedly our friends, are one day a friend and the next day providing sanctuary for the enemy.   The logistics are the worst in the world. 
 
Imagine if the Soviets had decided to invade Bolivia, we would just sit back and laugh.
 
claims the war can't be won militarily but needs to be won diplomatically.
 
It is difficult to win this kind of war militarily.  As in Iraq, we defeated the Iraqi army, but that did not win the war.  At that point the real fun began because we did not reach a diplomatic agreement with the factions that could resist our presence. 
 
I would suggest it is very difficult to win militarily these kinds of "low intensity wars" because you cant kill all of the enemy.  There is no infrastructure to destroy, little in the way of government, so all you are doing is killing some number of the enemy.  There are always more to kill. 
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 1:47pm
"Katharine I'd say what diplomacy. The people there want nothing to do with our culture.  They are more than content to live in an evil and repressed world in which men beat the women and rape little boys.  The world unfortunately for some is a hateful and brutal place.  Its been that way since the dawn of time and the US isn't going to change centuries of retarded thinking."
 
Here's the interesting part.
 
The PRC has a real need for Afghanistan's resources and location.  They also have the money and a entry into a more workable world.
 
Let's see.  It already seems t be working in Africa.  Maybe it will work in Central Asia.
Bill Kamps Added Sep 19, 2018 - 1:52pm
The PRC has a real need for Afghanistan's resources and location.  They also have the money and a entry into a more workable world.
 
I would suggest that the PRC's big advantage, is that  they probably dont care if the Taliban run Afghanistan, as long as they get the resources they want.   We see it as a war on terror, they see it as a business deal.  Big difference.
George N Romey Added Sep 19, 2018 - 1:52pm
The PRC isn't going to go with a military and seen as a force for Western values.  That's why they will be looked at differently.  China doesn't give a damn if their men beat their wives and rape their little boys, they just want the resources.
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:06pm
And all of that changes the larger world in ways that changes the Taliban's little world more than a JTF could.
 
The "One Belt/One Road" initiative will go anywhere as well as planned, but if it has any success at all it will change the world radically. 
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:12pm
" Imagine if the Soviets had decided to invade Bolivia, we would just sit back and laugh."
 
The Soviets decided to invade Afghanistan and we sat back and laughed.
 
The cost benefit relationship you talk about did not balance for them or for the Brits in the 19th Century (my father's maternal grandfather was in the 2d Afghan War) . . . or for us.
 
As you say, the PRC looks at this as a business deal, not a war.
Bill Kamps Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:15pm
John, the thing is in some places, like Saudi, we look the other  way and do business and dont care if they do unspeakable things to their women, and preach terror in their mosques. We just want their oil and call them allies.   
 
In other places like Afghanistan, and Iraq, we try to convert them to democracy instead of just doing business.  We are not just in it for their oil or minerals, we are trying to change their way of life, which they dont really have an interesting in doing. 
 
In still other situations, like Russian and Iran, if they dont behave how we want we have to "punish" them, and put sanctions on them.
 
The PRC doesnt care what these countries do, as long as they get their resources.  They dont care how they treat their population, because the PRC doesnt appreciate others commenting on how it treats its own population.  The PRC is not trying to be a global policeman, in an ham handed arbitrary way. 
 
The PRC is a lot more consistent in how they do business. 
Bill Kamps Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:18pm
The Soviets decided to invade Afghanistan and we sat back and laughed.
 
Yes and the logistics for them were MUCH easier than for us.  Bolivia is the more apt comparison, half way around the world, land locked with lots of mountains and shitty roads. 
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:21pm
"I would suggest it is very difficult to win militarily these kinds of "low intensity wars" because you cant kill all of the enemy.  There is no infrastructure to destroy, little in the way of government, so all you are doing is killing some number of the enemy.  There are always more to kill."
 
With any civil war or insurgency (as with the American Revolution, for example) most people are "on the fence."
 
And, with the inevitable collateral damage that comes from the application of military power, the more people you flip from "on the fence" to "solidly against you."
 
I knew a PsyOps Major in the Horn, who used to say that, This is an IO ("Information Operations") War."  
 
In a certain sense, this is an "Information Operations" war but what he did not say is that the key terrain is the "Arab/Muslim Street."  
Michael B. Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:24pm
Some select quotes about Americans from various Afghans:
 
"U.S. soldiers kill many innocent civilians."
 
"They pee and defecate everywhere, even in front of women."
 
"U.S. soldiers always call us 'motherfuckers'."
 
"They treat us like thieves."
 
And my favorite one:
 
"Often the U.S. gets involved in personal feuds by believing an unreliable source; these people use the U.S. to destroy their personal enemies, not the insurgents."
 

Some select quotes about Afghans from various U.S. service members:
 
"They are totally infiltrated by insurgents. You just could not trust them."
 
"This is a lazy-ass culture. They won't do anything unless they absolutely HAVE to."
 
"They are always on their cell phones during patrols. They are worse than teenage girls."
 
"The fucking Iraqis are Einsteins next to Afghans. A bunch of worthless and useless motherfuckers."
 
And my favorite one:
 
We got one part day cultural training. It was crap. We do not socialize outside of operations. I'd just as soon shoot them as work with them. Interaction with ANA (Afghan National Army) was minimal. The only time was to go see what they had stolen. The people don't want us here and we don't like them."
 
All in all, a match made in heaven.
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:32pm
A good example of how a "victorious" tactical military response in an insurgency can lead to a strategic defeat in the 1956-'57 Battle of Algiers.
 
The FNLN Insurgents launched a bombing campaign against the French Civilians in Algiers (the "Pied Noirs").
 
It had initial success. 
 
The 10th ParaDivision under Massu nailed down the city, tortured suspects to get actionable intelligence and killed Ali Le Pointe and Petite Omar and stopped the bombing campaign.
 
It also made a further French presence in Algeria (considered a  Department of Metropolitan France rather than a Colony) untenable leading to Algerian Independence in the 1962 Evian Accords. 
 
The Operational military failure of the VC Tet Offensive in 1967-'68 also lead to a Strategic victory fr the PRVN. 
 
As with the American Revolution, Insurgents can often "Win by not losing." 
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:38pm


"All in all, a match made in heaven."
 
As Wellington said to Blucher (and if he didn't, he should have), Coalition warfare is a pain in the @$$." 






Bill Kamps Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:42pm
And yet, with a lot of very bright minds, we dont know any better than to get involved.  
 
We say we are trying to stabilize the Afghan army, ie , make it more like us.  But they dont want to be more like us and as you say, we dont like them either.
 
No one wants to pull the plug, but the plug needs to be pulled.
 
We need to stop pretending to be the policeman of the world, especially since we dont do it in an even handed way.   
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:44pm
"In other places like Afghanistan, and Iraq, we try to convert them to democracy instead of just doing business.  We are not just in it for their oil or minerals, we are trying to change their way of life, which they dont really have an interesting in doing."
 
In Iraq, "changing their culture" was actually a strategic goal. 
 
They wanted to create a functioning state with market capitalism and a democratic republic at the center of the Arab World, apparently not realizing it took the British Colonies in North America roughly from 1609 to 1870 to have that type of transformation (end of the US Civil War and after the 1867 Unification of Canada). 
Michael B. Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:47pm
@ John M. - "Win by not losing". I heard it as, "When they are not losing, they are winning", obviously the same thing. The cycle seems to repeat itself: Some terrorists and/or insurgents start a campaign of violence. The state then fights the insurgents, typically by brute force, as they know no other way to cope. The state becomes increasingly violent and oppressive, limiting or outright suspending most if not all civil rights; then the insurgents can say, "See how they are! This is what we're fighting against!" If they lose, they often come back in another form (if they're not bought-off by the state), and if they win, they take the place of the state they helped to topple, and now they have their own insurgents to fight. It will never end until the planet does.
 
I think it was Wellington who said something to the effect of, "The only thing worse than a battle lost is a battle won." In other words, you break it, you buy it."
Bill Kamps Added Sep 19, 2018 - 2:54pm
Well Michael, you dont have to engage in the first place. 
 
If our goal was getting Bin Laden, we didnt have to invade two countries, spend a few Trillion, and kill many  tens of thousands to do it.  Im sure we had other options.  The Russians kill people from time to time with just a bit of radioactive poison, just saying. 
Michael B. Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:02pm
@ Bill K. - Yes, we can always use a lesson from Field Marshal Rommel - "Don't fight battles when there is nothing to be gained by winning them."
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:07pm


"If our goal was getting Bin Laden, we didnt have to invade two countries, spend a few Trillion, and kill many  tens of thousands to do it.  Im sure we had other options.  The Russians kill people from time to time with just a bit of radioactive poison, just saying. "
 
You make a good point.
 
But, consider just Afghanistan and related areas.  We probably needed a presence in Theater to pull off what we did when we killed bin Ladin. 
 
I'm not sure you could have done that from SOCOM in Tampa or even NAVCENT in Bahrain.
 
There is a lot of "Empire Building" in DoD.  I had to "hitch hike" by C-130 from Kuwait to Djibouti when I was sent to CJTF-HoA in 2004. I recall talking to contractors in the air terminal in Qatar and thinking most people back home do not know how much assorted people are looking at this as a Lotto win.
 
But being in Afghanistan probably made sense as a sort of "operational cavalry screen."


 
 
Michael B. Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:14pm
It's nothing but a giant clusterfuck. The ire is also directed against our other "allies". To many Americans, "ISAF" stands for "In Sandals And Flip-flops", "I Suck At Fighting", and "I Saw Americans Fighting". The Germans aren't allowed to go out after dark. The Dutch don't work more than eight hours a day. Some countries only allowed their troops to go on anti-narcotics missions, while other nations prohibit their troops from doing the same thing. Other nations wouldn't allow armed Afghans of ANY type aboard their helicopters and airplanes. A smooth-functioning coalition if there ever was one.
 
Anyway, we were apparently doing pretty good and had the Taliban on the ropes until late 2002, when, to paraphrase Ross Perot, a giant sucking sound started to emanate from the greater Kuwait-Iraq region.
Bill Kamps Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:20pm
True Michael.  And is it their fault if they dont want to fight? if they dont want to be like us?  if they dont care if the Taliban take over?
 
Yes and after 17 years we have to helicopter from the air port because the roads arent safe.  I dont know who keeps talking Trump into staying, he said he wanted to leave.  Unfortunately whether Democrat or Republican when it comes to the military they continue to make the sames mistakes. 
Katharine Otto Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:45pm
John,
Ward mentioned the poppy, and there's a great article in the April, 2018 Harper's about that, entitled "Mobbed Up:  How America boosts the Afghan opium trade."  It says essentially that warring tribes in Afghanistan use Americans to fight their internecine battles.  It mentions the CIA and its investment in the heroin trade.  It also says the West Coast Marines wanted combat experience so pushed for a greater role.  The Air Force wanted to put the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter on display.  There's a sixth-generation Raptor on the pipeline.
 
My own take is that the CIA wants to control the drug trade worldwide.  International drug laws help the CIA claim a monopoly on heroin and the like, using it to fund its covert operations, just as the Taliban does.  I believe the drug trade is a major reason we are still there.
Michael B. Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:47pm
It's come such a long way. I've heard numerous tales, both first and second hand, of people trekking through those areas in the early-to-mid 70's, smoking hash with the locals and never having a problem outside of the usual inconveniences. What do to with a country that's known nothing but war for going on 40 years now?
Katharine Otto Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:48pm
George,
It's not our job to bring the world up to our skewed standards.  When we can demonstrate that we do a better job of caring for our own, maybe we'll have something to crow about.  Meanwhile, we are only stirring the pot where we don't belong, and giving them ever more reasons to hate us.
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 3:58pm
Ever hear of a guy in NYC by the name of Frank Lucas, who used to work for the famous 1930s Gangster "Bumpy" Johnson?
 
He revolutionized the Heroin Trade by importing junk from the Golden Triangle brought back in the caskets of troops killed in Vietnam.
 
The story was made into a 2006, lightly fictionalized film called American Gangster.    
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 4:00pm
"Yes and after 17 years we have to helicopter from the air port because the roads arent safe.  I dont know who keeps talking Trump into staying, he said he wanted to leave.  Unfortunately whether Democrat or Republican when it comes to the military they continue to make the sames mistakes."
 
Also, due to the attitude and the dust, Afghanistan is not the best place to operate helicopters in general. 
John Minehan Added Sep 19, 2018 - 4:42pm
Michael B. Added Sep 20, 2018 - 1:04pm
@ John M. - John, thanks for posting this, it is one hell of an analysis. COL Hackworth thought very highly of Bernard Fall, and I can see why. Hackworth was jarred by his death, as well as that of John Paul Vann a couple of years later. The establishment probably didn't take him seriously because he was French, lol.
 
"to establish a competitive system of control over the population." That's also what the average street gang tries to do as well.
 
"losing an insurgency can happen to almost anybody." Those are comforting words, like "anybody can get a STD" or "You're not the only one to be divorced." LOL
 
John Minehan Added Sep 20, 2018 - 2:31pm
Fall had a unique point of view on the issue. 
 
He had been a Counterinsurgent as a French Officer in Indochina in the late 1940s (and as a Defense Contractor with the French in the 1950s and the US in the 1960s)) but he had also been an Insurgent as a member of the French Resistance during WWII (it is worth noting Fall was Jewish, so he really had Taleb's "Skin in the Game").
John Minehan Added Sep 20, 2018 - 2:39pm
I read this when I was called up in 2003 . . . and was trying to remember anything I ever knew about COIN. 
 
I also skimmed two books I had read before: Alistair Horn's Savage War of Peace (on Algeria); and Fall's Street Without Joy (recommended to me as a Rat, by my Brother Rat Jim Kenkle [Colonel, USMCR (Ret.)]).    
John Minehan Added Sep 20, 2018 - 2:48pm
"'to establish a competitive system of control over the population.' That's also what the average street gang tries to do as well.
 
Really off topic, but, I've heard the City of Los Angeles basically operates because the various gangs keep civil order in order not to have too much intrusion into their "Turf" by the LAPD.
 
That TV Show, Fear The Walking Dead, really missed an opportunity by not exploring the idea.  When the government fails, whatever keeps order, becomes the government. 
  

  
Michael B. Added Sep 20, 2018 - 3:08pm
@ John M. - Yes, Fall was definitely an example of "it takes one to know one." I still need to read Street Without Joy. We usually proceed with excessive cluelessness, as articulated by this guy:
 
"Mr. McNamara, You must never have read a history book. If you'd had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. McNamara, didn't you know that? Don't you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for 1000 years? We were fighting for our independence. And we would fight to the last man. And we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us." - Xuân Thuỷ, Foreign Minister of North Vietnam (1963 to 1965), during a 1995 meeting with former US Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.
 
John Minehan Added Sep 20, 2018 - 3:13pm
Gore Vidal apparently used to talk about the USA as the "United States of Amnesia."
Michael B. Added Sep 20, 2018 - 3:15pm
"I've heard the City of Los Angeles basically operates because the various gangs keep civil order in order not to have too much intrusion into their "Turf" by the LAPD."
 
LOL...I'm looking at this from the other end - "You assholes stop that shit. We don't want the cops to come and fuck it all up." I've also expressed such sentiments countless times at the workplace, lol. The LAPD has historically been spread pretty thin considering the geography it has to cover, so no doubt there are elements within the LAPD (and many others) that would not be averse to forging "alliances" with their erstwhile enemies. The 2001 movie Training Day illustrated this quite vividly; they usually ignore the sardines and minnows in their quest for bigger fish.
John Minehan Added Sep 20, 2018 - 5:06pm
"The 2001 movie Training Dayillustrated this quite vividly; they usually ignore the sardines and minnows in their quest for bigger fish."
 
Yet another analogy between COIN and police work . . . .
A. Jones Added Sep 20, 2018 - 10:56pm
when the "lower hanging fruit' has been exploited and they are also over-extended.
 
A colorful phrase but I have no idea what that means in this context. Britain came to colonize; the US did not. 
 
The US should gracefully ceade [cede] this war to the PRC, the world's emerging great power,
 
I've heard that China's an emerging great power . . . mainly from Chinese propaganda outlets. In fact, China's economy is weakening after its first flush of liberalization and market reforms.
 
According to this article, China's One Belt, One Road program is probably doomed to failure, with lots of "white elephant" infrastructure projects starting nowhere, going nowhere, and ending nowhere. That's often the nature of big, splashy, government-financed infrastructure projects (even Chinese-financed ones).
Dr. Rupert Green Added Sep 21, 2018 - 1:55am
Yes on the Afghan battlefields, the scream could be heard from wounded soldiers as the Afghan women came out at night and cut out their balls.
John Minehan Added Sep 21, 2018 - 1:13pm
Dr. Green, that fact was immortalized in verse:
 
"When wounded and laying on Afghanistan's planes/and the women come out to cut up what remains/just to your rifle and blow outyour brains/ amd go to your G-d like a Soldier."---Kipling  
John Minehan Added Sep 21, 2018 - 1:25pm
"A colorful phrase but I have no idea what that means in this context. Britain came to colonize; the US did not."
 
Actually, neither the Brits nor the US (nor the Russians for that matter) came to colonize, they came to protect other national interests, the Brits to protect access to India (the "jewel in the Crown"and, itself, a colonial interest), the Americans to deny Afghanistan to AQ as "active sanctuary" (and to act as an FOB for operations against AQ in the Tribal areas of Pakistan) and Russia under the Brezhnev Doctrine, keep  a socialist state form being overthrown. 
 
But all of these things are high cost and low payoff.
 
Opening up the resources and the populations of Central Asia  may not be low cost, but it is potentially high payoff.
 
If I were a betting man, I would tell you "One Belt/One Road" will never achieve a fraction of what is expected from it by the PRC.
 
However, if it accomplishes that fraction, it completely upends the old paradigm.  
 
Dr. Rupert Green Added Sep 21, 2018 - 8:33pm
@ John. ""A colorful phrase but I have no idea what that means in this context. Britain came to colonize; the US did not.""
It means, in the context of those who venture to colonize Afghan, your wounded soldiers will find it more merciful to eat a bullet than to face the knives of those dreaded Afghan women as they ply the battlefields at night.
John Minehan Added Sep 21, 2018 - 8:53pm
My father's grandfather (to whom he was close) served in the 2d Afghan War with the British Army.  From what my father said, his grandfather said the fighting was bitter on both sides and the Pashtun were great fighters.
 
Some things don't change, I guess. 
Michael B. Added Sep 21, 2018 - 11:22pm
@ John M. - "the Pashtun were great fighters."
 
While reading Charlie Wilson's War, a certain line stuck out regarding the Afghan Mujahideen, something to the effect of:
 
"We were arming a rabble to the teeth, but God, what a rabble!"
John Minehan Added Sep 22, 2018 - 6:45am
'We were arming a rabble to the teeth, but God, what a rabble!'
 
You know, that could be said of just about any effective army in history, certainly, insurgents.
 
But thinking about Wellington's comments about his troops ("The very scum of the Earth, ruined by drink . . . ."), clearly any effective army.  
Dr. Rupert Green Added Sep 22, 2018 - 6:47am
As one speaks about badass soldiers, what about the Gurkhas?
John Minehan Added Sep 22, 2018 - 11:32am
They don't get better.  they also served with distinction in the 2d Afghan War as a matter of fact.
John Minehan Added Sep 22, 2018 - 11:38am
Doug Plumb Added Sep 22, 2018 - 7:35pm
The United States had to invade Afghanistan to stop an evil criminal mastermind from bringing the world to its knees.
Really war just wrecks people, its a great way to implement white genocide. Take thousands of good healthy white guys and put them through an experience that causes 23 of them to commit suicide every day. Plus it drives the country into further debt, the instrument of control to bring in the new world government. It makes violence that much more acceptable, and provides MIC with funds to develop even better technology while loading up the police departments with more technology so as to collect on the debt when needed. It provides the rulers with a great supply of little kids, where they would be noticed as missing if taken off the streets of America. People were catching on to the milk carton kids. Notice how kids don't go missing any more?
We are dumb and innocent enough to believe that this evil mastermind did 9-11, we deserve it. Innocence in a young girl is good, in an old or middle aged man, quite pathetic.
Doug Plumb Added Sep 23, 2018 - 8:18am
War Is A Racket (Smedley Butler) : https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.pdf
 
My browser isn't letting me highlight and embed a link.
John Minehan Added Sep 23, 2018 - 10:37am
John Minehan Added Sep 23, 2018 - 10:48am
This may be of interest.
 
It was posted at COL (R) W, Patrick Lang's site.  Lang is not a COINdinista.
A. Jones Added Sep 23, 2018 - 7:20pm
Actually, neither the Brits nor the US (nor the Russians for that matter) came to colonize, they came to protect other national interests,
 
Except for the fact that the Brits ruled Afghanistan as a protectorate, and the U.S. did not. The difference between "colony" (ruled internally by a foreign state) and "protectorate" (ruled externally by a foreign state) is, here, a difference without a distinction.
 
If I were a betting man, I would tell you "One Belt/One Road" will never achieve a fraction of what is expected from it by the PRC.
 
Actual betters are betting it will achieve nothing and will upend nothing (except, perhaps, the Chinese economy). The point of One Belt has always been propaganda, pure and simple.
 
However, if it accomplishes that fraction, it completely upends the old paradigm.
 
"Fractional accomplishments" never upend paradigms.
John Minehan Added Sep 23, 2018 - 8:58pm
"'Fractional accomplishments' never upend paradigms."
 
Hmmm.

 
John Minehan Added Sep 23, 2018 - 11:15pm
"Except for the fact that the Brits ruled Afghanistan as a target="_blank">protectorate, and the U.S. did not. The difference between "colony" (ruled internally by a foreign state) and "protectorate" (ruled externally by a foreign state) is, here, a difference without a distinction."
 
Kind of and until 1919, but the purpose was to have a buffer state to Russia, you may know it as the "Great Game." 
 
The degree of control other than that was nominal.  They had trouble keeping a Resident in Kandahar and Kabul (at least one that stayed breathing. .
A. Jones Added Sep 24, 2018 - 9:40pm
The degree of control other than that was nominal.
 
Not for lack of trying. Afghanistan was a British protectorate. It wasn't some liberal spirit of "self-determination".
John Minehan Added Sep 28, 2018 - 6:10pm
"Not for lack of trying. Afghanistan was a British protectorate. It wasn't some liberal spirit of 'self-determination.'"
 
Which is the point, of course.  Afghanistan was not worth the effort for the Brits or the USSR . . . or the US. 
John Minehan Added Sep 30, 2018 - 10:43am
Why the Shahs were called "King of Kings."
Michael B. Added Oct 1, 2018 - 8:30pm
I recently watched a series of videos of the Taliban and ISIL in action, and they didn't paint a very flattering picture. From what I saw, they're actually quite a rag-tag bunch, poorly disciplined and trained, with incompetence at all levels, malfunctioning weapons and ordnance, and fighting among themselves seemingly not unusual. The talked with walkie-talkies and cell phones, which naturally aren't very conducive to COMSEC. If these guys are so fearsome, I can only imagine how bad their opponents, "our guys", are, lol.
John Minehan Added Oct 6, 2018 - 8:08am
Sorry about the late reply, but from people I have talked to, the environment is also an antagonist.
 
Hard to hump those hills with all the body armor, but you can't not use it since the Taliban are very good at bobby-traps and IEDs. 
Michael B. Added Oct 8, 2018 - 2:02pm
The weather, the terrain, and...the enemy.
John Minehan Added Oct 8, 2018 - 5:01pm
. . . and the terrain differs significantly as a function of the weather.   It rains enough at NTC in the winter and those dry lake beds become bachelor (and bachelorette) pads for billions of brine shrimp.  It rains enough in Africa and the roads are somewhere else.
 
Those NGA people are worth their weight in gold. 
John Minehan Added Oct 12, 2018 - 11:29pm
I was reading the last few days about how China gained so much influence in the First Island Chain beginning in the 15the Century.
 
If China the state does not expand, China the people do.  That might be the ultimate significance of OBOR.