View Full Version : Two competing views on the war in Afghanistan

08-05-2009, 03:50 PM
The following comes from Patrick Porter in a post (http://kingsofwar.wordpress.com/2009/08/05/pakistan-the-reason-to-stay-or-the-reason-to-withdraw/)to the "Kings of War" blog - I thought SWCers might be interested to discuss it as well:

In a very measured and tentative case for fighting on, Stephen Biddle argues that we should stay not primarily to disrupt AQ or deny it sanctuary, but to keep a lid on the turmoil across the border and prevent what would be close to a worse-case scenario, the Taliban taking over Pakistan:

The more important U.S. interest is indirect: to prevent chaos in Afghanistan from destabilizing Pakistan. With a population of 173 million (five times Afghanistan’s), a GDP of more than $160 billion (more than ten times Afghanistan’s) and a functional nuclear arsenal of perhaps twenty to fifty warheads, Pakistan is a much more dangerous prospective state sanctuary for al-Qaeda.Furthermore, the likelihood of government collapse in Pakistan, which would enable the establishment of such a sanctuary, may be in the same ballpark as Afghanistan, at least in the medium to long term. Pakistan is already at war with internal Islamist insurgents allied to al-Qaeda, and that war is not going well. Should the Pakistani insurgency succeed in collapsing the state or even just in toppling the current civilian government, the risk of nuclear weapons falling into al-Qaeda’s hands would rise sharply. In fact, given the difficulties terrorists face in acquiring usable nuclear weapons, Pakistani state collapse may be the likeliest scenario leading to a nuclear-armed al-Qaeda.

Robert Haddick agrees that Pakistan is at the core of the issue, and doesn’t necessarily oppose the war, but suggests that the US military presence could be aggravating the problem of radical Talibanism over the border:

Contrary to Biddle’s assertion, it seems equally reasonable to argue that Taliban-controlled Afghanistan provided a relief valve of sorts for Islamist pressure that might have otherwise formed inside Pakistan during the 1990s. And although the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban are two distinct movements, the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan may be inciting and pressurizing Taliban activity inside Pakistan. Contrary to what Biddle argues, the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan may be increasing rather than decreasing the risk to Pakistan.Pakistan’s powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence seems to see it this way. The ISI recently invited reporters from the New York Times to its offices for a two-hour briefing. During the briefing, ISI officials objected to the U.S. Marine Corps offensive in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province. They feared that the offensive would push Taliban fighters into Pakistan’s Baluchistan area, destabilizing it.

Porter then poses the following question/comment:

Can we say with any confidence which of these views is more plausible? If we can’t know, or if it is too unpredictable, is it more prudent to maintain the war effort or scale down?

My suspicion, as a dodgy historian, is that a foreign military presence is more often likely to be a radicalising and volatile force, except in unusually permissive circumstances. But I could be wrong in this case.

Most worrying is the sense that it is almost impossible to measure the risks of staying or going – this most important question- with any confidence.

08-05-2009, 04:16 PM
Posted on another thread, but provides a local viewpoint of the situation and worth a read: http://www.army.forces.gc.ca/caj/documents/vol_12/iss_1/CAJ_Vol12.1_05_e.pdf


08-05-2009, 04:40 PM
It is only since the end of Musharraf's military rule in Pakistan that the real importance of Pakistan has been openly acknowledge in my opinion. It was almost as the campaign in Afghanistan was far away. I recall making remarks at RUSI on the West's reliance on Pakistan for logistic supply routes meant the campaign could not happen without Pakistani support and the look of surprise on members of the audience.

Standing back, what is more important to the national interests of the UK / USA / others Afghanistan or Pakistan?

Which leads me to ask why does the UK think its national interest is best served by deploying 9000 troops in Helmand Province. Is Helmand that vital? To stop cultivation of the poppy you could make an argument.

Robert Haddick refers to the two Taliban's being 'distinct movements'. What about LeT appearing to prefer to fight not in Kashmir, but within Pakistan and Afghanistan? The distinctions can easily disappear, as I would contend has happened with LeT. Secondly Pakistanis, such as Dr Lodhi, have commented on three different groups merging to oppose the government / state (Pakistan Taliban, extremists in South Punjab and LeT IIRC).

Calls to expand the Afghan security forces ignore the high desertion rate (once cited as 30%), poor re-enlistment, that the Taliban pay a better day rate and much more. Retention and training first. I also suspect if the ANA recruit more, are they more likely to be Northerners than Pashtuns? Which undermines the 'National'.

If we decide to go, as individual nations (Canada & Netherlands in 2011) or as an alliance, leaving aside a host of issues, what do we say to the Afghans? Incidentally a visiting friend to Kabul recently reported that few Afghans he met thought the West would stay, indeed we were preparing to go now.

Many of my views and these themes have already appeared on SWC, in a variety of threads.


08-05-2009, 05:13 PM
from David
Standing back, what is more important to the national interests of the UK / USA / others Afghanistan or Pakistan?

Pakistan over Afghanistan - and India over both.

PS: I suppose I could add a little reasoning; perhaps influenced by Bob's World's concept that AQ is best viewed as a Base (its name) engaged in unconventional warfare by assisting various indigenous guerrilla groups. That, of course, was the original concept for our Special Forces from the 1950s. That concept leads to an end state where the unconventional forces co-ordinate and achieve a juncture with conventional forces - QED (as Giap and the NVA did in 1975, although it took them three previous failures, 1965, 1968 & 1972, before the end state was realized).

With AQ, the end state (the juncture of unconventional forces with conventional forces) is not obvious. Pakistan seems the nearest possibility for AQ (subversion of their army and acquistion of their nuclear weapons) to reach that end state. My crystal ball does not assess the probability of that happening. It does seem to be a logical strategic choice for AQ to at least dream about.

Billy Ruffian
08-05-2009, 06:38 PM
Pakistan over Afghanistan - and India over both.

Agreed. We're all paying a financial, political, moral and social cost for the GWOT (or whatever it is called right now) to varying degrees, that's why I (and I reckon the average Canadian/American/Brit) am so frustrated to see how traditional nation-state politics are proving to be so ineffective against the two Talibans and their affiliates/allies/what-have-you. GEN Petreaus has done an amazing job trying to get the people in our countries to accept a longer view and embrace the idea that there are no quick fixes, but it seems to me in my conversation with my fellow citizens that we just keep putting out hands in a bag full of scorpions with our involvement with any Pakistani official or tribal leader and there is nothing we can do about it if we want to keep Afghanistan from getting any worse.

Forgive me for the gross oversimplification, but I would like to see more done to bring about a more stable Pakistan and smash the power of the ISI which seems to be taking aid money from us so they can aid the people who are killing our men and women.

Would it really be so bad if we just let Afghanistan go if we were able to eliminate/convert more of our enemies in nuclear Pakistan?

George L. Singleton
08-06-2009, 12:34 AM

You do some of the very best research and source referenced work on SWJ.

Let me offer another or third if you will view point.

It now appears that tribes from Waziristan inside Pakistan who are being bested by our allies the Pakistani Army are, as I posted a few days ago on this site, are now fleeing into southern Helmand Province inside Afghanistan seeking refuge resources and protection from...guess who...the Government of Afghanistan and NATO forces there.

Questions: Are these fierce tribes coming from inside Paksitan into Afghanitan merely Pakhtuns seeking protocol protection and sustainment from their fellow Pakhtuns who are the political and cultural majority in Afghanistan...

Or, are these tribal refugees fleeing at long last from the fierce clasp of the Taliban and al Qaida and their allies who continue to fight in Waziristan?

Or, are these fleeing tribes people moving to later join up with the Taliban terrorists against the Government of Afghanistan and our NATO forces?

This could be an interesting topic to explore.

My "reason" for bringing these questions and a possible third point of view up are that after the initial "taking" militarily of Afghanistan by 2005 the Taliban who had fled into Pakistan were returning in small numbers, occuping small farms and houses among the now pacified Afghans who had become loyal to the new constitutional government of Afghanitan...then these clandestine actual terrorist Taliban rose up at night and murdered their peaceful Afghan neighbors, burned their homes and reoccupied with force of arms the just pacified areas in Southern Afghanistan, Helmand Province, and other such areas by similiar techniques across much of Afghanistan.

Discussion, criticism, whatever welcome on these thoughts.

George L. Singleton
08-10-2009, 04:15 PM
Earlier in August 2009 posted on SWJ blog was a re-published article 'Going Tribal: Enlisting Afghanistan's Tribes' by Dan Green: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/278-green.pdf and the follow-on discussion on SWJ Blog: http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2009/08/going-tribal-enlisting-afghani/#comments

Below is a response by Dr. Hamid Hussain which I received today. Dr. Hussain is an earned PhD, is a native Pakhtun, who lives and works out of the New York City area today, traveling back to the Northern parts of Paksitan twice a year for interviews and fact finding.

George Singleton

August 10, 2009

Dear George:

Dan Green has worked on tribal engagement both in Iraq and Afghanistan on the ground. He wrote a good piece (click on title to read full article) and someone asked me about my comments about the subject which are below.

As United States policy-makers undertake a series of exhaustive reviews of U.S. policies in Afghanistan, they are taking a closer look at Afghan tribes as part of a new strategy for confronting increasing violence.

Much of this newfound interest stems from the very successful turnaround of Anbar Province, Iraq, where Arab tribes played a key part in changing the province from a hotbed of the Sunni Arab insurgency to a place where security has improved to the point that U.S. troops are beginning to be withdrawn.

The tribes are also receiving increased attention because the U.S. does not have enough troops available to undertake a proper counterinsurgency campaign, because of existing requirements in Iraq and the dwell time required between deployments.

But as tribes assume a more central role in our Afghanistan strategy, it is essential that we approach the challenge informed by our experiences in Iraq, not dominated by them, and that we craft a pragmatic strategy that will achieve enduring security effects for the Afghan population.

Afghanistan’s tribes must forcefully confront the insurgency and not be overwhelmed by it, while maintaining the active support of the people and reducing the tendency of the tribes to fight among themselves.

All of this must be done while building the capacity of the Afghan state without creating a parallel tribal system. Though this would seem to be an almost insurmountable challenge, it is not impossible, and to quote General David Petraeus’s view about creating security in Iraq: “Hard is not hopeless.”

Dan Green has touched on an important subject looking at potential benefits and pitfalls of engaging tribes. He is correct in his assertion that tribal factor is being considered not because it is inherently better but due to the fact that U.S. is either unable or unwilling to provide adequate troops for the tough task at hand. Tribal factor is an important element in the conflict, however it is crucial not to generalize tribal element. It is a very complex drama in which tribesmen have been playing this game of survival for centuries outlasting empires and nation states. In view of U.S. objectives and limitations, tribal factor will be a small piece in the big puzzle. It can surely bring some benefits, but it also has the potential of reversing the modest gains made so far and setting the stage for a different conflict.

In Afghanistan, Washington has been entangled in many tribal, clan and even extended family rivalries. Washington’s money and military muscle has been used by Afghans to settle scores with tribal rivals. One example of Haji Bashir Noorzai will suffice. He claims leadership of Noorzais; a powerful tribe of southern Afghanistan. Bashir helped Washington in Stinger buy back program in mid 1990s. It is alleged that he inherited his father’s opium business. When Taliban emerged on the scene, he threw his lot with them. In October 2001, when U.S. arrived on the scene, he switched sides and delivered several trucks of arms hidden by Taliban in his tribe’s villages. He also helped to bring in some Taliban leaders (the most famous was former foreign minister Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil). In the local power struggle, he was opposing his fellow tribesman Arif Noorzai who was then Karzai’s minister for tribal affairs. During all this time, his paycheck was coming from Washington. The wind started to blow in the other way and Washington now saw him a big drug lord. He was enticed to come to U.S. where he was indicted and in May 2009 sentenced to life imprisonment on drug charges. U.S. taxpayers first paid Bashir’s salary, then spent millions on his trial and now will be spending about $30’000 per year to keep him in a comfortable U.S. prison. Bashir is 43 year old and with a good balanced diet and decent health care provided by our prison system is likely to live a long life.

There needs to be a clear understanding about the mission. The end game is reasonable stabilization in the security realm and then departure of U.S. troops or social re-engineering of the region. Resources and more importantly the mindset requirement about these two projects are totally different. Unfortunately, patience has never been an American virtue. Few examples will give a glimpse of the task at hand. Dan advises the readers to read about the marvelous work of Robert Groves Sandeman. A little knowledge about Robert is as important as his work. Robert came to India at the tender age of sixteen to join the regiment which his father has been commanding for long time. He ended up spending twenty six years among the Baluch tribes earning their genuine love and respect. On his death bed, several tough Baluchi chiefs were seen crying and he is buried in Baluchistan. Robert Warburton spent eighteen long years dealing only with one Afridi tribe of Khyber. General Abraham Roberts spent his entire military career of fifty years in India. His son Field Marshal Frederick Roberts spent forty years in India. Between father and son that comes out to ninety two years.

British were successful in social re-engineering in view of enormous resources put into the effort. Men of that bygone era spent their whole lives among their subjects and in the end desired a knighthood and adding C.B., O.B.E. etc. after their names. Young Americans are doing ninety and one hundred and eighty days furloughs in these far off lands and want CEO and CFO after their names. A lot of good work is being done about various day to day issues but there is no serious debate about the endgame. Consensus about the end game should be the first step to work towards a reasonable operational set up. One senior U.S. official in Baghdad very accurately described the tribal dilemma in 2003 stating that ‘the significance of the bigger tribes doesn’t escape me. But if it was easy as talking to five or six sheiks to put a stop to violence, we’d have done it. We’re not that dense’. Tribal factor is an important one but it needs a more serious and in depth analysis with clear comprehension about the nuances.

Dr. Hamid Hussain