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Thread: The Helmand Province (merged thread, not UK or USMC)

  1. #21
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Helmand Province: returning to danger

    Helmand Province features in several threads due to first the UK's intervention (with allies, Denmark notably), then the USMC arrival and being a "showcase" for what GoIRA and the ANSF can do. Now as ISAF draws down, not without casualties still, a thread on this key province will not go amiss.

    Carter Malkasian's book 'War Comes to Garmser' has been reviewed elsewhere, but this short commentary on the Afghan Analyst Network (AAN) on the history and current scene in another district, Nahr-e Seraj illustrates the difficulties in claiming 'victory':
    On a visit to Helmand in mid-December, UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated that when British troops withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, they will have accomplished their main aim leaving behind a basic level of security. But a new report by the Pentagon tells a different story. On its list of the most violent districts in the country, the top four are in Helmand, the province where most British as well as thousands of US troops have been based. The deadliest of these districts is Nahr-e Seraj where a multitude of power brokers within and outside the official security forces violently struggle for influence. Deedee Derksen with an overview of disarmament and rearmament trends over the past 12 years and the resulting security challenges for this and the next Afghan government (with input by Obaid Ali).
    It ends:
    Where this leaves Gereshk in the near future is difficult to assess. Its politics and military balance are in flux. International troops are leaving, the government has assumed responsibility for security, a new president should assume power next year and, at the level of the central government, efforts are underway to bring in the Taleban. However, whatever happens on a national level is complicated by local developments and the volatile and fragile politics and security situation in important towns like Gereshk. The insurgency is booming, at the same time the loyalty of security forces to the national government is not guaranteed. Local and personal considerations trump government policy. At the same time, the formal and informal security sectors are becoming increasingly fragmented. A new Afghan government will have a tough job keeping them in line.
    Link:http://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/...in-afghanistan

    The AAN article refers to a forthcoming book 'An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012' by Mike Martin; due to be published later this month and the UK's former top soldier, General Sir David Richards review is:
    An Intimate War is, quite simply, the book on Helmand. I sincerely wish it had been available to me when I was ISAF Commander in Afghanistan. Military, diplomatic and development professionals involved in Afghanistan and elsewhere, for that matter read this and take note.
    Link to Amazon UK:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Intimate-War...t%2C+1978-2012

    Link to Amazon.com, note due out in April 2014:http://www.amazon.com/Intimate-War-H...t%2C+1978-2012
    davidbfpo

  2. #22
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Afghan notebook: Going home to Helmand

    A contrary review article by a Pashto lady, from Helmand and now a BBC reporter:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-27408292
    davidbfpo

  3. #23
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    I've never liked the use of a number of open schools (even girls schools) as a metric for progress. I recognize that lady is not using it in the way a soldier or reconstructionist might, but it reads like oddly-placed hope.

    Lose a teacher, receive a night letter or two, or get a visit from the local TB chief, and it all folds up.

    I am not surprised the province still teeters.

  4. #24
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Taliban have taken back Afghan strongholds that 150 of our boys died for

    A headline that sadly was expected and no doubt is uncomfortable to officialdom and virtually all UK elected national politicians. It starts with:
    Huge swathes of Helmand Province, the area of Afghanistan where hundreds of British soldiers were killed in eight years of bloody fighting, are once again in the hands of the Taliban, The districts of Now Zad, Musa Qala and Sangin have been overrun by insurgents after British troops withdrew to the security of Camp Bastion – the last remaining UK base in the province. The return of the Taliban to hundreds of square miles of territory which was previously liberated by British soldiers makes a mockery of Prime Minister David Cameron’s declaration of ‘mission accomplished’ in Afghanistan.
    Link:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...#ixzz36h2BIwVO

    There's also a short commentary by Lt.Col. Tootal, ex-Para, who took the first soldiers into Helmand in 2006 and I cite just one sentence:
    Now the nation must ask whether our long campaign in the troubled country of Afghanistan has been worth it.
    davidbfpo

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    A better report from Sangin in WSJ and here's a taster, citing Suliman Shah, Sangin's district governor:
    The situation is bad...The territory seized by the Taliban hasn't been retaken, and the government hasn't made any steps forward. The Taliban will take control of more territory.

    In Sangin, lightly equipped Afghan police, including village militia outfits known as Afghan Local Police, say they have borne the brunt of the insurgent onslaught.
    Link:http://online.wsj.com/articles/afgha...ban-1404670052

    Note the role of the ALP, who fight till the ammo runs out and are overrun (dying one assumes) and the casualty figures:
    Afghan officials said 27 Afghan National Army soldiers have been killed and 80 wounded in the recent fighting, along with 81 police killed and 67 wounded. Local community leaders said more than 140 civilians have been killed or wounded in the crossfire, with the bulk of the casualties caused by roadside bombs.
    davidbfpo

  6. #26
    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    The Taliban won't need to take Kabul outright.

    They only need to control the centers of illicit profit like Helmand, and then can afford to encircle Kabul and Kandahar like a python constricting around its prey.

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    A better report from Sangin in WSJ and here's a taster, citing Suliman Shah, Sangin's district governor:

    Link:http://online.wsj.com/articles/afgha...ban-1404670052

    Note the role of the ALP, who fight till the ammo runs out and are overrun (dying one assumes) and the casualty figures:
    David,

    I don't have time to read the article now, but in my opinion I think we pushed a bad strategy in regards to relying the ALP to help stabilize the situation. It is an approach that can work only where the insurgents are unable to mass to achieve dominance over a local security force. Obviously the Taliban, partly or largely due to the safe haven in Pakistan, can mass forces in Helmand and other areas. Instead of using the oil spot strategy, which can work, we used the oil driblet strategy, and driblets are unable to defend themselves without U.S. advisors and firepower. If we actually cleared the area and was able to secure the broad area with the military, at least to the point the Taliban couldn't mass, the ALP could be useful in defending against small groups of infiltrators and tying the village to the national government. We're all about quick and short term effects, but terrible when it comes to pursuing longer term ends. A lot of my friends involved in the ALP/VSO effort believe it is a farce and the positive results are over hyped. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and if we were capable of doing honest assessments instead of using assessments as a marketing tool to justify what we're currently doing, then we have changed course a little.

  8. #28
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    "Clear-Hold-Build" is a fundamentally flawed concept.

    It is like driving one's arm into a tub of water, and believing that the space their arm occupied will remain free of water once the arm is removed.

    Until we get to a more intellectually honest appreciation about what insurgency is in general, and why insurgency exists in Afghanistan, we are unlikely to develop and adopt policies for foreign places that our military can actually enforce.

    For the military, we defined this mission in the context of what we in the military do, and while that is a natural response of most institutions (USAID, State, DEA, and NGOs have done the same), it does not lead to an approach that is very helpful for Afghanistan getting to some degree of natural stability.

    So long as the governance in Kabul (and at lower levels as well) is perceived as fundamentally illegitimate by many who live there (primarily those who had patronage power under the Taliban and now suffer under those who have it under the regime we put into power), there will be revolution.

    So long as foreign forces occupy Helmand (and Afghan forces from the north operating in Helmand are perceived as being nearly as foreign as British and US forces operating there), there will be resistance.

    This is natural. This is human nature. This is really not much about advancing some "Taliban" system of governance as the West envisions - but more about revolting against a system of governance the West imposed, and resisting those forces sent to enforce that il-formed policy decision.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 07-07-2014 at 07:06 PM.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

  9. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    "Clear-Hold-Build" is a fundamentally flawed concept.

    It is like driving one's arm into a tub of water, and believing that the space their arm occupied will remain free of water once the arm is removed.

    Until we get to a more intellectually honest appreciation about what insurgency is in general, and why insurgency exists in Afghanistan, we are unlikely to develop and adopt policies for foreign places that our military can actually enforce.

    For the military, we defined this mission in the context of what we in the military do, and while that is a natural response of most institutions (USAID, State, DEA, and NGOs have done the same), it does not lead to an approach that is very helpful for Afghanistan getting to some degree of natural stability.

    So long as the governance in Kabul (and at lower levels as well) is perceived as fundamentally illegitimate by many who live there (primarily those who had patronage power under the Taliban and now suffer under those who have it under the regime we put into power), there will be revolution.

    So long as foreign forces occupy Helmand (and Afghan forces from the north operating in Helmand are perceived as being nearly as foreign as British and US forces operating there), there will be resistance.

    This is natural. This is human nature. This is really not much about advancing some "Taliban" system of governance as the West envisions - but more about revolting against a system of governance the West imposed, and resisting those forces sent to enforce that il-formed policy decision.
    You're conflating issues, tactically clear and hold works, but to do it effectively like Chang did in China against Mao (until the Japanese intervened), the Brits did in Malaya, and French in Algeria, it can require a high degree of brutality, which runs against our moral grain. If it is going to be employed it must be done in a logical manner, not random acts of securing a village here and there, while insurgents have freedom of movement to maneuver around the village.

    I'm not advocating a clear and hold approach, but in fact that is what we're attempting with the VSO program. We're currently in a long war of attrition, which in our case isn't sustainable politically and our adversaries know it.

    I actually agree with your points, but at the end of the day they're irrelevant to the guys on the ground who have been asked to achieve objectives that will generate continued resistance as you correctly pointed out. Assuming we're going to have that resistance, and that those on the ground can't change the policy ends, we can at least discuss a better tactical approach, without it always delving into the policy realm. We're stuck with the policies we're given, or more accurately since we're both out of uniform now, our uniformed members are stuck with the policy ends they have been told to pursue using military force. From that optic what would you recommend to Battalion commanders and below?

  10. #30
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    "...ours is but to do and die"? Ultimately Bill, you are right, at some point the military has to simply do the best they can to enforce the policy decisions of our civilian leadership.

    But this does not somehow validate the stupidity of the frontal assaults of the Somme; nor the stupidity of Clear-Hold-Build in Helmand.

    As I recall Mao prevailed in China, as his tactics supported a valid strategy. Chang was run off of the continent.

    In Malaya the British military tactics bought some time and space, but it was the British policy decisions to give up on dreams of restoring the Colony, giving up the political control once vested in the Colonial Office; working to extend political and economic opportunity beyond the Malays to the ethnic Indian and ethnic Chinese populations equally; and to help establish a new sovereign member of the Commonwealth that made those tactics stick. We did none of that in Vietnam. All tactics, no strategy. (kind of like a cowboy who is all hat and no cattle).

    Likewise the French only suppressed insurgency and defeated insurgents for short periods of time in Algeria with their military approach to attempt to prop up improper and unchanging policy.

    So, no, my points are not "irrelevant to the guys on the ground." Because the Generals are part of those guys; and while generals do not like to advise policy makers we cannot continue to give the generals sanctuary under that auspice from their responsibility to inform civilian leadership that no acceptable, suitable, feasible military solution exists to enforce what they are seeking to impose (coupled with suggestions of alternative policy approaches that history indicates may actually be supportable by our military action).

    Even at Battalion level, commanders have a tremendous degree of latitude as to "how" they pursue the missions they are given. I saw Brian Petit do this every day in 2010 RC-South as we conducted the big push to clear Marjah and were preparing to do the same outside Kandahar. But you are right. We cannot fix this at the Battalion level. Our strategic failures are occurring much higher than those conducting tremendous tactical effort in support.

    We need to stop reading history with rose colored glasses; and we need to stop giving our Flag-level commanders a pass for failing strategically simply because they are effective tacticians. In short, we need to change our military culture if we hope to be more successful in the strategic environment we live in today. Perhaps that will be done by the frustrated junior leaders coming off of today's battlefield for tomorrow; just as it was done by the frustrated junior leaders coming out of Vietnam.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Mao would have likely been defeated if the Japanese didn't invade, but we will never know. I agree our strategy is deeply flawed, and the generals are partly partly to blame. On the other hand generals who addressed strategy flaws under both Clinton Bush administrations were not treated well. Not too long ago a civilian in OSD told 4 star he had no business developing strategy, his job was to implement it. It seems that the only time civilians want military input is after their strategy fails.

  12. #32
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Bill,

    This is the challenge of the current strategic environment. The problems the military is being sent out to "fix" or "defeat" are by and large NOT MILITARY PROBLEMS.

    We are at a point in our strategic analysis where most communities, civilian and military alike, will admit that the strategic environment has fundamentally changed and continues to change at a nearly exponential rate. Then, in nearly the same breath, espouse some version of "therefore, business as usual - but I need more stuff if you want success."

    We need to get to the point where we recognize that we must fundamentally change as well; and that we cannot simply use the military as some sort of "little Dutch Boy" to go stick our proverbial fingers into any number of proverbial dikes that are crumbling around us. It appears that the military can not only buy time and space for civilian leadership to succeed. We can buy time and space to allow it to fail as well. Did not the Roman Legions conduct a delaying action as the Barbarians made their way to Rome?

    What we do today is not much different; and likely will end in similar fashion if we fail to shift from comfortably studying and applauding our tactics, and do not begin spending a great deal more time getting uncomfortable as we confront the realities of our policies and strategies.

    I actually see a glimmer of hope in what I suspect is happening in Syria and Iraq. But then I may be assuming things that are not there, and giving credit where none is due - but I remain an optimist.

    As to taking shots from civilians who feel like some individuals or aspects of the military are imposing on intellectual turf they arrogantly believe is uniquely theirs, I have two words. Moral Courage. We need more of it.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

  13. #33
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    I agree with Bob about the need for moral (and I'd add intellectual) courage.

    My thought is that an unquestioningly obedient general officer corps undermines the democratic institution of the country. If the military is only responsible to the executive (and narrowly only accountable for the execution of predetermined policy), then that leaves no room for conversation about the most effective means when the executive more or less has the power to pursue military operations without Congressional input. DoD needs to adopt the slogan "See something, say something" into its values system. Even if the goals were unattainable, that does not excuse the senior military leadership from accepting it without question.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

  14. #34
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    I have long thought when the Afghan state decide on their national strategy, even their survival, keeping large numbers of ANSF in Helmand Province will evaporate within a short time. Before 2006 it was of marginal importance to them, one weak ANA unit in the provincial capital and little else (plus a US SOF unit and protective infantry).

    Yes there is an income from the heroin trade, but I'd wager most of the profits go south, as does most of the product. Ah, goes west to to Iran too.

    Now the terrain of the 'Green Zone' may account for a small part of the province, but it is where the people are. From my reading in the fighting season - when it is green - it is not a good place to fight in (when using ISAF ROE).

    There are more important places for GIRoA.
    davidbfpo

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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    I agree with Bob about the need for moral (and I'd add intellectual) courage.

    My thought is that an unquestioningly obedient general officer corps undermines the democratic institution of the country. If the military is only responsible to the executive (and narrowly only accountable for the execution of predetermined policy), then that leaves no room for conversation about the most effective means when the executive more or less has the power to pursue military operations without Congressional input. DoD needs to adopt the slogan "See something, say something" into its values system. Even if the goals were unattainable, that does not excuse the senior military leadership from accepting it without question.
    I am aware of specific situations where Generals did push back against prevailing strategic ideas put forth by administrations, but personalities close to the president were still able to push their flawed strategies through despite professional military advice recommending against it. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz come to mind as self appointed experts who could influence the president to ignore advice to the contrary. It didn't help that general Frank's wasn't much of a strategist.

    There is a tension sometimes between being a good citizen and a good soldier. Both want to the right thing for the nation, but in the same light a good soldier, as a good citizen, wants to ensure the military remains subordinate to civilian leadership. That can be a very gray line sometimes. Yes we have senior officers who look after their career above all else, but they don't reflect the whole. Too many comments are made with too wide of brush.

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    I would add that since we are subordinate to civilian leadership why do we always leave that variable out of our discussions?

    Where are our Lincolns who have the moral courage to stand up to military leadership going in the wrong direction?

    Another area I think we under appreciate is the influence of our multiple think tanks. Kagan who was the one who pushed the surge in Iraq and he was in a think tank. Bob talks about the need for fundamental change, yet a powerful think tank just recommended that DOD justify their budget with a big war scenario or risk cuts. More cowbell please.

    We have leaders in the military with moral courage, but that is only a prerequisite for change; it is not a road map to change.

  17. #37
    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Regarding the WSJ article.

    If the story is accurate one very great big thing stands out to me. The Afghans, especially the local police, fight hard. They may get beat but they fight hard. That is a very big thing.

    The next big thing is if they are fighting hard, they are hurting Taliban & Co. Their loss figures as stated in the story, again, if accurate, show that. That has an effect.

    Also the story states that the locals need the Afghan Army around to back them up. They know that and state that.

    The story states also that this is a repeat of last year's pattern. Taliban & Co took some places, then were slowly pushed out. Where they were pushed to is most likely Pakistan, where they have been going when pressed for years.

    So it seems to this 4 eyed, 4F, pencil necked geek forever a civilian that the Afghans are doing as well as we could have hoped for on their own and the big thing now is the same big thing that has been extant for the last 13 years, the existence of the Pak Army/ISI supplied sanctuary over the border. That sanctuary and the support provided Taliban & Co by the Pak Army/ISI, those devil's spawn, must be dealt with or the thing can't be done.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

  18. #38
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    I forgot something. The story also states more than 140 civilians have been killed or wounded with the reappearance of Taliban & Co, mostly by roadside bombs. The local civilians know who sets roadside bombs. This is another big thing.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

  19. #39
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Carl,

    Who do you think "the Afghans" are? Who do you think "the Taliban" are?

    I know this may sound trite, but Afghanistan is not America. The concept of patronage as it exists in Afghanistan is a world away from the politics, governance and path to personal and family opportunities that exist in the US.

    "The Afghans" (as I believe you are dividing society) are primarily those individuals, families and tribes who enjoy patronage-based opportunity under the current government that we elevated into power.

    "The Taliban" is by and large the other half of Afghan society who's families or tribes, or themselves individually, were deposed of power and opportunity by our intervention, or who maybe never had power or opportunity but would still like some. This is augmented by "little t Taliban" who are either bored young men who would rather ride with Crazy Horse and fight the invaders than live on the reservation and eat government beef; also those who have been injured by our operations and presence and naturally resist what they reasonably see as an illegitimate foreign intrusion.

    Much of our problem in Afghanistan policy-wise is that we ignored Afghan culture and devised and imposed a system that appealed to our Western sensibilities. Then, militarily, we waged a campaign and built military capacity that equally was much more tuned to our Western ideas of what insurgency is than to the realities of the insurgency we were up against.

    This is why Mr. Karzai has come across as ungrateful when he dares to stand up and challenge some of our more disruptive approaches, perspectives and activities. Sure, he is very grateful for being handed the keys to power and opportunity in Afghanistan. Sure he is very grateful for the Billions of dollars we have poured into the country that have enriched those with patronage power beyond they wildest fantasies. Sure he is grateful that we could not see that the constitution he and a few buddies put together served far more to centralize patronage into a giant Ponzi scheme because all we could see was "centralized government." But he is not grateful when we do things that flame the fires of resistance insurgency and make his backdoor deals more difficult and expensive to sustain.

    Best we leave Afghanistan to Afghans. All Afghans, not just those we put on our team. They will sort things out and will quickly walk away from much that we have worked so hard to emplace and see as so essential to success in the terms we value so much, but that mean so little there.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

  20. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Carl,

    Who do you think "the Afghans" are? Who do you think "the Taliban" are?

    I know this may sound trite, but Afghanistan is not America. The concept of patronage as it exists in Afghanistan is a world away from the politics, governance and path to personal and family opportunities that exist in the US.

    "The Afghans" (as I believe you are dividing society) are primarily those individuals, families and tribes who enjoy patronage-based opportunity under the current government that we elevated into power.

    "The Taliban" is by and large the other half of Afghan society who's families or tribes, or themselves individually, were deposed of power and opportunity by our intervention, or who maybe never had power or opportunity but would still like some. This is augmented by "little t Taliban" who are either bored young men who would rather ride with Crazy Horse and fight the invaders than live on the reservation and eat government beef; also those who have been injured by our operations and presence and naturally resist what they reasonably see as an illegitimate foreign intrusion.

    Much of our problem in Afghanistan policy-wise is that we ignored Afghan culture and devised and imposed a system that appealed to our Western sensibilities. Then, militarily, we waged a campaign and built military capacity that equally was much more tuned to our Western ideas of what insurgency is than to the realities of the insurgency we were up against.

    This is why Mr. Karzai has come across as ungrateful when he dares to stand up and challenge some of our more disruptive approaches, perspectives and activities. Sure, he is very grateful for being handed the keys to power and opportunity in Afghanistan. Sure he is very grateful for the Billions of dollars we have poured into the country that have enriched those with patronage power beyond they wildest fantasies. Sure he is grateful that we could not see that the constitution he and a few buddies put together served far more to centralize patronage into a giant Ponzi scheme because all we could see was "centralized government." But he is not grateful when we do things that flame the fires of resistance insurgency and make his backdoor deals more difficult and expensive to sustain.

    Best we leave Afghanistan to Afghans. All Afghans, not just those we put on our team. They will sort things out and will quickly walk away from much that we have worked so hard to emplace and see as so essential to success in the terms we value so much, but that mean so little there.
    That's seven paragraphs and not a word about the Pak Army/ISI and the support given Taliban & Co by them nor the sanctuary given within Pakistan. As I said about actions, if nothing be done about those devil's spawn, the Pak Army/ISI, the thing can't be done. And without intellectual recognition of the problem, no action can be taken. And it will be impossible to arrange this "Best we leave Afghanistan to Afghans. All Afghans, not just those we put on our team. They will sort things out and will quickly walk away from much that we have worked so hard to emplace and see as so essential to success in the terms we value so much, but that mean so little there."

    I disagree that it is the poor downtrodden Pathans being led by the plucky Talibanis in a noble effort to regain what is rightfully theirs. I've read too many accounts of Pathans being killed by Taliban & Co for disagreeing to think things that simple.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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