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Thread: Winning the War in Afghanistan

  1. #501
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    Default Think, think, think

    The immortal words of Winnie the Pooh when confronted with endless honey pot problems: "Think, think, think!"

    LA Times carried a really insightful article (The Afghanistan Problem) by Carnegie Endowment's visiting scholar Gilles Dorronsoro.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/...,2650413.story

    "I was in Afghanistan during the summer, as 20,000 coalition troops tried to retake Helmand province, one of 11 provinces now under de facto Taliban control. But over three months, during which they sustained significant casualties, the troops failed to take control of even a third of the area. The coalition had built an archipelago of small outposts, leaving much of the territory between unsecured. As one Afghan told me in Kandahar, "The Americans control what they see." Imagine how many troops -- and how many casualties -- it would take to secure every one of those provinces, even under the most promising circumstances."
    He goes on to describe many of the unique practical and cultural limitations of any strategy in Afghanistan, with rich allusions to his background in Afghanistan and its' history and peoples. He particularly draws the distinction between urban areas, where cooperation and aid strategies can work, and why they do not work in the unique, and highly independent atmosphere of a Pashtun village:

    "History is not encouraging. In two centuries, the Pashtuns have never once tolerated a permanent presence of armed foreigners. Defending families and villages is a cultural duty of local men, and the presence of outsiders is generally perceived as a threat, especially when they are non-Muslim. Historical memories are long in this part of the world. Some Afghans still say prayers for mujahedin who fought against the British -- in the 19th century."
    At the end, he concludes that the best available course is to focus on the cities, where some stability is possible, while building up a capable Afghan force.

    My enjoyment in reading this and other work by Dorronsoro is that the breadth of his insights is remarkable, and often overlooked.

    Steve
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-26-2009 at 11:26 PM. Reason: Added QUOTE marks

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    Posted on Steve Pressfield's War & Reality in Afghanistan 26 Oct 09:

    One Tribe at a Time: A Strategy for Success in Afghanistan
    ....One Tribe at a Time reflects what I believe to be the one strategy that can help both the US and the people of Afghanistan by working directly with their centuries-old tribal system. We can only do this by giving top priority to the most important political, social and military force in Afghanistan—the tribes. We must engage these tribes at a close and personal level with a much deeper cultural understanding than we have ever had before.

    When we gain the respect and trust of one tribe, in one area, there will be a domino effect will spread throughout the region and beyond. One tribe will eventually become 25 or even 50 tribes. This can only have a long-term positive effect on the current situation. It is, however, not without pitfalls and difficulty.

    But it can and must be done....

  3. #503
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default No, Its not that "we must"

    Quote Originally Posted by Jedburgh View Post
    It's that the Government of Afghanistan must. Best not to forget.

    (just one more example of why I tend to get rather adament that we don''t fall into the habit of calling our own operations COIN when we assist another country with their insurgency, and similarly that we don't end up seeing their war as our war. No good can come from it)
    Robert C. Jones
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    (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)

  4. #504
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Caught in the crossfire: the Pashtun tribes of Southeast Afghanistan

    Thanks to MPayson for pointing this out.

    From the summary and what the brief does: What is the problem? What should be done?
    In a new (Australian) Lowy Institute Policy Brief, Tom Gregg argues the importance of a more effective engagement of Afghanistan’s tribes, particularly in the country’s south east. This could help improve stability in a strategically important part of the country and avoid a situation where local tribes were turned against the Afghan national government and international military forces operating in the region.
    Link:http://www.lowyinstitute.org/Publication.asp?pid=1157 (1Mb)

    On a quick read well illustrated with anecdotes and worth a read - even for those due to deploy.

    davidbfpo

  5. #505
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Wider commentary

    The consistently good "on the ground" observer takes a wider view and some nice photos too: http://freerangeinternational.com/blog/?p=2291

    davidbfpo

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    David:

    Stunningly clear picture, including the photos.

    Steve

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    Default Dorronsorro, Semple, Nathan, Exum

    Went to a Center for American Progress conference today.

    Gilles Dorronsoro, Micheal Semple and Joanne Nathan (corrected), all non-US experts who have been in Afghanistan since before 2001.

    Each had a presentation on their field. Most of you have heard some of this: Dorronsorro (secure the cities first, etc..), and Semple's work with the Taliban are pretty well known.

    Nathan, an Australian, asked: What's this COIN thing about? I read the manual and it said Clear-Hold-Build, but all you ever do is Clear, Clear, Clear. No administrative purpose or capability. Why are you clearing unless you have civilian capacity to Hold and Build? Where has this strategy ever been applied?

    Even Andrew Exum didn't take a stab at answering that.

    The big question that all were asked to comment on: What do you think of these people who see one small part of the country, then try to exprapolte what they saw there to a bigger picture about the country? (Obviously, the Hoh question).

    They were pretty devastating in explaining just a snippet of what they know about the whole country, and why that kind of speculation is not useful.

    Like Exum said, DC is usually full of generalists, and it was a rare opportunity to have three leading specialists in one place.

    Certainly worth hearing every word yourself to build or assess strategy.

    http://www.americanprogress.org/even...streaming.html

    Steve
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 11-06-2009 at 09:01 AM. Reason: Copied from Strategic Intelligence thread as fits here too

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    Default The "D" in DIME ?

    From IOL (Islam OnLine), US Offers Taliban 6 Provinces for 8 Bases, which I happened upon in looking for something else:

    US Offers Taliban 6 Provinces for 8 Bases
    By Aamir Latif, IOL Correspondent

    (photo caption) Mullah Zaeef, a former envoy to Pakistan, reportedly represented the Taliban side in the recent talks.

    ISLAMABAD – The emboldened Taliban movement in Afghanistan turned down an American offer of power-sharing in exchange for accepting the presence of foreign troops, Afghan government sources confirmed. ....
    .....
    "America wants 8 army and air force bases in different parts of Afghanistan in order to tackle the possible regrouping of Al-Qaeda network," the senior official said.

    He named the possible hosts of the bases as Mazar-e-Sharif and Badakshan in north, Kandahar in south, Kabul, Herat in west, Jalalabad in northeast and Ghazni and Faryab in central Afghanistan.

    In exchange, the US offered Taliban the governorship of the southern provinces of Kandahar, Zabul, Hilmand and Orazgan as well as the northeastern provinces of Nooristan and Kunar. ....
    Has anyone been following this topic (US-Taliban negotiations); and are there any open-source confirmations of any such negotiations besides the 5 IOL links next to the article ?

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    From IOL (Islam OnLine), US Offers Taliban 6 Provinces for 8 Bases, which I happened upon in looking for something else:



    Has anyone been following this topic (US-Taliban negotiations); and are there any open-source confirmations of any such negotiations besides the 5 IOL links next to the article ?

    Looks like they are doing some thisin A'stan.
    http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute....cfm?pubID=938

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    Default Maybe, but ...

    that's why I asked whether there are more open-source confirmations of the alleged negotiations. The stories at IOL could be Taliban Infofare.

  11. #511
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    Default The best we can hope for?

    From The Scotsman:http://www.scotsman.com/latestnews/G...p-a.5801195.jp

    Professor Anatol Lieven, from King's College London, said: "The best we can now hope and plan for is a reasonably functioning military state that can hold the north and west of the country, and a few Pashtun cities like Khandar and Jalalabad, and restrict the Taleban to the Pashtun countryside."
    davidbfpo

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    Default Mutually Exclusive Nation

    ...and restrict the Taleban to the Pashtun countryside."
    So it follows that we'll be restricted to the few cities that can be quietly and slowly strangled?

    Are there GREAT BIG FENCES we'll be erecting around these towns? If in one can you go to the other? If in one can you even step outside of it into that nasty pashtu countryside. Can any of those nasty pashtus step in?

    My! How far our hubris has traveled? Got to hand it to our best and brightest, they've think-tanked us right into an impressively little box. Surrendering Konar and Nuristan now, eh? Somebody was putting in a trout hatchery in Konar. Wonder how that'll go now?

    Guess my personal ambition to do a little flyfishing on the upper Kunar river ain't a happenin' thing.

    Bummer...
    "This aggression will not stand, man!" Jeff Lebowski, a.k.a. "The Dude"

  13. #513
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    Default Afghanistan - returning to the past?

    S-2,

    I suspect Anatol Lieven is looking at an end state for Afghanistan. As others have said e.g. Michael Semple there are many reasons why the Taliban will not regain power nationwide. If you look at the history of Afghan national government it's writ has rarely been national, so Lieven is returning to the past.

    davidbfpo

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    Default Dangerous assumptions

    Posted by BW

    It's that the Government of Afghanistan must. Best not to forget.

    (just one more example of why I tend to get rather adament that we don''t fall into the habit of calling our own operations COIN when we assist another country with their insurgency, and similarly that we don't end up seeing their war as our war. No good can come from it)
    I can't make any strong arguments about what will and won't work in Afghanistan, but in "general" I disagree with this blanket assumption that the HN government must deal with their own insurgency. I think these blanket assumptions presented as principles that cannot be violated are dangerously misleading. In the case of Afghanistan, their insurgency (or parts of it) is our national security problem.

    Throughout our history in small wars your assumption is generally the best way of doing business, but every case must be evaluated on its own merits. We didn't go into Afghanistan to help the current government (which didn't exist) defeat an insurgency, we went into Afghanistan to kill Al Qaeda and their supporters; a mission that is not complete yet. A new government emerged out of the ashes that according to most accounts I have read is ineffective. If the ineffective government of Afghanistan is not capable or willing to do our bidding of killing Al Qaeda and their supporters, then conducting FID in an attempt to do it through them is clearly a flawed strategy.

    We get too caught up in catchy mantra's like the "indirect approach" and "through, by and with", which are nothing new, but we repeat them so often now that we now falsely assume a U.S. unilateral approach is the wrong answer. That is hardly a balanced approach, nor the only approach available.

    What are "our" objectives? How do we best achieve them? It isn't always the book answer "FID".
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 11-08-2009 at 04:59 PM.

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    More accurately we went to Afghanistan to inflict a dose of revenge on AQ and to deny them the use of Afghanistan as a sanctuary.

    Once that was done, we then used it as a base to support operations to continue to "defeat" AQ; and got into the business of helping the Afghan new government get its feet on the ground.

    But Bill, the only "absolute" that I lay down is that if you are assisting another country with it's insurgency, the HN is conducting COIN, and you as the outside assistance are not conducting COIN. Most accurately you are conducting FID.

    But in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Philippines, and in dozens of other countrieis what we are really doing is countering AQ's UW campaign. THAT is the "War" for the U.S.; not any one particular area of operations where there are aspects of that complex problem set to be dealt with. In some of those countries we are helping to resolve nationalist insurgincies being inspired, supported, etc, by AQ. In others we are dealing with nodes of the UW network that AQ employs to execute this campaign. In others we deal more directly with AQ itself. In some we do all three. But in NONE of those countries are we in a war specific to that country. AQ is waging a global UW campaign, and no one country or insurgency they are working with is essential to them in the pursuit of their larger political goals. Similarly, no one country is essential to the US in the pursuit of our political goals.

    Could we someday get so engaged in another country's insurgency where we have such tremendous U.S. national interests at stake within those borders and within that populace that it should be elevated to being an American war? Certainly. That day isn't today, and that country isn't Afghanistan.

    Personal opinion.
    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)

  16. #516
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    More accurately we went to Afghanistan to inflict a dose of revenge on AQ and to deny them the use of Afghanistan as a sanctuary.

    Once that was done, we then used it as a base to support operations to continue to "defeat" AQ; and got into the business of helping the Afghan new government get its feet on the ground.

    But Bill, the only "absolute" that I lay down is that if you are assisting another country with it's insurgency, the HN is conducting COIN, and you as the outside assistance are not conducting COIN. Most accurately you are conducting FID.

    But in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Philippines, and in dozens of other countrieis what we are really doing is countering AQ's UW campaign. THAT is the "War" for the U.S.; not any one particular area of operations where there are aspects of that complex problem set to be dealt with. In some of those countries we are helping to resolve nationalist insurgincies being inspired, supported, etc, by AQ. In others we are dealing with nodes of the UW network that AQ employs to execute this campaign. In others we deal more directly with AQ itself. In some we do all three. But in NONE of those countries are we in a war specific to that country. AQ is waging a global UW campaign, and no one country or insurgency they are working with is essential to them in the pursuit of their larger political goals. Similarly, no one country is essential to the US in the pursuit of our political goals.

    Could we someday get so engaged in another country's insurgency where we have such tremendous U.S. national interests at stake within those borders and within that populace that it should be elevated to being an American war? Certainly. That day isn't today, and that country isn't Afghanistan.

    Personal opinion.


    BW, what do you do with Politcal leaders that do think it is in our National Interest? Where is some objective standard to measure it as opposed to some Vodoo motive.

  17. #517
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default I think we need demand that they make their case

    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    BW, what do you do with Politcal leaders that do think it is in our National Interest? Where is some objective standard to measure it as opposed to some Vodoo motive.
    Other countries do a better job of establishing and publishing their interests than the U.S. does. In fact, as an American you have to actively go out and search a wide range of documents and statements to sort out what our interests are, which causes them to be much more fluid than they should be in general, and also means that 10 different people on such a quest are apt to come in with 10 similar, but different answers.

    So, good questions like:

    "What do you believe America's top 5 interests to be, and could you explain which of those interests are so deeply rooted in Afghanistan that you are willing to risk damage to them everywhere else to wage a war over them in that one country?"

    (Such a question is likely get a fuzzy answer as to what our interests are, and a rhetoric laced statement about terrorists or AQ in return. That should then open the door to hard questions about the nature of AQ as an organization and their operations and how to best deal with them around the globe in a whole of government approach in conjunction with our allies, who by the way, have their own national interests which some may be shocked to learn do not necessarily coincide with, nor subjugate themselves to US interests.)
    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)

  18. #518
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    So, good questions like:

    "What do you believe America's top 5 interests to be, and could you explain which of those interests are so deeply rooted in Afghanistan that you are willing to risk damage to them everywhere else to wage a war over them in that one country?"
    That is a good question! Which usually gets you on the path to a solution.

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    Default OK, Bob, our personal opinions coincide ....

    for whatever they are worth - yours I suspect worth more than mine:

    from BW
    But in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Philippines, and in dozens of other countrieis what we are really doing is countering AQ's UW campaign. THAT is the "War" for the U.S.; not any one particular area of operations where there are aspects of that complex problem set to be dealt with. In some of those countries we are helping to resolve nationalist insurgincies being inspired, supported, etc, by AQ. In others we are dealing with nodes of the UW network that AQ employs to execute this campaign. In others we deal more directly with AQ itself. In some we do all three. But in NONE of those countries are we in a war specific to that country. AQ is waging a global UW campaign, and no one country or insurgency they are working with is essential to them in the pursuit of their larger political goals. Similarly, no one country is essential to the US in the pursuit of our political goals.
    My only semantic change would be to substitute "existential" for "essential" - in short, AQ's existence will not cease because of its plan being defeated in one country; and neither will the existence of the US if we suffer a "defeat" in one country. So, we can take a deep breath before darting from crisis to crisis.

    Getting back to the larger point. AQ is setting or assisting those mulktiple "brushfires" by using a very small footprint in terms of its own operatives. I throw this out for discussion. Would not logic suggest that we (US) also follow the small footprint model if our target is AQ ?

    Yet, we see estimates (IIRC ten-year projections) of trillion dollar costs for maintaining approximately a 100K force (present + in pipeline) in Astan. Based on GEN McChrystal's supposed request options that would not be optimum for what he wants to do (the 60-80K top range adds). That is scarcely a small footprint in either case.

    Best to all

    Mike

  20. #520
    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Mike,

    The General's estimates are, if anything, conservative for a mission of "nation building, US-led COIN for Afghansitan coupled with CT on AQ." If he were to be given a redefined mission he and his staff would provide a new plan with a different estimate.

    Even in a "countering AQ UW" approach, Afghanistan remains important, and it would have a Deter mission on Insurgencies in those two countries (AF/PAK), Disrupt on the UW Network nodes that are critical to AQ's support of those insurgencies; and an appropriately tailored Defeat of AQ senior leadership (done in a fashion so as not to actually increase their support and effectiveness in other regions of the globe, or to destabilize the fragile governments of Afg or Pak further than they currently are.) This would still require a significant number of US troops, but by changing the context of the operation and the ways we pursue our ends you can begin to right-size both the footprint AND the public perception of the importance of this particular AOR in the context of the global mission-set and US interests as a whole.
    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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