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Old 04-20-2009   #1
William F. Owen
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Default Winning the War in Afghanistan

Winning the War in Afghanistan

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This paper offers a plan for victory that builds on classic COIN--the oil spot or ink spot strategy--customized to address the unique challenges of the Afghan area of operations (AO).
I agree with the ink spot strategy. Make sense if you have enough troops and enough resources, and another 10-15 years.

EG, if the UK is serious about Helmand, it needs to deploy a Division of about 3 Brigades. The need is for about 16-20,000 men plus the attendant support. ... so 24 Apaches makes more sense than 6-8.

The Taliban can be defeated, but their just isn't the Political will to commit the resources necessary to do it. That's the problem. There isn't even the political will to try and close the boarder with Pakistan.
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Old 04-20-2009   #2
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First thing we need to do is determine what is "victory" for the US in this country in terms of our national interests (i.e. "victory" for the Afghans may be a very different thing, and good on them for that. We just don't need to confuse their victory for our victory and actually put our self at risk of a strategic setback because we pushed for the wrong end zone down at the operational level).

This then needs to be balanced in the larger global context of what the U.S. wants to redefine its role as in this new, post-Cold War, post-Bushesque GWOT, globalized world. This will give us the context to know how much to ask of our allies, to better understand who are allies and enemies really are these days (applying old logic to that analysis is leading us to dangerous conclusions IMHO), and what reasonable schemes of engagement are for any given state balanced within the much broader context of how they impact the U.S.'s endeavors around the region and the world.

To simply debate COIN tactics (or more accurately, how the US and coalition forces support the host nation's COIN) against one particular insurgent group in one particular state is something we need to let the commander's on the ground sort out. What the Generals and the Policy wanks need to do is get out of our tactical commander's lanes and start doing the hard work of sorting out the big picture in their own. Afterall, that's what they get paid to do.
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"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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Old 04-20-2009   #3
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Default I think anyone who uses the word 'victory' with respect to

a COIN or Stability Operation is either deluded or not thinking clearly. Lacking a scorched earth, there will be no victory. Since we are not going to play G.Khan, the best that can be hoped for is an acceptable outcome. I have seen no evidence the US has yet determined what such an out come might be in its view. There is even less evidence that there is a consensus in Afghanistan that can provide an Afghan view of what such an out come might be.

As Eden has said several times, I suspect the Afghan view is a loose, sort of Federal national government that can preclude foreign interference and control the war lord factor -- other than , it will leave people alone.

That doesn't accord well with western thought.

Bob's World says:
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This then needs to be balanced in the larger global context of what the U.S. wants to redefine its role as in this new, post-Cold War, post-Bushesque GWOT, globalized world.
Two thoughts -- it's a Post Clinton-Bushesque world. One led to the other as sure as day leads to night.

Secondly, good plan -- however, given that this is the USA, my bet is that (a) It will not happen in the sense you wish; (b) the sheer number of players that will wade in on what that role might be will preclude any except a poor compromise solution being proffered; (c) as soon as that new role is determined by said poor compromise, there will be a concerted and successful effort, domestically and internationally to change it.
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...This will give us the context to know how much to ask of our allies, to better understand who are allies and enemies really are these days (applying old logic to that analysis is leading us to dangerous conclusions IMHO)...
Ask and ye will not receive -- other than from a very few and that will be reduced in supply and come with caveats. We have no allies, other than temporary accommodations. I'm unsure why people cannot accept and understand that. Our size, wealth, global power projection capability and selfishness all conspire to insure we can be respected (but are not now to the extent possible and desirable due to misuse of our power and flawed domestic choices) but we are not going to be liked, not at all. Nor are we going to have any allies other than those who see their own temporary advantage in allying with us. They will be fickle. OTOH, we have a slew of enemies and are likely to have more.

None of that is meant to be gloomy; it's cool. Been that way in the world ever since I first went overseas in 1947; hasn't changed much in the intervening years and is unlikely to change in the future -- until we go into real and major decline. Then the Jackals and Hyenas will appear, the latter laughing...
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... What the Generals and the Policy wanks need to do is get out of our tactical commander's lanes and start doing the hard work of sorting out the big picture in their own. Afterall, that's what they get paid to do.
True, hopefully the will not waste time trying to develop a national strategy for a nation with a short attention span.
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Old 04-20-2009   #4
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Folks, closing the Afghan-Pakistan Border is like trying to count the sands in front on one condo at Gulf Shores, Alabama from the back steps used to access the beach down to the every changing waterline.

Border is too vast and rugged for a conventional closing.

However, using satellites and infra red technology we can bomb the hell out of much of the border but that takes a lot of resources to do.
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Old 04-20-2009   #5
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Originally Posted by George L. Singleton View Post
Border is too vast and rugged for a conventional closing.

However, using satellites and infra red technology we can bomb the hell out of much of the border but that takes a lot of resources to do.
I'm not a technophile, but GSR, LOROPS and UGS can certainly make huge strides in making sure that a significantly more of the traffic is interdicted. Making the border difficult for the bad guys is not a tall order.... given the resources.
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Old 04-20-2009   #6
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The "border" is not now, nor ever was the issue. In fact the current line drawn on Western maps is no more than that; simply a line drawn by westerners for westerners. It helps us feel that there is order in the world and that our western concepts of state sovereignty codifed at Westphalia hold equal sway everywhere.

To focus on making this border mean more than that is to virtually ensure defeat by creating a task too large to accomplish that even if somehow accomplished serves solely to drive a wedge through the heart of the very populace who's support the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan need to attain some degree of stability.

We need a new model, the old one won't work here.

Perhaps a broad "Pashto zone" that encompasses their traditional tribal homeland as a "border" instead of a thin line so comforting to us?

Dual citizenship for all within, and governed with a system rooted in their historic tribalism?

What about the Taliban you ask? Those guys work for the government of Pakistan, I suspect they will drop their papers and quit that arrangement if given a better option.

What about AQ you ask? I suspect if we made the PNG of AQ as the condition precedent for such an arrangement they would be out on their little Arab backsides within a week. Sanctuary lies within a poorly governed populace, take away the poor governance and the sanctuary goes with it.

Regradless of what bold new COA is adobted, to simply work harder and faster at the old one won't do the trick, it'll just wear us out sooner.
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"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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Old 04-20-2009   #7
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I pretty much agree with Ken's comments.

On the border, we can probably do a better job of interdiction, but one complicating factor is that a lot of people besides insurgents use the border. Some are insurgents, some are smugglers, some are doing legitimate trade, some are visiting family, etc. Even if it were possible "closing" the border is going to have some significant negative effects. Sorting legitimate border crossings from insurgent use is going to be difficult given the terrain and all the other complicating factors.
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Old 04-20-2009   #8
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Default Agree with the first thought. Not so much the rest...

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Perhaps a broad "Pashto zone" that encompasses their traditional tribal homeland as a "border" instead of a thin line so comforting to us?

Dual citizenship for all within, and governed with a system rooted in their historic tribalism?
Since you use the word 'within' that raises the question; does this "Pashto zone" have a border?
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What about the Taliban you ask? Those guys work for the government of Pakistan, I suspect they will drop their papers and quit that arrangement if given a better option.
Actually, I didn't ask -- and I strongly question the validity of your last two statements and ask, if they are true, what is your better option?
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What about AQ you ask? I suspect if we made the PNG of AQ as the condition precedent for such an arrangement they would be out on their little Arab backsides within a week. Sanctuary lies within a poorly governed populace, take away the poor governance and the sanctuary goes with it.
Good plan -- with what, if anything, do you propose to replace the poor governance?

You continually tell us what is wrong but I've seen few concrete solutions that can realistically be expected to be applied, surely you have some specific and achievable fixes that we can use to start toward if not reach this nirvana of a 'new America' that returns to its original values.
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Old 04-20-2009   #9
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Ken,

Short answer is I don't think we need to "fix" Afghanistan or Pakistan, just to stop breaking them would be a good first step.

Next I would move our manhunting efforts back into the shadows and tailor it to focus on taking down those individuals critical to the functioning of critical nodes instead of those in senior leadership. This then frees up SOF and the rest of our military to doing what we should have focused on from the outset: Getting a self-determined government of Afghanistan up and functioning on their terms and standards and getting out.

I would then stop using NATO to coerce our European allies to act against their own national interests in order to support ours. I suspect for most the only national interest they serve by going to Afghanistan is the one of sustaining a civil relationship with the U.S. and keeping us on the hook for funding a large portion of European defense by staying in NATO.

I would stop forcing the Pakistani government to exert itself in the Pasto tribal areas. We see it as them executing their duties as a government, the Pashto see it as an incursion on their tribal sovereignty. We press for it because we think it will bring stability and weaken the Taliban, instead it has brought instability and has strengthened the Taliban.

Borders are overstated. The Pashto zone I suggest could be defined in historic terms of where people live not where lines are drawn. Other COAs could achieve a simiar effect, but the main idea is that we need to adopt new views of what sovereignty means that are more adaptive to the emerging world. I suspect more wars have been fought because of borders than from the lack of them in recent times.

I would not just abandon, but ban all metrics of "effectiveness" of governance and instead use simple local polling to determine "goodness" of governance. If the populace is satisfied it is good enough no matter how ineffective; if the populace is dissatisfied it is not good enough no matter how effective. Goodness would become our standard (I.e., the populaces standard becomes ours, not the other way around).

I would make "legitimacy" CCIR item. Any perceptions of US as being the source of legitimacy of a host nation governance would be identified and addressed immediately. All engagement would be designed with a primary focus of ensuring that anything we did to assist in enabling good governance was designed to avoid any perceptions of legitimacy over the same. In that vein I would identify and extricate ourselves from every such perception around the world, beginning in the Middle East. This would requrie significant policy changes in our relationships with Saudi Arabia, Israel (top 2) and several other states.

Obviously this is jsut the tip of the iceberg, there is a lot below the surface that is not visible in this small space.
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"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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Old 04-20-2009   #10
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Thumbs up I don't disagree with anything you wrote.

In fact, I strongly agree with virtually all of it. However, (he said, clearing throat), Uhhmm, are we being realistic in what we both agree would be beneficial. Seems to me:

Your first two paragraphs are not only beneficial but easily achievable -- we really ought to get started on both those things. Today.

The issues of not pressing Pakistan and local satisfaction with governance -- regardless of international desires or 'standards' are possible. Difficult but possible. The biggest problem with both would be, I think, getting the consensus required. That said, we should certainly try.

However, with respect to not using NATO, recognition of the fact that borders are really becoming passe, the Pashto zone and the "legitimacy" issue, I suspect we can wish but are unlikely to see in our lifetimes. Unfortunately -- because those three and a half are quite important. The good news is that they are not necessary for the other issues to be pursued.

You're of course correct about borders and wars. The British and the French have much to answer for in that respect. I suppose they can be forgiven to an extent as they just did what seemed right at the time but those fault lines they built have been problematic for many years -- and likely will be in the future...

Thanks for the considered response; I'm old and retarded, all I can do is say Attaboy and agree -- you can push for those things as policies and I'm sure you are doing that. I wish you success.

But I still don't think we can truly do a national strategy...
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Old 04-20-2009   #11
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Default Ink spot application

The 'ink spot' paper reads well and fits COIN theory and practice. The first place to try it in Afghanistan are not "the usual suspect" provinces along the Durand Line, but the northern and other provinces where the local and national Afghan government has some impact. Maybe - from faraway - this is shoring up safer areas and not where the fighting is. Better try up north where there is a chance of success IMHO.

Controlling the border with Pakistan is a seperate, related issue and simply unlikely to happen. All the high-tech tools sound grand and can we distinguish between traders in civil goods from arms carriers or refugees with personal weapons? No.

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Old 04-20-2009   #12
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The article has a lot of systems thinking in it and should be viable if we choose to do it......but as Wilf said..... do we have the Political will to do it for X number of years.

In "General Systems Theory" (cain't spell the guys name) the first popular book on the subject you will find that the first question to ask when analyzing a system is what is inside the system...then what is outside the system...then what is the material (boundary) that separates them. Pretty much all successfully COIN strategies I have seen follow this pattern whether by design or by default. The Perimeter/Boundary/Filter/Access Point and being able to control what or who comes in or out is the key IMHO.
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Old 04-21-2009   #13
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To focus on making this border mean more than that is to virtually ensure defeat by creating a task too large to accomplish that even if somehow accomplished serves solely to drive a wedge through the heart of the very populace who's support the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan need to attain some degree of stability.
OK, the use of the word border seems to be causing problems. Fact is we are not going to convince the Taliban that their military success is impossible, if they have freedom of action to move back and worth to their safe areas.

Yes, "closing" the border is probably impossible. Making it 90% more difficult to cross, than it currently is, is not.
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- The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
- If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition
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Old 04-21-2009   #14
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Default Ink spot problems

In 2006, after NATO's Allied Rapid Reaction Corps took over as ISAF headquarters, an ink spot strategy was seriously discussed and half-way implemented. It was classic COIN stuff, just as described in the piece that kicked off this thread, and we planners pushed it hard.

Here is why it was never fully adopted:
1. The Afghans didn't like it. It meant abandoning some areas, and that just upset too many special interests within the Afghan mafiocracy that passed for a national government.
2. The Americans didn't like it. It meant abandoning the operational design for victory they had already worked out and were halfway through implementing. They assumed it was just a fig-leaf strategy which would allow the NATO allies to hide behind the wire; they much preferred chasing insurgents around RC-East, building roads to nowhere, and pursuing a quasi-French Indochina program of placing outposts in regions of no particular worth.
3. Many NATO allies didn't like it. It meant, in several cases, moving out of their selected provinces - which they thought would look like defeat and reflect badly on them - into areas they had avoided in the first place because of high levels of violence. They much preferred to pursue their individual 'wars' using the tactics they thought best.

Here is why it probably wouldn't have worked anyway:
1. Oil spots need to be dropped in either areas of high enemy activity, or in places of exceptional and/or inherent worth. There are none of the latter in Afghanistan, and we did not have the combat power to do the former.
2. To sustain themselves, the insurgents in Afghanistan do not really need prolonged access to the population; they simply need to be able to strike at it. You can't prevent suicide attacks through heightened security, you can only reduce their effectiveness, and effectiveness isn't really what the insurgents are after. Activity begets support in this strange corner of the planet, and oil spots simply give the bad guys more room to maneuver.
3. It would have been a free pass to the drug lords.
4. Oil spot theory presupposes active and effective development of the secured terrain. In 2006/7/8, that was not a realistic prospect. Except for road-building, pretty much all development efforts during this period were abject failures.

Bottom line is that absent unity of command or unity of effort or adequate resources, pretty much any strategy will do as well as any other.
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Old 04-21-2009   #15
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Great comment Eden, thanks!
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Old 04-21-2009   #16
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Default 1949 Washington Treaty

Second the attaboy for Eden..

A datapoint to consider, as we kick this can around, from the NATO website

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The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments.

They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.

They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security. They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty :
WSJ Opinon piece by Josef Joffe; Obama's Popularity Doesn't Mean Much Abroad

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The point here is an old one, variously ascribed to Talleyrand, Palmerston or De Gaulle, about nations having everlasting interests rather than eternal friends or enemies. In today's language: interest beats affection any time. Mrs. Merkel surely knows how enthralled her country is with Mr. Obama. But that's not enough to place German soldiers in harm's way in Afghanistan, or to run up the national debt in a country that is traumatized by inflation.
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Old 04-21-2009   #17
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Default What he said...

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Great comment Eden, thanks!
I'm old and slow, thus late, okay...
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Old 04-21-2009   #18
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Default Two good finds, Surferbeetle..

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That one in particular has some timeless truths that are too often forgotten. National interests trump all sorts of enmity or friendliness -- and righteousness...
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Old 04-21-2009   #19
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Default On Leadership Strategies...

From this weeks Economist: There was a lawyer, an engineer and a politician...

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Why do different countries favour different professions? And why are some professions so well represented in politics? To find out, The Economist trawled through a sample of almost 5,000 politicians in “International Who’s Who”, a reference book, to examine their backgrounds.
As a side bar the term hydraulic empire might be of interest as well.
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Old 04-22-2009   #20
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Great comment Eden, thanks!
Slow old and in the a very different time zone. Good information Eden. Thanks again.
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- If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition
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