Friday, January 30, 2009

With A Little Help From My Friends

I've had a number of folks tossing me bones to chew on; and some choices to make. Should I gnaw more on the continuing saga of the victimization/demonization of combat veterans, or should I look once more towards the little country that could?

Today, I choose to shift my gaze eastward... past New York and the arrogant media who know all and are all... to the place with more rocks than can be imagined, and a people who are losing hope in a country that just swore in a president who was elected on a platform of "hope."

John of Argghhh! sent me a link with a simple note: "This looks like something you can sink your teeth into."

Indeed. It also leaves a better taste in my mouth than Michael Sweeney's ass. Go figure.

John tossed me a tidbit to gnosh on, a bit on National Review Online by Lisa Schiffren about winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan. While not offering specific solutions, Ms. Schiffren has a very good point; our history of delivering "recovery" in Afghanistan has been abysmal. I disagree with her, however, on a couple of things.

Ms. Schiffren's critiques of Karzai and our economic aid failures are a bit too shrill for me; I don't buy off on the criminal aspects of it. Karzai was elected by the majority of Afghans in their first election, so he's not an installed president; he is their president, just as much as Mr. Obama is our president, duly elected and sworn. Karzai was installed by the Bonn agreements, but gone are the days of the interim government in Kabul. To echo the Taliban meme that he is somehow illegitimate is to legitimize their cry, and I don't subscribe to that. As far as the economic mismanagement, if she is talking about throwing money over the compound walls to Afghan contractors who don't produce results proportionate to the money spent, then she has a good point. If she's on that tired "Haliburton" type kick, I'm deaf. We've been phoning in our economic aid, no doubt.

For an original idea on how to deploy economic aid that has a prayer of working, see Tim Lynch's latest over at Free Range International.

We've got to get out to get the job done. In counterinsurgency (COIN,) the safer you try to make yourself, the less secure you actually are. The Taliban are currently schooling us in insurgency. They are doing a pretty good job. More on that another time.

The real point of Ms. Schiffren's post was Senator Joe Lieberman's comments at the Brookings Institution, a transcript of which can be found here. It was a good speech. While I think he was a bit too kind to my Army, referring to us as the most capable counterinsurgent force that the world has ever seen, he does get to some very good points later on in the speech, when he discusses five points that he feels will pave the way there.

The problem in Afghanistan today is not only that we have devoted too few resources, but that the resources we have devoted are being applied incoherently. In contrast to Iraq, where General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker came together two years ago to develop a nationwide civil-military campaign plan to defeat the insurgency, there is still no such integrated nationwide counterinsurgency plan for Afghanistan. This is an unacceptable failure. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

I'd call that accurate. Heavy on the unacceptable failure. There is no excuse for this. While some may construe this statement as harshly focused on one person, it is no way intended that way. This unacceptable failure is more, in my mind, an institutional failure than it is the failure of one man or even a small group of men. Again, Mr. Lieberman was too kind to my Army. Our sacred trust with this nation is not to have such unacceptable failures, and this is bigger than one man or one small group of men. If most of us were getting this right, that man or small group of men would look like freaking geniuses; but we are not, so it may seem to some that the ones in charge downrange are failing.

Civilian capacity must also be ramped up outside our embassy—at the provincial, district, and village levels, embedding non-military experts among our troops as they move in. Provincial Reconstruction Teams need to be expanded in number, size, and sophistication, with seasoned experts pulled from across the U.S. government and the private sector. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

Bingo. That's similar to what I've been saying for awhile. The military's major malfunction is our difficulty with getting past our original raison d'etre (in our military minds;) to break things and kill bad guys, and to get on with the 90% non-kinetic work of counterinsurgency. The Army is not full of governmental mentors. We can teach others how to break things and kill bad guys very well. We can even do fairly well in teaching others how to be better police in a Wild West sort of country.

We simply aren't equipped for teaching a Wuliswahl how to make life better day by day for the people of his district. We aren't equipped for teaching others how to pry massive deposits of iron and copper out of the ground. We aren't equipped to teach others how to leverage the massive mineral wealth that comes with a still-growing mountain range pushing up the treasures of the earth from deep within. We have no idea how to manage a gem mining industry. We don't know how to show someone how to start and run a business in a developing country.

Afghanistan isn't even a pre-industrial country, and we don't know how to jump-start industries. We know how to destroy them. There are loads of civilians out there who do know how to do these things. We need, along with our NATO partners, to get on that. Afghanistan will not long survive without an economy, and an organization that primarily breaks things is not the organization that is needed to build a durable economy.

It has been pointed out many times that some of our NATO allies cannot fully participate militarily in Afghanistan. "Caveats," as they are called, prevent full participation in what we like to call, "full spectrum operations." As Senator Lieberman points out, there are other, crucial contributions that can be made. Perhaps it's time to renegotiate with some of our NATO partners to find a role for them in improving the economic and governmental life of Afghanistan.

...getting the appropriate civilian talent from a recalcitrant federal bureaucracy for an unconventional assignment is a difficult task. But it is absolutely critical to the success of any counterinsurgency campaign. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

That's putting it mildly.

We need to further expand the Afghan National Army, beyond the current goal of 134,000 troops, to at least 200,000 troops, while taking a fresh look at how our forces partner with the other, more neglected branches of the Afghan National Security Forces, in particular the police and the internal intelligence service.

We must also take tough action to combat the pervasive corruption that is destroying the legitimacy of the Afghan government and fueling the insurgency. This requires more than threatening specific leaders on an ad hoc basis. Because the problem is systemic, it requires a systemic response.

We must roll back corruption by strengthening Afghan governance and development comprehensively—both from top-down and bottom-up. The truth is, in the last seven years, we have only invested in one Afghan state institution in a patient, resource-intensive, and system-wide way: the Afghan army.

And the ANA, as a consequence, is emerging as a capable, courageous, professional, multi-ethnic force. If we want other Afghan institutions to operate this way, we need to make similarly focused, long-term investments in them. If we can build an army of 200,000 that works, we should be able to build a civil service of 20,000 that also works. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

My enthusiasm for Mr. Lieberman's speech is beginning to swell. I don't know about the beginning part, but I could have written this part of his speech myself. I think I have written very similar things on this very blog, among other places. The Afghans have no institutional memory of governance. It has been wiped out by thirty years of warfare. What makes us think that even a dedicated group can take over a nation of thirty million people and just make it work?

Here's a better question: What makes us think that we can expect that even the most committed people can take over a country of thirty million people five minutes out of the Stone Age and make it work? These people need help; we can give it to them, and it will make us a lot more secure to do so. Now all we have to do is believe that.

As Caspar Weinberger Jr., wrote in Human Events in June: “While wars of insurgency are what are happening now, it is correct to say that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan, regardless of these two wars’ outcomes, will cause the downfall of America. However, a loss of any type of World War III most certainly would.” Weinberger quotes George Friedman: “The United States can lose a dozen Vietnams or Iraqs and not have its (most important) interests harmed. But losing a war with a nation-state could be catastrophic.”

America needs a large and powerful Army prepared to engage innovatively across the entire spectrum of conflict as part of the joint team. Hybrid conflicts that combine elements of low- and high-intensity war will be common in the 21st century (as they were in many wars of the past). The point is that excessive focus on one sort of operation — and particularly the type that every indicator suggests that the American people are loathe to repeat — as an organizing principle puts at risk the entire armed forces’ ability to provide decision-makers with options that reflect the military’s fullest potential. ~ MG Charles J. Dunlap, Jr

Oooops. Looks like we're still not "getting it." There are a lot of rice bowls that are perceived to be at risk when you start talking about COIN. Nobody wants their rice bowl to be broken. They are only moderately more pleased with the concept that it will be filled with dog feces instead of rice. There is a crowd who are building the excuse that it's really okay to lose in Afghanistan, because losing Viet Nam really didn't kill us.

Viet Nam's mantra wasn't "Death to America," either. Viet Nam never attacked us on our own soil; Jane Fonda notwithstanding. Viet Nam never vowed to do it again as soon as possible and even more horribly.

Sacred trust. Our nation doesn't ask us to fight the wars that we want sometimes. Sometimes it asks us to do the hard thing, the unpopular thing (either for them or for us,) and/or the unconventional (irregular) thing; they do not put a caveat in that sacred trust that says that we may determine that it really doesn't matter; to pre-excuse a failure.

The guys who are paid a lot more than most of us to predict that when we decapitate a country it doesn't grow a new, better head in a matter of seconds, and that the result will be chaos unless someone (I wonder who that might be) provides some order and structure until a new one does grow, didn't do their job when it came to Iraq. What makes any of us think that imagining WW-III around the next bend is an indication of some newly-developed prescience instead of an excuse for giving up on that sacred trust in an actual shooting war? Who, exactly, is going to instigate this next, nation-destroying cataclysm? Really?

So, we find ourselves in a very difficult, culture-challenging war (I mean military culture.) This is hard, hard stuff.

Hard is not hopeless. ~ GEN David Petraeus

There is hope.

Fifth and perhaps most importantly, success in Afghanistan requires a sustained, realistic political and public commitment to this mission here at home. ~ Sen Joe Lieberman

I think that perhaps he should have included military leadership in that statement.

Indeed, there are already voices on both the left and the right murmuring the word “quagmire.”

They say Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, that we should abandon any hope of nation-building there, and that President Obama should rethink his pledge to deploy additional forces.

Why, then, is this wrong? Why should we send tens of thousands of our loved ones to a remote country on the far side of the world?

The most direct answer is that Afghanistan is the frontline of the global ideological and military war we are waging with Islamist extremism. Afghanistan is where the attacks of 9/11 were plotted, where al Qaeda made its sanctuary under the Taliban, and where they will do so again if given the chance. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

The essence of the threat to our nation. There is another threat to the content of our character; not following through on our commitments. It is the the single greatest fear of most Afghans I met who were not Taliban supporters, and it's not like we haven't done it before.

We all agree, our foremost interest in Afghanistan is preventing that country from becoming a terrorist safe haven. But the only realistic way to prevent that from happening is through the emergence of a stable and legitimate political order in Afghanistan, backed by capable indigenous security forces—and neither of those realities is going to materialize without a significant and sustained American commitment. This will be difficult, but it is absolutely necessary. ~ Sen. Joe Lieberman

Well, as long as this type of stuff is still part of our national conversation, then all is not lost.

There is some other good stuff there that I will let you find for yourself. We can always discuss them in comments. I am personally thrilled to see someone other than this wee tiny blogauthor has taken up the call for a "civilian surge." Let's hope that somehow this discussion gains an audience.


Bit of a discussion going on in Comments. I'm going to be out of the loop, over at Castle Argghhh! today for a bit, but I can shut off moderation and risk some porn spam comments for a bit so that lively conversation can continue.


  1. Is opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan legal? If it is then do you think after we win the war it will be "illegal?" If the opium trade is the main funding source for al-Qaeda and the Taliban doesn't it make sense to irradicate oppium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan? Secretary of State Clinton recently labelled Afghanistan a "narco state." What do you think she meant by that? Also former Secretary of State Powell said that, "drugs will destroy Afghanistan if something isn't done about it?" Also Generals Petraus, Craddock and McKeirnan have commented recently that "drug trafficing" in Afghanistan is a major problem. What is the difference between "drug trafficing" and "opium poppy cultivation?"

  2. It's all taking too long. The Afghans are too backward, too untrainable, too corrupt, too mean to their women and young boys to elicit much sympathy anymore.

    We came to get Osama bin Laden.

    We failed.

    Many of us hate admitting defeat, and remember previous conflicts when perserverence in the face of looming disaster was rewarded with victory. But staying the course on the wrong bearing just get you lost worse.

    What will Victory in Afghanistan look like?

    Will "winning" be worth it to us?

    Is Afghanistan a sovereign Westphalian nation-state?

    If it isn't, how colonial need we be to turn it into one?

    The answers to these questions must be concise, easily understood, and strategically communicable in 30-second sound bites to millions of American voters who don't give a shit any more.

  3. Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is not legal. In fact, a Presidential Decree disseminated in November of 2007 stated that poppy growers would be arrested and their land confiscated. Apparently that hasn't worked out too well.

    Poppy eradication efforts have failed largely to the inability to manually eradicate the crops. We are too shy to use pesticides for fear of causing environmental damage and the protection of poppy fields by armed resistance including the Taliban.

    Sec. Clinton was mistaken in her labeling, but I think that she meant that the economy is drug-dependent and that the government was ineffective in getting a handle on it. It is a complex economic problem, but the short story is that farmers can't make anything close to as much money growing anything else, so they grow poppy and the government can't stop them. In areas they controlled, the Taliban prevented poppy cultivation through fear.

    Drug trafficking is what happens once the sap (raw opium) has been collected from the poppy. It involves the collection from the farmers, transportation, refinement into heroin, and exporting of the opium/heroin.


  4. Since most of the opium being grown is controlled by the taliban, would it be a good idea for the Afghan gov. to take control of said crops? Why couldn't the growers form a co-op to work with the large makers of legitimate drugs instead of those whose illegal use claim so many lives?
    Perhaps the same could be done with the growing of marijuana(hemp).

    Just a thought...

  5. It is taking too long, but it's not because the Afghans are untrainable. We are poor practitioners of COIN; one of my key points.

    If we help them fix their other problems, their society will mature and the issues regarding women will evolve in the same way that they are evolving elsewhere. Like they evolved here. Our issues were not solved in a time of insecurity at the basic level. We are talking Maslow in Afghanistan, not Susan B. Anthony. If we are successful, they will have their own Susan B. Anthony. They are nowhere near that point now, and focusing on that issue will only distract us... and them... from the issues of insurgency.

    Osama is just the face of a greater problem, just like Paul was the Beatle that the girls thought was cute. Okay, it's not just like that, but work with me here. If Osama is the measure of success, then we have failed. I submit that Osama is an overly simplistic symbol of our purpose. We came to deny AQ and their affiliates a Wild West homeland where they can recruit, organize, train, plan operations and so on. Oversimplifying the GWOT to be all about one man is a popular meme, but it's not all about one man. There are many like him. In the absence of an ability to bring Osama to trial, the best thing that we can do is what good counterinsurgents do; make him irrelevant. If Osama died tomorrow, it would not remove our threat. In our own Army we know that no one is indispensable. That is a human condition, not just our condition. We all die, therefore none of us is indispensable. Osama and his ilk are no different.

    I avoid the word "victory" in my COINspeak. Victory is an identifiable event. In COIN, the enemy withers away slowly. There is no single identifiable time or date when it officially ends; just a day when you realize that it's over. I use the word success; and there are degrees of it.

    Overall success in Afghanistan will look like an Afghan government that is providing basic governmental citizens to its people,especially justice; a functional and diminishing level of corruption; the ability to provide for the rule of law at the local level; a functional economy with a manageable unemployment rate and the ability for their own security forces to deal with any problems that crop up. That's a simplification, but those are a good list of the basic indicators. There is no flag to be captured, except if you are the insurgent. How do you know when you've killed the last roach?

    When you haven't seen one for awhile. If that's the day you declare victory, then so be it, but that's symbolic, not the marking of a specific event other than your own realization.

    What will success be worth to us? It will be worth not having to take your shoes off before boarding a plane. It will be worth skylines that are not subject to change at the whims of terrorists. It will be worth hundreds of thousands of troops who are not deployed to keep terrorism far from our shores. It will be worth realizing that what happens in little valleys thousands of miles away does affect what happens on our own streets.

    For me, it will be two sons who I do not have to worry about being far from home in a place where their safety is forfeit for the needs of our nation.

    The American public is beginning to realize that the world is a massive ecosystem comprised of many smaller and intertwined ecosystems. That is the "Green" movement. When those same people realize that there is a global human equivalent to that ecosystem, then we will understand the need to provide our own security by not leaving little landlocked countries in the middle of nowhere to insanity.

    Doing this is showing global leadership in the modern era, not the Victorian era of empires.

    The world is not getting bigger. It is getting smaller, and those ripples in the pond of humanity travel faster. This is not about colonialism; it is about social justice on a level that most of us here in the States cannot even grasp while we try to wrestle with whether we are fair enough to let boys wear a skirt to school.

    While we are digging up our whole back yard to get rid of the residue of a spilled can of oil, our neighbor harbors leaking drums of nuclear waste, the effects of which have already killed some of our children. Yet we continually want to ignore that problem for our own (relatively) minor problems. Trinquier pointed out that the people usually don't realize that there is an insurgency until it is too late.

    Expand his model to account for our shrinking global human environment, and you are on to something. This is not just a national insurgency in Afghanistan; but we can set it back there or we can deal with it later when the roaches have a nice dark place to run back to whenever the lights come on.

    We need to shine the light in dark, scary, confusing places.


  6. Ky Woman: That is a good point. Instead of trying to destroy a part of their economy that little guys depend on, if we were to purchase all of the opium and use it for the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, destroying what could not be used for that, we would buy ourselves time to work on the cultivation issue (alternatives) while letting the little guy (the water in which the insurgent fish swims) still make a living.

    We would also be taking the bread from the mouth of the insurgent. We would kill two birds with one stone.

    However, we are too Victorian in our morals to do that. This is self-defeating behavior in that it doesn't allow us to think outside the box to solve this challenge. In the meantime, we can't stop it and the Taliban are making money from it.

    Hemp is another issue. The economy of Afghanistan is opium-dependent, not marijuana dependent. Marijuana is not the type of hemp that is best for making rope. It is optimized for THC production, not fiber production. The Afghans have, over time, done a really effective job of genetically engineering their hashish; it's potent, but not for making ropes.

    Hashish is simply not the economic/insurgent problem that opium is. It is an issue best left for Afghans to deal with as they develop the capability to do so. We can't even do that ourselves, so why should we demand that they waste their limited capabilities to do so?

  7. Blue, thanks for the reply.

    Ok, now that we've established that we could kill two birds with one stone, who needs to know to get that ball rolling? And how is another question in itself.

    As far as industrial hemp is concerned, apparently there is still a market for its use. Just because the afghan marijuana is grown for hashish potency doesn't mean that it can't be grown for good uses. Look at the variety of crops that are grown. Each has it's own use. Yes?

    I'm not saying that We should demand that they do something we aren't capable of doing ourselves. It isn't like we are trying to duplicate our country into theirs, now is it?

    Perhaps there should be more "thinking outside the box". After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

    I understand that there are many issues that we could focus on during our stay in their country. But maybe just maybe, someone will do something that will help them in the long run.

  8. Too long, Blue. I'm part of your choir, so I read your whole response, and appreciate it, but the congregation won't. Their eyes will glaze over.

    Is it COIN we suck at, or is it FID?

    Are we guests of a Westphalian nation-state Host Nation whose sovereignty we are bound to respect?

    Are we going to impose our idea of good government that is providing basic governmental services to its people, especially justice?

    Are we going to determine the acceptable level of corruption and depose those who exceed it?

    Are we going to impose our idea of the rule of law at the local level?

    Can we make their economy functional with a manageable unemployment rate when we can't seem to accomplish that for ourselves?

    If all of this is really our responsibility then we have well and truly taken up the white man's burden. Just call be Sahib, little brother.

    If We came to deny AQ and their affiliates a Wild West homeland where they can recruit, organize, train, plan operations and so on, then why aren't we in the F.A.T.A of Pakistan? That's where they are. And Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Algeria, and a bunch of other places.

    Even after 100% success in Afghanistan, we will still be taking our shoes off before boarding a plane and our skylines will still be subject to change at the whims of terrorists (although they have pretty much run that tactic into the ground). Afghanistan is just one campaign in a war the American people quit caring about.

  9. This American still cares.
    Which is why I read here.
    Much to absorb.
    Effort and time taken to dispense info (and explain) much appreciated.

  10. How to Export an Awakening

    Pashtun irregulars are the problem. Friendly Pashtun irregulars are going to be part of the solution. Tribal Police, Regional Forces/Popular Forces, Public Guards, harkis, Autodefensas Unidas de Afghanistan, opium cartel mercenaries temporarily cooperating with us to kill off competition, all must be brought in to play. We can sort them out after the Taliban are whipped.

    And 19-year old 11B1P's are not the Americans to send to work with such a crew of land pirates.

  11. Cannoneer: You can't ask a complex question and expect a simple response. There are a lot more people than you think that have graduated beyond "Dick and Jane" books than you think.

    1) We suck at COIN.

    2) No. We are an assistance force trying to help an Afghan nation-state to their feet. We are only their guests in a very very broad sense. At this point we are indispensable partners without whom the whole thing would quickly fall apart.

    3) The Afghan people have a reasonable expectation of good governance, especially in the arena of justice. People are people. The average Afghan knows good governance when he sees it. He's not seeing it nearly as often as he would like or can reasonably expect.

    4) The generation that is currently in school is the best hope for really diminishing corruption in detail. In the meantime, we can help with the "big rocks." Those are the ones that interfere directly with good governance, justice, and misappropriation on a disabling scale. Yes, we can have influence on getting rid of corrupt politicians. First you have to work with them; identifying them will be easy when we are working with all levels of government.

    5) Nope. The Afghans know what rule of law looks like at the local level, too. The ANP need in many cases to be the Arbakai so that armed irregular groups are not necessary. The most peaceful district I saw in country worked this way. The ANP enforced the decisions of the local Shura, and it worked great. Ties in closely with the justice issue.

    6) Dude, subsistence farming in a nation with massive mineral reserves is not a functional economy; it's being in survival mode. Yes, we can make a huge difference, snarkiness about our own foibles aside.

    7) We aren't in the FATA because Pakistan is a functional state actor with a significant military capacity and nuclear weapons. They have not asked for our help; we have asked for theirs. Pakistan has become an excuse for not taking care of our part of the deal. When we have performed excellent COIN and done all that we can do, then we can point the finger at others. Would it be nice if the FATA was inhospitable to AQ and the Taliban? Unquestionably yes. It would make things easier in Afghanistan. This is not the situation, everyone is aware of it, and it's time to get over that and do what we know is right in A'stan while engaging the Pakistani government to encourage and assist, when asked, to control their own territory. That's the difference between what we are and what so many try to say we are. A truly imperialistic completely arrogant nation would just cross the border en mass and just do what we want. We aren't doing that, Predator strikes notwithstanding. I'm sure that we have some form of tacit or explicit approval at some level to provide such "assistance" to Pakistan.

    Have to completely disagree with you on the Pashtun irregular thing. Until we have really worked to replicate the success of the ANA with the ANP (which we have in no way done,) arming irregulars is an invitation to disaster that the Afghans themselves are telling us is a bad idea. Listen to them and work with the ANP. If that doesn't work (and we can't prove that it won't, because we haven't tried it across the board,) then revisit the irregulars. In the meantime, that is a meme that doesn't need to be lent credence. The Awakening was a distinctly Iraqi mechanism. The Afghans themselves fear such a move in Afghanistan. Not having the imagination to find an Afghan solution and trying to apply an Iraqi solution to Afghanistan is just, well, unimaginative. The Afghans need an Afghan-specific solution, not an Iraqi-specific solution. There is no sectarian civil war in Afghanistan; this is an insurgency in which you find some criminal elements taking advantage of the confusion. Do not remove government credibility while you haven't applied all efforts possible to grant it credibility and professionalism.

    Plus you remove the problem of having to sort them out later.


  12. So many aspects to consider but I'll try and articulate a few thoughts I have on nations like Afghanistan and/or Iraq.

    As was so rightly said, we are very good at killing bad guys and blowing things up, (The "we" I refer to is all of us, the coalition. It is not just America's problem, it is all of ours.)Setting aside that we have not found OBL yet - but have managed to keep the bad guys on the run, the question is then: Now what? As one raised on the ancestry of the British empire, I agree we do NOT impose our notions of what good governance or economy looks like. Look at England, and the results of that arrogance.

    We need to HELP any nation like Afghanistan or Iraq decide their own models, their own solutions. Yes, we can keep military in there, and advisors, etc help them set up their own military responses to the terrorists, BUT as was also said, we need a civilian solution to help the civilians cement a model that provides economic stability that will feed their families. Hemp? Even in my city, hemp is being pushed as a renewable product in the making of all sorts of goods. Profi8able international partnerships with places like Afghanistan??

    Two analogies keep coming to mind: one, you have a pre-schooler who sees the big kids riding their road speedsters and the freedom they have from that. You don't put the little un on a bike like that. You give them a tricycle. Do you tthen just stand back andf leat them roam the neigbourhood, even as YOU are aware of the dangers out there? No, of course not..You nurture them, and go with them to clear the way. Isn't that kinda what's happened in iraq? We have engaged with the locals, seen what they say works for them, and are now in the process of stepping back to a support role? Even in Iraq, though, I think we need more muscle on the civilian level. All well and good to have a forceful army, police force etc, but even building new schools/hospitals/local govt facilities/waterworks etc, the people still have to EAT. That was all the mother in me you get my point. After the bad guys have been routed, and find out that there is a strong enough LOCAL native force to keep them out: Then what?

    Second analogy: Farming or local industry that the locals can get behind so that a)they can feed their families and b) start a trading economy both within and outside the country. Againh civilian ansers.

    Imagine a farmer in ooooooh I dont know, Wyoming (is that farm country?) who grows crops that are deemed illegal by the US legal system. Sure you can go in and burn his crop, or throw himin jai9l or wha5tever, but them what?

    Right here where I live, we have a huge export industry of illegal drugs(BC Bud anyone?) The police spend mega resources($$ and man hours) pursuing them, shutting them down, prosecuting them (at great cost to the taxpayer..Your FBI guys are actually trying to extradite a Canadian whose name escapes me right now - for shipping drug stuff into the US. It is all about supply and demand. As long as a living can be made, because there is a market for it (same with the poppies in Afghanistan I suspect) Rid my neighbourhood of the drug dealers - or afghanistan of the taloeban and the drug profits to be made there, an alternative crop/source of incomje has to be feasible.

    I know this is all rambling ;) but from where I sit, it is never enough to go in and kill the bad guys and blow things up. That should be just the first step. Yes, we can do that, but then I believe we have a moral responsibility to ASSIST (not impose) the locals in nurturing their own industries based on what they need to sustain their families, their communities, their countries. Why can't we send the best we have to offer in ideas via civilians so that they get to choose from the best we have to offer?

    One more motherhood analogy: a toddler has a toy that we KNOW is dangerous even as the kid is apparently thrilled - for the minute. So we take it away from them, BUT we offer them an alternative, that is better in the long run. I am not suggesting we treat other countries in a paternalistic manner/model. Again, England did that for a long time as part of their empire building, and look how they are today.:( BUT, as our child grows older, we don't arbitrarily decide for them. We discuss, we listen, we share ideas, and they come to what works for THEM, and ask us for help if they need it.

    Maybe I am being naive, but I do think those kind of processes can also be applied to nation-building. All still an evolving thought process.

    THIS mother is done - for now! :)

  13. 1. Who sucks less than we do?

    2. So since Afghanistan is not sovereign, instead of being an Islamic Republic it is really a NATO Protectorate or a UN Mandate with NATO as the Mandatory Powers.

    3. Where have the Afghan people ever seen good governance?

    4. So we're stuck there until the kids grow up?

    5. The traditional Pashtun Afghan people have seen what rule of law looks like at the local level. Convincing the elders to let the Tajik ANP be their arbakai is going to take even longer than Focused District Development.

    6. We can make lots of differences. Doesn't mean we should, or that making all those differences is our responsibility. I hear the Red Chinese wrapped up the copper concession. They got any diamonds?

    7. F.A.T.A. is where the mission is. What's in F.A.T.A is what brought us to Afghanistan. Everything else is mission creep.

    What successful Counterinsurgent did not employ indigenous irregulars?

  14. Brat: Thanks for the comments. Great analogies!


    1) This is the, "what is the smartest vegetable?" conversation.

    2) I didn't say they weren't sovereign. I said that they weren't Westphalian.

    3) They have no institutional memory of it, but there are many people there who were alive under the reign of the last king. I'd say that was probably the last time they came close.

    4) No, but that's the generation that's really going to change Afghanistan. This generation will do plenty of good though, with the right guidance.

    5) ANP are generally locals, although the chiefs often aren't local. The ANA has already demonstrated that Afghans can overcome those tired old social anthropologist's cries of, "tribalism!" Still, the ANP are generally somewhat representative of the local makeup.

    6) Yeah, the Chinese did that. Good for Afghanistan! We had a dog in that hunt, but they got outbid. China likes electronics, and they are going to kick our butts with all that copper. Again, good for Afghanistan. Did I mention that the Chinese are going to build a railroad to get the copper out? Good for Afghanistan.

    Diamonds are the one gem that Afghanistan doesn't seem to have. They've got pretty much everything else, though. Emeralds, rubies, sapphires... ever seen watermelon tourmaline?

    7) Whatever. If we succeed in Afghanistan, we are so much closer to making OBL a crazy, ranting old man who's afraid to leave the cave; the Arab equivalent to Hitler in the bunker.

    8) The ones who had indigenous regulars. Hey, if it helps to think of the ANP as irregulars, then do that. The ANP issue needs to be worked before we go hiring Kit Carson. Listen to the Afghans... they do not like the idea of rearming the local militias. There is a reason for that. Armed warlord militias were what started the Taliban, you know. They've seen that dog before. Trust them on this.

  15. Now we're going to work to replicate the success of the ANAuxiliaryP with the Afghan Public Protection Force.

  16. I guess I come at this from a different perspective from most of the contributors. Having a nearly 40 year interest in South Asian Islam and history, a graduate degree in Islamic history and just happened to be married to an Afghan, a Pushtun, to be exact, has really focused me. I have witnessed much suffering over there, most of it inflicted by the Afghans upon themselves. I say this based on three tours to Afghanistan myself, tours in which I did not hide in FOBs or at Bagram or Kabul, but actually went out and about (alone and afraid, often enough). I have witnessed some really amazing attempts by US military and civilian personnel to provide assistance in a humane and localized manner that would benefit locals and not the wallahs in Kabul or former warlords. I have witnessed the callous disregard for truth by western journalists (in one case, the journalist was actually standing on a destroyed wall, beneath which lay the bodies of dead civilians as she loudly searched for the bodies to blame on US fire). I have also read and heard, extensively, just as most of you have, from the American political elites and academic elites, but I generally either disagree (sometimes in person) with them or ignore them as their "observations" and "recommendations" are not only not based on reality but apparently on wishful thinking from inside too many "Western paradigms." Some of those are listed in the above comments as well as in the extracts from Senator Lieberman's extracts Bill & Bob have provided, although there are some good points as well. Obversely, I don't have all the answers either (that'll be a surprise to my wife!).

    That said, despite the vast foreign interference in Afghanistan, dating from, oh, let's say, just after the Kushan Empire and especially during the time of Timurlane, most of the present problems of Afghanistan are because of the Afghans themselves, albeit "recently" with a large dose of "negative" assistance from the Soviet Pushtun genocide, the Pakistani efforts at control and the Deobandi/Wahhabi Arabization efforts by the Saudis and their ilk. The 1990s were all about the Afghans, and look how well they did in fixing their country and situation. Many Afghans have a huge reservoir of business initiative but when preyed upon by smugglers, criminal gangs, corrupted local leadership elites and "fundos," they have little recourse but to go along, lest they be killed. No amount of aid, reconstruction, externally applied COIN or hand wringing protestations about women's rights, the children, or drug cultivation versus subsistence crops will change that, especially if that hand wringing is done in Europe or America.

    I just wish, from all readers and speakers, a more holistic and reasonable approach to the problems (and opportunities) of Afghanistan. The truth about Afghanistan is rarely understood or articulated, as too many people have created a "body guard of lies" to protect their particular piece of the exploitation pie (be they newsies, humanitarian gypsies, druggies, fundos, external foreign "players" or plain criminal types). No single "strand" is to blame nor can any single "theme" bring success.

    Time, lots of time, is needed, along with real work by the Afghans themselves, and a realization that NOBODY "owes" them anything. To alleviate their pain so we (Americans, Europeans, liberal do-gooders, military control freaks, etc) "feel" better is to continue to institutionalize it for the majority of the populace. Only pain will force the Afghans to stop hurting themselves. Pain from shattered lives and society, pain from lost opportunities and present oppresion; only pain will force the Afghans themselves to correct themselves.

    Sounds harsh but when has it ever been any different, historically? We are not, as some have stated in the past, at "the end of history," nor are we engaged in a unique "clash of cultures." Cultures always clash, be it openly or benignly. Stone age (neo-Stone, Bronze, early Iron, Luddite) cultures and societies wil always fall before modern Steel and Information Age culture, despite the most ardent and savage efforts of those in those cultures or the "Romantic" efforts of those misguided enough to assist in trying to retain them by rationalization of humanitarian cause(s). Progress is painful, and it is made worse by Progressives.

    I would dearly love to see a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan but I am very aware that it has never been a "Westphalian" state, much less a peaceful unitarian state, unless that has been enforced by brutal genocidal policies (refer to Timurlane, the Mongols, Alexander the Great, etc). Ski chalets in Nuristan, golf course in Kabul and dune buggying in Nimruz would be wonderful, but it won't happen until the residents therein understand that societal trust needs to supersede tribal blood lines, xenophobic ethnic codes of conduct (Pushtunwali) and the self-imposed strictures of a backwards looking religion of stultifyingly repressive communitarianism (Wahhabi/Deobandi Islam).

    I would be more than willing to go back and help, if the carrion crows on the body of Afghanistan could be driven off. Until then, despite the humanitarian urge within me, I will not pour even more good money down a bad hole. I am even against sending more young men and women there unless domestic political concerns cease to hamper their ability to not only provide real assitance, but to even properly defend themselves. As for the Afghans themselves, reconstruction of the Sufi networks and "lodges" would be a tremendous step in that direction, one I fear the Deobandi/Wahhabists will fight against.

    Just my opinion.

    S/F, Vern

  17. a btw:

    A couple of months back, a Canadian professor of agriculture, Afghan by birth, returned as Governor of Kabul( if I remember correctly.) I wrote about it at the time, and felt - naively, perhaps - that maybe having Afghans like him, with the skills and knowledge gained in a western education, plus an innate understanding of the Afghan mindset. could push Afghan society in the direction of self sufficiency.

    "Only time will tell."

  18. You asked. Here is the first (of at least two parts) on the subject:

    It's more of a prologue with Part 2 coming out tomorrow.

    I see a great conversation has ensued here and I would disagree on only one point (that I can think of): We aren't "terrible" at COIN though we are our own harshest critics, which is how we become better at it (and so much else).

    But COIN takes time to set in. It takes patience and resolve, not only of Our Military, but also of Our Nation and I think you touch on that.

  19. Speaking of the Older Generation that remembers the Afghanistan of yesteryear:
    91-year-old Afghan receives German check-up

  20. And the promised Part 2:


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