Small Wars Journal

Afghanistan’s Center of Gravity: The Taliban and Case for AFPAK FATA

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 9:51am

Afghanistan’s Center of Gravity: The Taliban and Case for AFPAK FATA

Victor R. Morris


The Taliban are the center of gravity in Afghanistan. This is not due to the fact the group is the perceived adversary, but because the Taliban wield power. The insurgency predominantly composed of ethnic Pashtuns are a tangible physical agent performing actions. Equally important, the insurgency is emboldened by intangible socio-cultural variables like Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, Salafi jihadism and Pashtunwali. These intangible variables influence relevant populations and actors, but the Taliban insurgency has the inherent capability for action required to achieve their political objectives. After almost two decades of misidentifying and attacking centers of gravity (COGs), another insurgency strategy needs to be considered or re-considered for successful and effective limited defeat of the Taliban hybrid threat.

This article conducts COG analysis on the Taliban sub-system and Pashtun tribal system using revised joint doctrine and non-linear dynamical systems analysis. Identification of vulnerabilities and recommendations for non-military strategies are outputs of the analyses.

Eikmeier Method of COG Analysis

Considering the Taliban as the primary COG in the war in Afghanistan utilizes the new COG definition that both clarifies and modernizes the COG concept, which is a crucial approach as operational environments and population dynamics change over time. The insurgency also called “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” exists in the physical environment and has the capability to attain their objectives. As of May 2017, the Taliban controls or contests 40 percent of Afghan districts and subsequently heavily influences international security policy. In order to elucidate the insurgency’s mechanisms of control and influence, this article employs the Eikmeier method of COG analysis that includes revised definitions, precision and testability. Therefore, the COG identification assertion is validated based on the above criteria. This article also draws from nonlinear science and warfare concepts, which include systems, chaos and complexity theories.

Additionally, critical factors are the framework for COG analysis and integrate systems theory into Clausewitz’s Schwerpunkt concept. These critical factors are the fundamental capabilities (abilities to accomplish objective), requirements (conditions, resources and means) and vulnerabilities of the COG. Once evaluated, these factors not only become targets for attack, but also for both direct and indirect engagement. By exploiting critical vulnerabilities (requirements or subsets), actors can deny or enable a critical requirement necessary to perform a critical capability. Capabilities are directly linked to the COG’s objective.

Complexity of the Pashtun Social System

The Taliban movement and subsequent insurgency exhibits complex behavior. There are an estimated 30,000 full time fighters. The human system and social ecosystem primarily involves ethnic Pashtuns from Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan. At 42% they are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, the Punjabi ethnic group accounts for the majority 44.68% of the population followed by 15.42% Pashtun. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are a semi-autonomous primarily Pashtun region in northwestern Pakistan and border of Afghanistan. The FATA have been strategically important and complex since the political and diplomatic confrontations between Britain and Russia in the 19th century. The original Taliban or “students” trace their history to the FATA where they received hardline Islamic teachings in the madrassas. The roughly 27,000 square kilometer region is included in the Constitution of Pakistan and governed by the federal government through special regulations. In recent times, these areas have been designated as adversary sanctuaries and targeted by U.S drone strikes with mixed results.

The Pashtun social ecosystem is the most resilient in the region based on 300 years of co-evolution with a changing environment. Pashtuns are also the largest tribal society in the modern world with 50 million members bound by tribal structures and networks. A successful revolution resulted in the establishment of an independent state in the 18th century. The system is resilient because it copes with disturbances or perturbations. System disturbances are also viewed as chronic stresses and shocks. Resilience developed from nearly four decades of internal civil war and external interventions in the 20th century. Examples of internal stresses are competition among the four Pashtun super tribal confederacies (one of which includes the Haqqani’s Zadran tribe) and conflict with other ethnic groups like Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks. The Pashtun tribes have ancient rivalries, but are mitigated or coped with through traditional assemblies called “jirgas”. The purpose of a jirga is to prevent tribal war. Overall, these system disturbances are viewed by Pashtuns as assaults on their land, culture and way of life. They behave in a manner consistent with tribal customs, resistance and aversion to unrepresentative government and foreign intervention.

The Taliban are an interconnected subsystem driven by Sunni fundamentalist ideology and resistance and revolutionary warfare that enables self-repairing, self-maintaining and coherence. New order and coherence enables evolution and sustainability. The Taliban are sustained by state and non-state actors, but have the inherent capability to survive. A variety of factors enable their survival since their emergence, but a key social variable is ethnicity and origins in Pashtun nationalism. This accounts for identity driven behavior and a receptive audience. They are a hub in the largest tribal network in the world, which they draw power and resources from.

The Taliban’s Critical Factors

Since the 2001 invasion, Taliban critical factors have been targets for direct and indirect attack. Examples include key leaders, military commanders, illicit trafficking of black market goods (opium and fertilizer), safe havens, narratives and state support. In 2017, the Taliban system is not only resilient, but thriving. Thriving whether physical or psychological, reflects decreased reactivity to stressors, faster recovery or consistently higher levels of functioning. Recent territorial gains, high profile attacks, and Islamic fundamentalist recruitment are examples of thriving. Next, the “population” are routinely assessed as the COG in irregular warfare’s counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and unconventional warfare operations. The Pashtun and Taliban insurgency are a large part of the population and have critical capabilities, requirements, and vulnerabilities. One of the assessed COG vulnerabilities is ineffective governance in areas with high concentrations of Pashtun ethnolinguistic groups. This is largely due to previous and on-going wars in Afghanistan, resulting in high civilian casualties. The current central government, which has been assessed as a COG before, is not able to govern effectively either. Taliban shadow government, which consist of departments and directorates are the only alternative in these areas based on ineffective foreign intervention and tenuous Afghan led reconciliation efforts. The Taliban mainstream faction thrive on exploiting population grievances, human collateral damage, and foreign occupation as critical factors linked to messaging and objectives.

Change the COG, Change the System

If you don’t like the COG, change it. Afghanistan as a federal system of government with autonomous areas is the premise of an article written by Major Bryan Carroll and Dr. David A. Anderson for Small Wars Journal in 2009. In Afghanistan, the power resides with the tribes and is the ultimate case for autonomous regions with effective federal government and tribal penetration. Penetration refers to the provision of security, infrastructure and economic capacities. An autonomous or semi-autonomous system of governance is required to maximize area resources while accommodating cultural norms and launching economic priorities. This system of government also employs Kalyvas’ “logic of violence”, which predicts when insurgents are in a sovereign area, insurgent violence is absent. In The Logic of Violence in Civil War Kalyvas states the parity of control between the actors “is likely to produce no selective violence by the actors”. One of the associated factors is the degree in which Islamic law is exacted, which has implications for human and women’s rights. The root causes of civil war are rational and involve hostility and resentfulness among the population.

The current case for semi-autonomous areas is realized through continued United Nations brokered peace talks, High Peace Council (HPC) involvement, constitutional reform and integration with on-going FATA reforms and mergers in Pakistan. Afghanistan needs to adopt a similar regulation to establish and administer autonomous areas, whilst cooperating diplomatically, informationally and economically with Pakistan and the international community. International support involves Russia, China and Iran and includes non-military means and enabling of sustained government penetration. There are still enduring requirements for security force advising and deterrence which enable government penetration, but another multinational troop surge is not a viable strategy now. It provokes resistance warfare and sets back any prior peace proceedings. The current FATA reforms in Pakistan are scheduled to conclude in 2022 and if adopted will take time in Afghanistan. They will require positive Pakistani involvement, non-obstruction by officials and decreased support to the insurgency. The proposed AFPAK FATA are not limited to Pashtun areas and are meant to incentivize a negotiated settlement and broker ceasefires, reconciliation, reconstruction and repatriation processes. There will still be unreconcilable Sunni fundamentalist sub-systems in the region driven by Islamic law and Salafi Jihadism, but the system’s inputs, interactions and stimuli must change. Corruption, militant and violent extremist subsystems will either thrive, recover, survive with impairment or succumb after the reforms and time will ultimately tell. The ceasefire between the Columbian government and FARC came after four years of peace talks in Cuba ending a 52-year old war. If history has taught us anything, it is Afghans have the time.


In conclusion, the current center of gravity in Afghanistan is the Taliban subsystem of the greater Pashtun social system. The insurgency is effectively wielding power to meet their independence and removal of foreign occupation objectives. Analyzing the critical factors and engaging the critical vulnerability of ineffective governance forces nonlinear change. Decoupling interdependent systems causes changes in initial conditions and effects the system’s later state. Based on Afghanistan’s overall history and resilience, cascading failures through nonlinear escalation will most likely not move the system into a chaotic state. Results may be mono or multi-stable. Legitimate central government control of urban areas and de-centralized agreements with tribal areas worked during the King Zahir Shah era (1933-1973). Ineffective governance by all relevant actors is mitigated by transforming Afghanistan into a federal system of government with autonomous areas. This includes political accommodation, ethnic nationalism, financial incentive structures and power sharing. Non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan also favor a decentralized and moderate form of government based on Afghan social structures. Pashtunwali and jirgas are established democracy and if given the chance, co-evolve with the operational environment and alleviate core population grievances. The tribes are the main emphasis and must become the primary friendly COG and wielder of tribal power, which draws resources from the federal government and multinational systems (Figure 1). This is not a silver bullet, but balances divergent interests and offers an alternative to the status quo for re-establishing stability in Afghanistan.

About the Author(s)

Victor R. Morris is an irregular warfare and threat mitigation instructor at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany. He has conducted partnered training in sixteen European nations, with four NATO centers of excellence, and at the NATO Joint Warfare Center. A civilian contractor and former U.S. Army officer, he has experience in both capacities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Twitter: @vicrasta3030



Sat, 07/01/2017 - 12:02pm

"Afghan Government Quietly Aids Breakaway Taliban Faction"…

"In recent months, the government has quietly provided the breakaway faction — popularly known as the Renouncers — with weapons, safe passage and intelligence support in their fight against the mainstream Taliban. The result has been a series of successes in areas where the government has otherwise suffered repeated defeats, particularly in Helmand, a southern province where the mainstream Taliban still control 90 percent of the territory."

"The Renouncers are followers of Mullah Mohammad Rasoul, who split with the main Taliban group after revelations in 2015 that the former Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had long been dead. Mullah Rasoul and his followers were angered that Mullah Omar’s replacement, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, had kept the death a secret."

"After Mullah Mansour was killed in an American airstrike last year, his successor, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, antagonized the Rasoul faction even more, especially by choosing a hard-line member of the Taliban’s Haqqani wing, Sirajuddin Haqqani, as deputy leader in charge of military operations."

"While they have been most active in Helmand Province, other Renouncer factions have engaged in bitter fights with the mainstream Taliban in Shindand District of Herat Province, in the northwest, and in the western provinces of Farah and Ghor."

"He said the group had also fought against the Taliban in Ghor and Farah provinces.

“We have told the residents not to allow Taliban to stay in their villages, and if anyone is found giving shelter to the Taliban, their homes will be burned to ashes,” Mullah Niazi said."

Indirect engagement of a COG CV, which will most likely not cause cascading failures in the system.


Sat, 07/01/2017 - 11:37am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C,

I don't necessarily disagree with this point:

"Rather, getting rid of the threat posed by "modernization and development" -- whether coming from internal or external sources -- is actually the insurgent's true goal and motivation?"

That is where semi-autonomy comes into play. Development has to occur in some form or fashion to alleviate core population grievances.

On a similar note, let's be honest. Greed always wins and we're talking about billions of dollars worth of natural resources.

"The Taliban have offered to protect major government projects such as the mining of a big copper deposit and an international natural gas pipeline project to assist the development and prosperity of war-torn Afghanistan."

"The Islamic Emirate not only backs all national projects which are in the interest of the people and result in the development and prosperity of the nation but are also committed to safeguarding them," the Taliban said in a statement."

"The Taliban also mentioned the $10bn Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, and a regional electricity-generation effort linking Central Asia and South Asia, known as CASA-1000."…

How much does a "way of life" cost. Write it on this napkin...

Bill C.

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 4:41pm

In reply to by Vicrasta

Vicrasta: Above you said:

"Everyone directly or indirectly reaps the rewards of so-called 'modernization' and development. Development implicates expansion and progress, which is a result of effective government penetration."

There is, I believe, a fly in the ointment in your argument here; this, given that:

Certain (majority?) populations in Afghanistan -- and, indeed, in the Greater Middle East as a whole -- seem to view "modernization and development" as a threat, a "clear and present danger;" this, to their preferred way of life, their preferred way of governance and their preferred values, attitudes and beliefs which underpin same.

This, whether this such threat comes from:

a. A foreign intervening entity (such as the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War and/or the U.S./the West today?). And/or, indeed, from:

b. A local ruler acting more on his own/more independently (such as Afghanistan's first "modernizer:" King Zahir Shah?)

(Thus, to suggest that "getting rid of the foreigner" is not what the insurgent ultimately seeks to do/is not what the insurgent is actually fighting for. Rather, getting rid of the threat posed by "modernization and development" -- whether coming from internal or external sources -- is actually the insurgent's true goal and motivation?)

Given that, as I note in my comment above, ethnic majority populations in the U.S./the West (as in Afghanistan, the rural, the less affluent, the more religious, the more traditional?) now also appear to reject the -- apparently ridiculous in their eyes -- notion that:

a. "Everyone directly or indirectly reaps the rewards of so-called 'modernization and development'." And, thus, logically also rejects:

b. The allowance of "effective government penetration" to achieve same,

Given this such -- worldwide it would seem now -- "insurgency" thinking, where exactly does:

a. This such specific "modernization and development" requirement (of the minority, to wit: of the urban, of the more affluent, of the less religious, of the less traditional?) and

b. The resistance to same by much of the world today (by the majority, to wit: by the rural, by the less affluent, by the more religious, by the more traditional),

Where exactly does (a) this overall worldwide insurgency phenomenon and (b) the components thereof that I have described above; where exactly do these "fit" into "system analysis" -- and/or some other analytical -- scheme?

Are they to be found (and, thus, to be significantly and in great detail discussed) at:

a. The Center of Gravity (COG)? At:

b. Critical Vulnerabilities (CV)? At:

c. Critical Factors/Critical Factors Analysis (CF/CFA)? Or

d. Somewhere else?

Help (for me at least) is needed here !

Bottom Line:

Minus a careful and critical discussion -- specifically within "system analysis" and/or some other analytical venue/model -- of (a) the worldwide phenomenon that I have addressed above (to wit: the requirements of "modernization and development" ARE NOT seen as a "good thing" by much of the world today) and, thus, (b) the worldwide insurgencies that have now ensued to actually PREVENT AND STAND IN THE WAY of "effective government penetration" to achieve further "modernization and development;"

Then -- minus this exact such "cause and effect" relationship discussion -- COG, and/or systems analysis, such as that which we seem to be viewing here: this/these would seem to (1) miss the point entirely, (2) be difficult if not impossible to understand and, thus, (3) be difficult or, indeed, impossible to take seriously.

(At least by this old soldier.)


Fri, 06/30/2017 - 11:10am

In reply to by Bill C.

First, Matt Hoh's letter is hyperlinked in this article. If you are going to quote him, please do so accurately.

The actual quote from the letter is:

"....from at least the end of King Zahir Shah's reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this later group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency".

Next, your Holbrooke reference omits a key assertion outlined in the article and below. He also cancelled an initiative to "back the creation of a new UN special envoy empowered to pursue peace talks with the Taliban." Imagine that....take him off whatever pedestal you've put him on. "He brokered no breakthroughs".…

Expanding this point: "legitimate central government control of urban areas and decentralized agreements with tribal areas;"

Central government penetration to formally granted semi-autonomous areas. Not simply agreements or discrimination and neglect.

Government penetration enabling tribal governance, which in turn enables relevant populations toward a more optimal fitness landscape and stability.

"Governmental penetration refers to the ability and amount of control the national government has over the entire expanse of their country. Collier demonstrates that the amount of governmental penetration has been shown to directly impact the ability to successfully initiate insurgencies and violence within a nation-state." -Collier, Understanding Civil War, P68-72.

Government penetration is directly linked to the aforementioned FATA reforms, which have legal, political, social and economic connotations. Everyone directly or indirectly reaps the rewards of so-called "modernization" and development. Development implicates expansion and progress, which is a result of effective government penetration.

The primary or dare I say strategic COG wields enough power to affect the entire system. Directly and indirectly. The multi-faceted Taliban insurgency is currently doing that. Change the COG, change the system.

From our author above's "Conclusion:"


Legitimate central government control of urban areas and de-centralized agreements with tribal areas worked during the King Zahir Shah era (1933-1973).


This such "worked" thought would seem to be contradicted by this assertion in Matthew Hoh's 2009 U.S. State Department resignation letter:


... from at least King Zahir Shah's reign, has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional."


(Richard Holbrooke, the Obama Administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at that time, would state that he agreed with much of Matthew Hoh's analysis here.)

Thus, in the opinion of Hoh and Holbrooke, "legitimate central government control of urban areas and de-centralized agreements with tribal areas;" this tends to exasperate (see "pitted against") -- rather than remedy -- the problem?

This such problem being: How to modernize and develop Afghanistan (as the U.S./the West -- then as now -- desires/requires); this, against the will of the less-educated, more rural, more religious, more traditional Pashtun majority?

(Thus, the problem being similar to that which, in fact, the U.S./the West itself faces today here at home. And, similarly, re: our own continuing modernization and development initiatives.

Wherein, much as in King Zahir Shah's Afghanistan case noted immediately above, we now find [a] the more urban, more secular, more educated, more modern and ethnic minorities of the U.S./the West being -- similarly -- "pitted against" [b] the rural, more religious, less educated, more traditional ethnic majority within our very own states and societies?

Our "COG" analysis, thus, to benefit from this such "much closer to home" aspect of this common "modernization and development" problem -- a problem that both Afghanistan, and indeed the U.S./the West, now share?)


Fri, 06/30/2017 - 9:33am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M,

I can agree with that. Applying systems theory and critical factors analysis is certainly feasible. TRADOC G2 has done diligent work refining CFA to include "specific activities" for wargaming and engagement.

Bill M.

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 8:54am

In reply to by Vicrasta


I read the article quickly, and you covered a lot of ground. After reading the various comments and your argument to redefine the COG, it reinforces my view the COG is generally a flawed concept that should be sidelined as a relic of military theory history. If it needs to be constantly redefined and debated it serves little purpose. We can apply systems theory and other theories without using, or worse worshipping, the notion of a COG.


Fri, 06/30/2017 - 8:14am

In reply to by Vicrasta


I would suggest there is no sane military strategy that can accommodate MAD whether it be on the sub-continent or anywhere else. The military ways (nuclear exchange) could never justify the political ends. The threat posed by nuclear war epitomizes the notion that nuclear war is way too important to be left to the Generals.

The Pakistan High Command are perfectly aware moving their Central Command to Kandahar, Kabul, Kunduz whatever, and abandoning a nuclear devastated homeland, is an absurdity. Such a suggestion is considerably less inviting than the grim advice given to the commanders of Britain’s Royal Navy Trident submarines; when after a nuclear exchange with Russia, they are to regroup in Adelaide in South Australia (a strategic maneuver, via Suez, that is 13,000 miles in depth!). The RAF pilots of the old Vulcan nuclear bombers were advised, after releasing their dumb nuclear bombs over a major Russian city, it was suggested they continue on flying east and baling out when their V-bombers ran out of fuel somewhere in far-eastern Siberia.

Good luck and have a happy life.

However that is the sane argument.

As we all know the Fruitcake’s End of Days delusions are not constrained by sane political Ends. Their non-state actor modus-operandi and their efforts to integrate themselves into the familial circles of Pakistan’s elites makes the Pakistani nuclear arsenal our clearest and most compelling strategic danger IMHO. A genuine, and as yet unique, NIED threat to us in a first-strike instance and a mortal danger to hundreds of millions of people living on the sub-continent in a retaliatory ICBM counter-strike/escalation that would inevitably follow.

Vic, in your breakdown of the comments you fail to mention the COG implications of more than 2 million households in Afghanistan growing heroin as their chief source of income. This has major economic/political implications both locally and across the globe. When you leave aside the millions of American lives adversely affected by heroin-dependency and weigh just the 15,000 Americans killed every year by heroin grown in Afghanistan, I would argue any COG analysis must factor in the region’s pervasive heroin-production based criminal economy.

It's COG significance is further underlined by the fact heroin growing is a serious offense under the Afghan and Pakistan Criminal Code and a capital offense under Sharia Law.



Thu, 06/29/2017 - 9:36am

The majority of the comments are constructive and expand the analysis initially presented with very minimal trolling.

1. One of the article's main points was to outline the revision of COG analysis in Joint doctrine. The revised COG definitions use logic and systems theory to redefine the center of gravity. Oddly enough, there is no mention of angels dancing on the head of a pin. The logic is A (primary entity) + B (capability to achieve the objective) = COG -Let’s Fix or Kill the Center of Gravity Concept. There still seems to be a misunderstanding associated with the COG being "the doer".

2. COGs identified in the commentary:

a. COG of the resistance is the foreign presence dedicated to manipulating the governance of Afghanistan.

b. In Afghanistan the dispersion, multiple supply sources and uncoordinated nature of the enemy probably means there is no COG.

c. The Center of Gravity can't be two things.

d. For the record there is no COG in Afghanistan.

e. Rather, the Pashtun people themselves are the COG.

f. Third, the COG for reforming Pashtun society is in fact reforming the Pakistani state itself. Translated to Pakistan is the COG for Afghanistan as a physical agent wielding power.

g. Lastly, the only possible future for Afghanistan as a functional state and society is if the non-Pashtun groups form a truly civic nation. Translated to Non-pashtun groups are a potential COG for Afghanistan. Currently what power are they wielding and what are their critical factors? Parliamentary system??

h. The COG of the war in Afghanistan is the political interests of the elites who inhabit the Punjab. Translated to Punjabi elites as the doers.

i. The populations' support for their national and local governments? National and local governments. Back to "population" as the COG. Who or what groups/parties specifically and what are their critical factors? Support is intangible. People or groups providing support is not.

3. This article does not provide a historical summary of the connection between the ISI and the Taliban since 1994, but this one does.…

a. It can be argued the ISI is the center of gravity for the Taliban wielding power through the Quetta Shura as a critical factor.

Objectives: "The concept of "strategic depth" is closely connected with this strategic national interest: This means access to enough space west of the Indus for a reshaping of the Pakistani army, if they were to be pushed behind the river by an Indian invasion, and also implies a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan. Although the need for "strategic depth" has been convincingly refuted by Pakistan's civilian strategists, the concept will always be playing a paramount role in the thinking of military leaders.[140] As recently as 2010, General Kayani, the Chief of Staff of the Pakistan army, has reduced the aim of his country to a simple denominator: "We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan.“

"A secondary theme for the Pakistani support for the Taliban is the question of Pashtunistan and the controversial border demarcation with Afghanistan."

"For unlike the Ghilzai-Pashtuns, who dominate in the upper echelons of the Taliban, their historical rivals, the Durrani Pashtuns, who, in turn, have most government posts in Kabul are known to support of the idea of a "Pashtunistan" decidedly and make claims to Pakistani territory."

"The Afghan government has also begun to realise that success in peace efforts with the Taliban can only go via Pakistan as a vital force behind the insurgency".

4. Further analysis needs to be conducted regarding Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab and Afghan Taliban (Kandahar and Paktia) and their multi-state sponsors.

5. FATA reforms. They are happening. "If introduced, the recommendations will have legal, political, social and economic impacts on the area that could change the fate of the tribal people besides improving the security situation in the region and the rest of the country."

Re: the current Afghan conflict's "center of gravity," consider the following from a June 25th C-Span "Washington Journal" call-in interview with guest Anthony Cordesman:


"One of the problems we have, and you recognize the difference between the callers' positions, you don't get to choose your threats. You don't get to choose the conditions under which you can act. Very often the problems are not of our choosing. We can only do what host countries will support and are capable of supporting. With Afghanistan, I think the critical issue is if we do provide these extra troops, if we restructure the mission, boost the counterterrorism force -- and we already have -- increase the airpower effort, is that going to be enough? The only way to know is to try. The problem we have is these wars are civil and military conflicts. If we can't get reform, political unity, popular support for the government, the civil side is critical as the military side. Staying power depends not simply on our will, it depends critically on the Afghan Government. We have now more than a decade of promises, and very few of them have been kept. One key issue, and we said we were going to do this, is to make our presence conditional. To say very clearly to the Afghans, we can stay if you do your share. But that does require political, economic and social reform."

Based on the above, might we say that the present Afghan conflict's "center of gravity" -- in the context offered by Mr. Cordesman here -- this might be seen as:

The populations' support for their national and local governments? National and local governments that:

a. Do not exist -- in the face of present threats -- either by way of nor via the support of the population but, rather,

b. Only by way of and via the support of the U.S./the West?

Herein, these national and local governments only being able to remain in existence -- as Mr. Cordesman appears to imply here -- if they act:

a. Not as per the (many, varied and often contradictory?) wants, needs and desires of the populations of Afghanistan itself but, rather,

b. As per the (singular and consistent?) wants, needs and desires of the U.S./the West?

(As to this latter item, to see the requirement for political, economic, social [and dare we say "value?"] reform -- this, specifically more along alien and profane modern western lines -- to be what Mr. Cordesman is talking about above?)… (Go to the entry for 00:29:44.)


Mon, 06/26/2017 - 11:57pm

Azor wrote:-

‘Well, I regard Pakistan as an “evil” or “bad” actor from an objective perspective. Why? Because it is Pakistani state policy to suppress both communal self-determination (e.g. of the Pashtun collectively) and individual freedom (e.g. by imposing Islamism). ‘

I would suggest the foremost question we should ask is whether or not Pakistan’s state policy is effective? I would answer that it is. It is certainly very efficient in in terms of blood and treasure expended when compared to our own efforts. Furthermore, the political ends that Pakistan elites are hoping to achieve with their military means indicates - unlike our own political hopes- their military strategists are doing an exemplary job.

IMHO considerations that declare what is “bad” or “evil” leads us into a moral quagmire that inevitably gets us nowhere. The simple reason that questions of 'good' and 'evil' lead to a military strategy dead-end are that the moral aspect carries very little consequence when it comes to military strategy in general, and zero when it comes to Pakistan military strategy in particular.

Whether it be “bad” or “evil” for a vehicle loaded with school children, a wedding party, funeral procession, farm workers, US military personnel, whatever, to be blown 40 feet into the air (on either side of the Durrand Line) carries very little weight when shaping an effective strategy. What drives an effective strategist’s design is whether the consequence of the IED planted in the road boosts or undermines the net operational and/or strategic effect.

Folks often confuse tactics with tactical consequence and are dismissive of both whilst heralding the importance of strategy. Unfortunately that argument fails to appreciate there can be no necessarily strategic action, because strategic quality only and I repeat only, lies in the consequence of tactical behavior.

Islamism etc. suggests strategy by divine inspiration, ‘spheres of influence’ is map strategy and Field Manual Doctrine is ‘Happy Command’ strategy. Over the past 16 years the operational design conflagration of that unholy trilogy has kept us firmly stuck in a strategy shit-hole.

To quote Clausewitz - “Strategy is the use of the engagement (IED) for the war” or Gray - “Military strategy is the direction and use made of force (IED) or threat of force (IEDs) for state policy”. So, I hear you ask, what possible state policy could be served by slaughtering both friend and foe indiscriminately. Happily, enough there are only three reasons for such a state policy.

Fear – The Pakistan elite believe only an ungovernable space from the FATA westwards to the Iranian border and north as far as the Oxus River can eliminate the threat of a war on two fronts with their much bigger and more powerful Indian neighbor and/or a Pathan driven insurgency.

Honor – The light-skinned ethnic Persians beyond the Indus Valley have been their sworn enemy for 5000 years.

Interest - By creating a heightened sense of existential threat the elite can maintain their choke-hold on the economic and political power. There is an added ‘sweetener’ that has emerged in the last 30 years in that 90 percent of the heroin in the world is refined in Pakistan but grown in a conveniently ‘lawless Badlands’ - Afghanistan.

Thucydides’ triptych can define any state policy that employs military strategy to achieve a political end. The weighing of the triptych's three elements can grow and shrink in a constant state of flux, as operational consequences shape strategic effects.

Azor wrote:

‘Lastly, there is nothing “supernatural” about Islamism. It is merely a cultural/ideological difference. Given how the Punjab nation is carved up along sectarian as much as national lines, religion and its politics are very, very real, even if the religion itself is a human fantasy.’

In my experience morality and other human sentiments/fantasies (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism etc.) never penetrate the core of the triptych. So as to better execute their will many folks like to dress their fear, honor and interest in the garb of human fantasy to detract their unsuspecting victims/opponents.

The Russian elites lay claim to saving the Slavic race, the HoS cloak themselves as the guardians of God no less, the Iranian clergy the same god but from a murderously opposing direction and Pakistan’s elite the shield that protects the Land of Five Rivers.

It's fear,honor and interest that drives military strategy and it has been so for a very, very long time. The rest is bullshit.

We fell for the bullshit when anti-HoS political dissidents attacked us on 9/11 and we continue to fall for it now.



Well, I regard Pakistan as an “evil” or “bad” actor from an objective perspective. Why? Because it is Pakistani state policy to suppress both communal self-determination (e.g. of the Pashtun collectively) and individual freedom (e.g. by imposing Islamism). Islamabad’s efforts to control the Pashtun on both sides of the Durand Line have resulted in almost forty years of relentless war, irrespective of other foreign interventions in Afghanistan.

Pakistan could have neutralized Al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Afghanistan on the one hand, while supporting Taliban rule there, on the other. Yet as authors Scott-Clark and Levy noted in “The Exile” (2017), the ISI protected Al Qaeda after 9/11, despite the fact that Al Qaeda was not particularly concerned with either India or Iran, terrorizing Pakistan’s Shia minority or being content with ruling Afghanistan as a Pakistani fiefdom. Pakistan bears a great deal of blame for Al Qaeda’s attacks against the West, but I do not see how the West has destabilized Pakistan. If anything, Pakistan has been coddled in the interests of nuclear non-proliferation.

Given the choice between the Afghans backed by the Coalition and the Afghan backed by Pakistan, I would choose the former. If Afghanistan is left to the Taliban, there will be more ethnic and sectarian mass murder, more war and more sanctuaries for Islamists bent on attacking the West.

I have no illusions about the current Afghan government, if it is worthy of the name. But you seem to have illusions about how events will unfold if the West withdraws.


Thu, 01/13/2022 - 11:11am

In reply to by RantCorp


Wed, 06/21/2017 - 12:12pm

In reply to by RantCorp

To RantCorp:

Firstly, Pakistani development of the Taliban was not explicitly an anti-American initiative, but more in keeping with historical Pakistani designs on Afghanistan. Note that the CIA did not begin supporting the Northern Alliance (former Afghan Mujaheddin) until Afghanistan was in the midst of being conquered by the Taliban and Islamist terrorism was becoming an issue for both the CIA and the FBI (i.e. Al Qaeda).

Secondly, it is also difficult to parse Pakistani meddling in Afghanistan from Pakistani efforts to suppress Pashtun nationalism. Cross-border stateless ethnicities such as the Kurds, Balochis and Pashtuns are both feared as sources of domestic instability and sought after as tools of inflicting instability on one’s neighbors. The same is true of the Abkhaz and Ossetians. One might consider these regions the "human" variants of anti-access/area-denial zones, where the line between aggression and resistance, offense and defense, are blurred. Hold a grenade too long and becomes a threat to oneself more than the enemy.

Thirdly, the occupation of Afghanistan by major ground forces, instead of the SOF/intelligence teams blended with the Northern Alliance, was probably done due to criticisms of the effectiveness of Operation Allied Force in 1999, to give the Army and Marine Corps a leading role, and to placate the humanitarian interventionists within the Democratic Party by participating in development/peacekeeping missions. The bitter irony is that it would be a Democratic President, who would pursue the strategy of containment - attriting the Taliban from a relatively safe distance - that his predecessor should have done. Yes, Pakistan “had us by the balls”, but we also were also shaking their house of cards.

Fourth, dependence always begets resentment. Have you ever asked yourself why the Germans have such a relatively low opinion of the U.S. and enthusiastically discuss U.S. “transgressions” – whether in Germany, Japan, Vietnam, or Iraq – but politely refrain from discussing Soviet war crimes, the pollution from former Russian bases, Soviet/Russian wars, or the fate of East Prussia? Certainly, Pakistan is far less dependent on the U.S. than it has ever been, and has been cozying up to China as the U.S. and India drift toward an informal alliance to counter China’s rise. Nor does Beijing care about Islamabad’s “hobbies”, except insofar as the restive Uighurs and the “One Belt, One Road” initiative are concerned.

Lastly, there is nothing “supernatural” about Islamism. It is merely a cultural/ideological difference. Given how the Punjab nation is carved up along sectarian as much as national lines, religion and its politics are very, very real, even if the religion itself is a human fantasy.


Mon, 06/19/2017 - 11:20pm

In reply to by Azor

Azor wrote:

'However, I very much doubt that the state ever undertook a political decision to attack Americans and American interests.'

I'm sorry I but I have to disagree with you there. The Pak Army began its effort to oppose the US influence around the winter of 1985-86 when the Soviets let it be known they were leaving. The ISI shut down their support for the Muj and began the creation of their proxy army.....the Taliban.

The obvious need for US vengeance, brought on by 9/11, gave the Pak's pause as to the strategic consequence of opposing US interests (in the same manner in 1980 when the Soviet Army was feared to seek a 'warm-water port' on Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast) but that soon passed as we went off the rails pursuing non-existent threats.

However when we plowed into Afghanistan with our fuel-guzzling high-maintenance RMA mickey-mouse bullshit approach to UW they were once again emboldened and their agenda in Afghanistan was back to normal. The simple fact our logistic support passed thru 2000 kms of Pakistani territory meant they had us by the balls and our vain-glorious perfumed Generals would never admit we'd screwed the strategic pooch.

Azor wrote:

'Historically, Pakistan has relied upon the U.S. during its wars with India, for diplomatic, economic and materiel support, including the complete ignorance of Operation Searchlight.'

With the advent of home grown medium-range missile systems and tactical nuclear warhead payloads delivered by the same said missile systems, the Pak Army no longer needs anyone to maintain their choke-hold on the political/economic power within the region - if indeed they ever did.

And again:

'The Pakistani state is teeming with Islamists and Islamist terrorist sycophants'

Your persistence with the super-natural explanation for political maneuvering is something I find mystifying.If I may be so bold, Fear, Honor and Interest covers all the the bases - and has done so long before the latest super-natural inspired Broadway Joe's started to kick that can down the road.


Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:06pm

In reply to by RantCorp


The Pakistani state is teeming with Islamists and Islamist terrorist sycophants. However, I very much doubt that the state ever undertook a political decision to attack Americans and American interests. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not instruments of Pakistani state terror, regardless of the "active measures" that Pakistan takes against India, up to and including cross-border firing and threats of nuclear attack.

Leaving aside the millennia of socio-political developments in Central and South Asia, the present Afghan-Pakistani dynamic preceded U.S. intervention in the region, by some thirty to forty years.

Historically, Pakistan has relied upon the U.S. during its wars with India, for diplomatic, economic and materiel support, including the complete ignorance of Operation Searchlight.

Yet if the U.S. and Pakistan ever became engaged in a proxy war, the start date was some five years before 9/11, when the CIA was supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan, in a war which the latter nearly won before Operation Enduring Freedom began. In fact, OEF was a CIA plan from the late 1990s that former president Clinton did not approve.

A nuclear-armed state attacking the U.S., or a nuclear-armed non-state actor doing likewise, would be exponentially more destructive than the current harassing attacks of Islamist terrorists. That is why it is preferable to keep Pakistan close, particularly if the need arose to disarm her. Pull at a Pakistani thread and the state will come flying apart, nuclear warheads and all.

Iran is a different story altogether, as Teheran interpreted the JCPOA to give it carte blanche to develop ballistic missiles and intervene in other countries. Nor did Obama do much to dispel this notion, given his desperation for a "legacy", however fleeting. Given that some 30,000 to 35,000 Revolutionary Guards officers, Iranian regulars and Shia mercenaries from various countries keep Assad's minority rule a going concern, Iran has effectively invaded Syria. Washington is now putting the onus on Teheran to breach the JCPOA, whereas Obama had those roles reversed.

You will recall that during the Cold War, a number of American servicemen were murdered by the Yugoslavs, despite Washington wooing Tito and later including him in the Marshall Plan. Over one hundred servicemen have been murdered by the North Koreans since the armistice - to say nothing of the South Koreans and Japanese - and yet the U.S. has not retaliated once. Even as Nixon and Kissinger sought to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and China, the Chinese would shoot down a number of U.S. aircraft transiting to and from North Vietnamese airspace. Lastly, Soviet and Chinese servicemen directly fought American ones in North Korea and Vietnam, with no retaliation taken by the U.S., least of all in Afghanistan, where the CIA was anxious not to have a presence and to leave operational control to the ISI.


Mon, 06/19/2017 - 4:59am

In reply to by Azor

Obviously nobody is going to start a nuclear war but we need to treat governments that kill our troops and our friends in a fitting manner. Until recently Iran was treated as such but for reasons that escape me we decided to change that.....and look what happened.

The Gulf Fruitcake are no different and that looks about to change but there are no nukes there(we hope) so I believe Pakistan should be our number one priority for blowtorch diplomacy. Currently we actually give them money so they are better able to kill our people?!!!


Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:43am

In reply to by RantCorp


It would seem as though you largely agree with my response to the article.

The Punjabi have their own internal divisions and dynamics with other groups, such as the Pashtun.

Convincing those elites to knock it off with "Pashtunistan" since the advent of the "Islamic bomb", would be akin to convincing Germany to knock it off in Bohemia and Moravia in 1940.


Sun, 06/18/2017 - 9:08am

The COG of the war in Afghanistan is the political interests of the elites who inhabit the Punjab. It has been thus for 5000 years. It never ceases to amaze me how folks conjure up so much 'dead white man' bullshit when attempting to fathom the root-cause of a political conflict that was driving communal violence a thousand years before the Great Pyramid was built.

Given that the U.S./the West and re: our political, economic, social and value expansionist designs in the current era (much as was the case with the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War and re: their similar political, economic, social and value expansionist ambitions back then); given that we, like the Soviets/the communist before us, have now encountered:

a. "Systems of Opposition" (… see the second paragraph of the major subsection entitled "The Strategic Imperative") and, thus,

b. "Threat Networks" (…)

Given this such similar dynamic/this such similar reality (common to the Old Cold War and to our era today also?), should we not be looking at/looking for a "center of gravity" which is more consistent with -- and thus which better addresses -- this exact such overarching "enemy" dynamic/this such exact Rest of the World "enemy" reality?

Thus, a "center of gravity" which takes into account:

a. The similarities between the Old Cold War and our era today? And which accordingly takes into account:

b. The similarities in the "Systems of Opposition" and "Threat Networks" which, then as now, developed and sprang forward therein?

(AFPAK, after all, being only one component of the "System of Opposition"/the "Threat Network" reality/dynamic which -- in the Old Cold War yesterday and again in our current era -- [a] formed and then [b] stood; this, directly in the way of the political, economic, social and value ambitions of the key "expansionist" great nations of these, respective, times?)

Bottom Line Question:

What is the -- common it would seem -- "center of gravity" that addresses all of the above and which, thus, explains:

a. Not how to stand against and/or defeat an individual component of the "Systems of Opposition"/the "Threat Networks" identified above (for example, the Taliban or the Islamists) but, rather, tells us:

b. How to stand against -- and defeat -- this/these entire Rest of the World "enemy" conglomeration(s). (Which today versus the U.S./the West, as in the Old Cold War and versus the Soviets/the communist back then, includes both great nations and small and both state and non-state actors enemies.)

This article "almost" gets it, but becomes bogged down in lingo and theory. Allow me to retort:

Firstly, the Taliban are not the COG in Afghanistan. Rather, the Pashtun people themselves are the COG. Why? Because they are a nation divided by two fragile states. On the one hand, Pashtun society is structured tribally and extremely socially conservative, due in part to the vicissitudes of local geography. But on the other, Islamism and tribalism are also the instruments of central authority, used to both co-opt the Pashtun as auxiliaries and to prevent their realization of self-determination through sovereignty.

Secondly, the Taliban are a deliberate perversion of “Pashtunwali” by the Pakistani state. The Taliban was created to further the Islamist social engineering began in the 1970s, to preserve the territorial integrity of Pakistan by channeling nationalism into sectarianism, to redirect tendencies toward political or sectarian violence outward, and to project power and influence into Afghanistan. Yet given that Pakistan’s most pressing concern is its conflict with India to the east, why should Pakistan care about the Pashtun to the north? Because Pakistan is a multiethnic and indeed multi-sect state, subject to centrifugal forces. If any one part of Pakistan spins away, the rest will collapse, and Pakistan remembers the Bangladeshi War of Independence, which saw its population and territory decimated, in addition to a humiliating loss to India. How can Islamabad keep the Shias and Balochis quiescent if the Pashtun are permitted to go their own way?

Third, the COG for reforming Pashtun society is in fact reforming the Pakistani state itself. No degree of local autonomy, federalism or devolution of authority and power in Afghanistan will end the Taliban insurgency. If the southern and Pashtun areas of Afghanistan are left to their own devices, the Taliban will advance north to impose their will on the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks, as they did prior to the NATO invasion. If the Pashtun are forcibly integrated into a strong unitary Afghan state, the Taliban will continue to make themselves felt from across the Durand Line in northern Pakistan. As long as Pakistan holds its Pashtun as a captive nation, the Taliban will always have a “revolutionary base” from which to conduct a “people’s war”. I also doubt that Pakistan would be willing to annex southern Afghanistan so as to bring the Pashtun together, as this would lead to demands for autonomy or sovereignty of Islamabad and turn the Taliban insurgency inward. As Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state with a growing arsenal, convincing it to change course with respect to the Pashtun and Taliban would be as difficult as convincing Russia to change course with respect to the Chechens and “Kadyrovtsi”.

Lastly, the only possible future for Afghanistan as a functional state and society is if the non-Pashtun groups form a truly civic nation. The south will always be a no-man’s land where emergent threats will have to be dealt with by UCAVs and SOF/intelligence teams. For Washington, the strategic importance of keeping close enough to Islamabad to monitor and potentially secure its nuclear arsenal, far outweighs the strategic importance of holding southern Afghanistan.

J Harlan

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 7:53pm

In reply to by Bill C.

If we can prevent the enemy from executing his plans will we be more likely to win? Obviously. Has there been any general ever who thought differently?

The question is what part of all his capabilities is the key. The COG. In a battle this might be a hill top, a bridge or a supply route. In a campaign it might be the LOCs. In a war it might be the electrical grid (as the USAAF thought in WW 2 of Germany)but as you move up in scale attacking the COG (if it even exists) becomes far more difficult. You end up identifying things like "morale" (really killing and dehousing civilians) as the COG, which is what RAF Bomber Command spent three years attacking. The British and US COGs in the European theater were probably their navies as well but the Germans had no way to destroy them. Or was it US aircraft and tank production? Or code breaking? US oil production? Steel production?

On the war level it would seem that it's possible not to have a destroyable COG either through redundancy and or simplicity. In America's major wars distance has also protected what might have been it's COG- industrial production. In Afghanistan the dispersion, multiple supply sources and uncoordinated nature of the enemy probably means there is no COG.

Bill C.

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 5:45pm

In reply to by J Harlan

I tend to appreciate Sun Tzu's version of the COG.

Herein to ask:

If the Soviets/the communists, in the Old Cold War, had been able to successfully attack and defeat the "containment" and "roll back" strategies of the Rest of the World back-in-the-day, then -- with the coast thus clear -- would they (the Soviets/the communist) not then have been able to, much more-easily, much more-efficiently and much more-quickly, achieve their strategic objective; which was, to transform the outlying states and societies of the world more along Soviet/communist political, economic, social and value lines?

Likewise to ask:

If the U.S/the West can successfully attack and defeat the "containment" and "roll back" strategies of much of the Rest of the World today (in this regard, for example, think those of Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea and the Islamists), then -- with these "obstructionist" measures thus defeated -- would not the U.S./the West, likewise, be able to, much more easily (etc.) achieve its strategic objective; which is, to transform the outlying states and societies of the world more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines?

Thus, to see Sun Tsu's version of the COG as, indeed, having great value?

This, given that his version of the COG does not, in fact, appear to address a gross generality, such as "preventing the enemy from doing what he wants to do." (As you rightfully indicate, this might including anything and everything that the enemy might want to do -- for example -- take a shower.)

Rather, and in stark contrast, Sun Tzu's version of the COG appears to address a single, solitary, very specific and very exact thing within this "preventing the enemy from doing what he wants to do" category; this being: carry out his (the enemy's) strategy. (As to this, see my "containment" and "roll back" strategy examples above.)

And in this regard, I suggest, Sun Tzu's version of the COG certainly does not appear to be vague and/or all-encompassing -- and, thus, be of little value/useless.

Rather, Sun Tzu's version of the COG appears to be exceptionally clear and exceptionally specific -- and, thus, "dead on" -- and, accordingly, appears of offer great usefulness, and great value, to COG discussions; here on SWJ and, indeed, elsewhere.

J Harlan

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 3:37pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

The Center of Gravity can't be two things. If there are bunch of COGs then they're just priority targets.

Didn't Ho Chi Minh die before North Vietnam won? Where are OBL and Mullah Omar?

The comment attributed to Sun Tzu is worthless. Of course it's important to prevent the enemy from doing what he wants to do. That doesn't mean there is a COG unless you stretch the definition to encompass everything. Which again makes it meaningless.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 9:11am

In reply to by J Harlan

I am always reminded of what some dead guys said. Pretty much common sense.

“In a national insurrection the center of gravity to be destroyed lies in the person of the chief leader and in public opinion; against these points the blow must be directed.” Clausewitz, 1832.

“Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy.” - Sun Tzu

Of course dead Carl also said that in war everything is simple but event the simplest thing is hard (and I would saw that applies to the entire spectrum of conflict and politics). The above are simple concepts to state but are both difficult to execute.

J Harlan

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 12:32am

I doubt this is what the inventors of COG intended it to mean but this article is an example of the convoluted thought process required to dream one up. I doubt COGs exist above a tactical level.

For the record there is no COG in Afghanistan. There is not one person,small group of people, place or capability that if destroyed would cause the resistance to crumble. Surrender, accommodation or withdrawal are not attacks on the COG.

"It must be understood that the success of the revolutionaries is not due to the application of new principles of warfare, or psychological warfare, or to the technical efficiency of the revolutionary forces and their tactics, or to the terrain, in spite of their importance. These factors, no matter how favorable, would not be sufficient for success. The number of warriors armed with rifles and hand grenades also is not the decisive factor.

The decisive factor is more in the nature of power. And the success of the revolutionaries, in this regard, can primarily be attributed to two extraordinary factors, namely, their closeness and appeal to the populations -- that is their ability to win over the populations -- and their ideological conviction.

Communists, although champions of materialism, have succeeded in perfecting a method of exploiting human factors, which they regard as being of primary importance. On the other hand, the Free World, inherently less materialistic, tends to think and act more in terms of the material elements of a given situation, and less out of consideration of human factors."

(The "human factor" here being understood -- in this 1962 article by COL Bjelajac -- to be the items that address a population's more-important "spiritual"/"ideological" requirements -- and not, as it were, their less-important "material" wants, needs and desires?) (see page 79)

If, as COL Bjelajac appears to suggest here, the "center of gravity" is to be understood more in such "nature of power" terms, to wit:

a. The closeness and appeal (of the revolutionaries in this case) to the population -- that is, their ability to win over the populations,

b. Their (the revolutionaries' in this case) ideological conviction. And

c. Their (again, in this instance, the revolutionaries') ability to meet the population's spiritual/human -- rather than material/non-less-human(?) -- needs.

Then how do we -- logically -- attack, undermine, marginalize and/or eradicate this/these exact such (human factor-centric?) COG(s)?

(In this regard, must we not, via something like a Marshall Plan, cause these populations to, much as the populations of the U.S./the West did long ago, [a] abandon/reduce/marginalize/downgrade the value, the significance and the prominence of their "spiritual" life and [b] replace same with a greater devotion to, and worship of, shall we say, material goods/money/"stuff?")

Bottom Line Thought:

Given the stark differences considered in the principal/primary/more prominent "values" of (a) the more-modern (materialism now rules) versus (b) the less-modern (spiritualism still reigns) states, societies and civilizations of the world,

Then can we not, accordingly, understand the apparent -- and current -- "clash of civilizations" (the more-modern/more-materialistic "West," et al, versus the less-modern/less-materialistic "Rest"); this, in exactly these such "spiritualism versus materialism" terms?

If so, then, logically, must we not -- in order to "convert the heathen" (and reap the security, prosperity, and material benefits related to same) -- apply all of our instruments of power and persuasion in an effort to discredit, marginalize, undermine and/or otherwise properly subordinate the "spiritual" in these less-modern states, societies and civilizations? This, so that we might adequately elevate and advance, in the place of same, the "material" in these populations' way of life, their way of governance and their related values, attitudes and beliefs?

(Or would this such approach not -- in all likelihood -- play directly into our enemies' "defend the spiritual at all costs," human factor-related/human factor-oriented/human factor-centric strategic hand?)

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 8:29am

In reply to by Azor

The nature of conflict is what it is, caring little for who the actors or factors are in any particular example. Is Pakistan a stakeholder in the current conflict in Afghanistan? Of course they are. Unlike the US they actually have a vital national interest at stake and have a clear understanding of the culture and character of parties involved. Like the Scorpion and the frog, Pakistan is not good or evil, they just are who they are. Likewise for the US. Understanding the nature of any conflict is not colored by who one things the good and right, or bad and wrong parties are.

And by any pragmatic assessment, the US approach to Afghanistan has done far more to damage Pakistan than anything Pakistan's approach to Afghanistan has done to damage the US. I realize emotion-based assessments will differ.

As to reconciliation, NO ONE IS INTERESTED IN IT. The Government of Afghanistan has been lying to us for years that they are going to lead a reconciliation process, but in this deeply patronage-based culture where there are only winners and losers, and nothing in between, to compromise is to become the loser. No, they will lie to us to keep us their protecting their illegitimate (put in power and sustained in power by a foreign nation/coalition is de facto illegitimate) reign as long as possible. And we are falling for it.

At the end of the day, for US interests in the region, so long as we get to a more functional relationship with Pakistan and are willing to work with whomever rises to power in Afghanistan, we will be far better off than by continuing to attempt to force the solution we think is best for us. Afghanistan is indeed a land where "the strong do what they can, and the weak endure what they must." To attempt to put the weak in charge is a fools errand.


Wed, 06/14/2017 - 12:35pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


We meet again…

I agree with your dismissal of the COG concept with regard to Afghanistan.

Yet I completely disagree with your arguments around “resistance” and “revolutionary” guerrilla warfare.

Prior to NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had spent decades waging a war of aggression and often extermination against the Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks of north-central Afghanistan. As the Taliban were created on Pakistani soil from the children of Afghan Pashtun refugees following the withdrawal of the Soviets, and given that the Taliban were fighting an alliance of groups led by Afghan commanders who had fought the Soviets, it is clear who the foreign occupier was: Pakistan.

The Taliban are not interested in reconciling the Pashtun with the other communities of Afghanistan. Nor are they interested in mere local autonomy for the Pashtuns in the south. They want to finish what they started decades ago, and it took genocide for them to conquer as much of Afghanistan as they did. Yes, Bob: genocide. The “g-word”. For all of the Pashtun wedding parties wrongly targeted or struck by an errant bomb, and for all of the non-Pashtuns in the ANA and ANP who treat the Pashtuns as second-class citizens, there is absolutely no comparison to the horrors meted out by the Taliban to the non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan for over a decade.

Perhaps after the U.S. is finally forced to disarm Pakistan – which will happen one day – the Pashtun can be given true self-determination along with the other captive minorities of Pakistan.


Robert C. Jones

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 3:38pm

To be clear up front, debating COGs is like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But, being a glutton for punishment, I'll toss my own 2 cents on the table.

First, there are two forms of insurgency going on in Afghanistan, resistance warfare insurgency against our foreign occupation; and revolutionary insurgency against the government that we put in place and have stayed to attempt to keep in place all these many years. I think revolutionary insurgency is more accurately a form of illegal democracy than irregular war, but that is another paper altogether.

So, the COG of the resistance is the foreign presence dedicated to manipulating the governance of Afghanistan. Remove that presence, or perhaps even that purpose, and the resistance insurgency warfare will quickly subside. Pull the thorn from the lion's paw.

As to the revolutionary insurgency, that is a much more complex matter, with so many factors reasonably motivating various aspects of the Afghan population to feel compelled to act out illegally in efforts to coerce change on this government. But if I were to pick one thing, one event that caused the population to decide they could not simply wait this out and let nature take its course, was the adoption of the current Constitution of Afghanistan that essentially codified a PONZI scheme, counter-culture, monopoly of governance and patronage power into the hands of a small number of power brokers who saw the opportunity to reverse their personal, family and tribal fortune through collaboration with the US-led invasion. Kill that vile document and force a true reconciliation program with associated constitutional Loya Jirga aimed at devising a new guide more in step with the culture of the place, and I suspect the revolution would fade to a manageable level as well.

But don't hate the players, hate the game. More importantly, understand the game.