Small Wars Journal

The Men Who Would Govern Marjah

Sat, 02/20/2010 - 7:48pm
The Men Who Would Govern Marjah

by William S. McCallister

Download the full article: The Men Who Would Govern Marjah

Initial reports are optimistic. The combined Afghan and Coalition forces have successfully penetrated into the Taliban heartland and are well on their way toward securing a key population center. Taliban resistance is weak and disorganized. The local market-place has been liberated from the poppy-mafia. The Afghan national flag flies once again over Marjah.

The popular press describes the battle for Marjah in simple cause and effect narratives. The Taliban, disorganized and weak have quit the town. Civil administrators stand ready to assume the reigns of governance and to initiate economic reforms. Economic development projects will attract the local population to the central government. Enhanced security will encourage the locals to pledge their loyalty to the Karzai regime.

Reshaping the political economy of Marjah is a critical task in winning Afghanistan's population centric counterinsurgency. Afghan forces must be able to compel law and order, impose taxes and draft manpower. They must build new schools, set up health clinics, upgrade the irrigation system, fix the roads and convince farmers and merchants to cultivate and sell something other than poppies and opium. The premise is simple: secure the market-place, fix, upgrade and adapt the infrastructure, administer market commodities and you command the population.

While simple cause and effect narratives make for good reading, cultural complexity is inseparable from the study of cause and effect, especially in a place like Marjah. We continually espouse what we believe ought to happen but rarely how a given political or economic initiative might actually play itself out within a given cultural context. What might the Afghan approach to gaining a foothold in Marjah look like? How might the landowners, merchants and farmers, civil administrators, leaders of the Afghan National Army (ANA), local police, local fighters, and allies of the Taliban interact with one another? How might the imposition of government authority in Marjah play itself out? How might elements of the ANA and police support government administrators in imposing a central authority?

Download the full article: The Men Who Would Govern Marjah

William S. McCallister is a retired military officer. He has worked extensively in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. While on active duty, McCallister served in numerous infantry and special operations assignments specializing in civil-military, psychological and information operations. He is a published author in military affairs and tribal warfare and has guest lectured at Johns Hopkins University and presented numerous papers at academic and government sponsored conferences such as the Watson Institute, Brown University, Department of the Navy Science and Technology, DARPA, and the Central Intelligence Agency. He has also appeared as a guest on National Public Radio (NPR). McCallister is currently employed as a senior consultant for Applied Knowledge International (AKI). He continues to study current events in Iraq and Afghanistan in tribal terms, including the tribal art of war and peace, tribal mediation processes, development of tribal centers of power, and tribal influence in political developments.

About the Author(s)


Mr. M (not verified)

Tue, 04/27/2010 - 8:35am

Mr. McCallister,

I've followed a few of your assessments regarding COIN operation or Atmospheric Conditions within Iraq and now Afghanistan's southern provinces. I completely agree with your focus on establishing an economy outside of the opium industry. As someone currently in the AO I can appreciate where youre coming from. However, if a basis focused on stimulating the economy (in Marjah or any other city) is to be founded, the relationship between the ANP and the people must be addressed. The ANP is where "the rubber meets the road." The peoples concerns and issues need to have a reliable channel to be filtered through. If the tribal elders are incapable to handle their concerns the people need to have faith they can turn to their appointed officials for guidance. If not, then you'll have another police chief with something else he can hold over the people and as weve all seen before, the TB will re establish a foot hold by offering "another solution" to the peoples concerns.

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 03/01/2010 - 7:50pm

For those who are interested, one can go over to the "Debating Afghanistan" thread (Feb 25 12:12PM and Feb 27 10:13PM) and see me trying to work some more with this "top down" theory and approach.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sat, 02/27/2010 - 2:41pm

Before I lose myself in the global insurgency conversation, would it be possible for someone to tell me the critical assumptions, propositions, normative biases, invented traditions, and global pretensions that make "global insurgency" a viable concept.

What are the various international relations approaches and theories expressed in the "global insurgency" paradigm? Is it classical realism, modernization theory, political and economic development theory, collective defense and security, complex interdependency, globalism, hegemonic stability, balance of power or threat, international regime theory, intergovernmentalism, or etcetera?

I guess it is a simple model: global insurgency is a response to global governance forcing global governance to respond to global insurgency.

Mr. Jones suggests that the U.S. is the "top" entity in an international entities system. It is the top entity that is most responsible for the successes and failures of global governance. Top-down driven solutions are the norm in global governance. Is this correct?

I am not sure that our top-down solutions are going to work in Afghanistan. Our normative biases and invented traditions dont seem to resonate with the locals in the countryside. It seems, based on the indicators that modernization theory doesnt apply in Afghanistan. Too bad really, since it appears that much of our population centric counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine is based on this theory. Our contemporary population centric counterinsurgency (COIN) approach to regime change and global governance, although expressing a kindler-gentler way to forced modernization and indirect rule, isnt working in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is not a graveyard of empires as previously thought. Afghanistan is the graveyard of modern social and organizational theories and individuals that believe top-down planning and execution trumps parochialism (Marxist Khalq Party, Soviet Union, dare I say U.S.).

On the other hand, it is fascinating to watch those who are selling snake oil, magic beans, and elixirs and those that purchase the stuff because they believe these products will cure what ails them. Too bad I am missing out on this racket. I too want to exploit the continuing struggle between the universalists and relativists and earn some green selling my suck.


Bob's World

Fri, 02/26/2010 - 9:24pm

Clearly the US must evolve (and are evolving, with the GWOT being a phase heavily weighted toward employment of the military to force populaces elsewhere to conform to the governments we've carefully crafted for them) in our approach to foreign policy, just as the world is evolving rapidly these days due to the new information technologies.

The TTP of installing and supporting "Friendly Dictators" used to be a rock solid way to manage one's interests in a foreign land. Personally, I think it is on its last legs. Those rogues can no longer control information, and in turn can no longer control their populaces. At least not in ways that we find tolerable when splashed across the 24-hour news service. Granted, the heavy hand does get a "by" when it is portrayed as being "counterterrorism," even if it is just one of our pocket rouges delivering the good news to his own dissident/insurgent populace.

The times, they are a changing...

(Oh, and I don't see "civil war" in Afghanistan, people here just don't care about government stuff that much. What you see is a competition for who controls the money making, influence peddling positions; with strong tribal / family affiliations as they all profit or suffer depending on if they are "in" or "out."

I meet a hell of a lot of ANA Generals that worked with the Soviets; and people in the hinter lands often think we are Russians (ok, so this information age isn't quite out to everyone yet). Point being, this is much more about knowing when to jump on the band wagon, and when to hedge ones bets. The winners get the lionshare of the $64B poppy business and the road tolls, and now, Coalition funding. This country is a Ponzi scheme, and everyone wants to be Bernie Madoff (or at least his cousin)

Bill (not verified)

Fri, 02/26/2010 - 8:49pm


And, thereby, embracing the philosophy of "transformation" ourselves, instead of placing this burden on others?

Bill (not verified)

Fri, 02/26/2010 - 8:31pm

What if we were to consider:

(1) The problem of a "global insurgency,"

(2) from the standpoint of Mr. Jones' Feb 25 11:43 PM comment above,

(3) with the United States being acknowledged as the entity "at the top" of global affairs and therefore the one most responsible for global governance successes and failures.

How then do we resolve the problem of an obvious United States global governance failure (as evidenced by the recent event of a global insurgency); addressing the problem, as Mr. Jones has suggested, from the top down rather than from bottom up?

Could the answer be: By the United States and other such nations of the world becoming (1) less wasteful, (2) more efficient and (3) more self-sufficient?

Or are there better answers to this question?


Why do some call curret insurgencies post-Mao? Is it because communism is no longer in vogue? From what I've read, Mao methodology is still valid.


"It actually is quite probable that we are saying one thing and in reality doing something else. Dust off the surge narrative, sprinkle in a little population centric pixie dust; insinuate that Col. George Amland, deputy commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand province is just not thoughtful enough to make the population centric thing a go, all the while selling the effort through the images of smiling faces, looking confidently into a centrally governed statist future."

I think you nailed it.



"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 02/26/2010 - 4:16pm

Jason: You are very welcome. Id like to add that you might actually be correct when you say that the local population prefers the Taliban and that they always will. You might actually be on to something if you believe that this war is unwinnable. But you are wrong when you say that the reason that this war is unwinnable is because it is immoral. Morality has nothing to do with it.

Carl: I missed you brother. It actually is quite probable that we are saying one thing and in reality doing something else. Dust off the surge narrative, sprinkle in a little population centric pixie dust; insinuate that Col. George Amland, deputy commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand province is just not thoughtful enough to make the population centric thing a go, all the while selling the effort through the images of smiling faces, looking confidently into a centrally governed statist future.

A "Government-in-a-box" exists. The Afghan National Army (ANA) is in the lead and running things and the civil administrator has assumed his duties. Carl, you have a very bad habit of looking behind the curtain. Please stop. It embarrasses the wizard.

Ergo, the reason for publishing the "The Men Who Would Govern Marjah" article in the (on) Small Wars Journal. The "weaken, isolate, attract, integrate" mental model may help in wargaming how Afghan government outsiders might actually go about establishing government authority regardless of how we might spin the effort.



Fri, 02/26/2010 - 3:02pm

"The U.S military is conducting a foreign internal defense (FID) mission in support of the Karzai government."

Well, Mac, it's quite possible that we're simply saying that we're doing that, but in reality doing something else.

There is a long history of his in the COIN literature, some of which isn't really all that old (pssst! Anbar!).

Perhaps we're fighting many wars in many places with many different tools but selling it through the images and words recounted for Marjah: "Government-in-a-box" and blah blah blah.

We obviously can't help a "government" that doesn't exist locally, even if we say that it does, even if we insist in its inherent legitimacy and appeal.

We also can't declare that the ANA is "in the lead" unless it's really running things and we're in the background.

Perhaps I'm only noting the disconnect between what seems to be the facts on the ground and how they're actually framed for public consumption (here, there, everywhere else).

I'm quite convinced that eventually we might discover the nature of this war is NOT a push to quickly "out govern" the Taliban or a FID mission to build up the security forces so that they might muster the monopoly of violence in their section of the Hindu Kush.

We might realize, as we did in Iraq, that it's a retributively sectarian civil war, and that we shall pick sides and articulate our force and suasion in such a manner to defeat what really is a largely Pasthun enemy facing off against ethnic enemies (Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara, et al). We still might sell it as that FID mission or some silliness about "out governing" the enemies, but that doesn't mean it shall be so.

Marjah might be the best example of that.

I'm not saying that I believe this to be the sitrep, but it's often discussed as such.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 02/26/2010 - 12:18pm

Brother Mike: No worries. Your critique, comments and contributions to the conversation are valid and welcome. I accept your critique, comments and contributions in the spirit intended. Keep those comments coming.

COL Jones: Ever serve in Heidelberg or Bragg?

What if picking a buddy who is politically, financially and personally beholden to me (patronage) and installing him in some outlying province, valley or village to run the place, collect taxes and manage the locals IS the accepted form of governance in a particular culture? Would we respect this system of governance or would we attempt to change it?

I personally think its sad when social scientists, media personalities, politicos and pundits believe that all that is needed to fix Afghanistan is to explain what ought to happen. This might be an example of the uneasy relationship between the scholar and practitioner. The scholar knows what must be done. The practitioner does the best he can.

Our population centric counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine briefs well, but is challenged in its execution. There is no historical precedence I am able to find where a mother-may-I approach to systematically and drastically transforming a given society has actually worked.

I agree. The U.S. military is not fighting a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. We are assisting the Karzai government in its counterinsurgency. The U.S military is conducting a foreign internal defense (FID) mission in support of the Karzai government.

Isnt shaping (shaping equals controlling) political outcomes what COIN is all about? Our participation in the battle for Marjah is shaping the political outcome. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The reality: fighting is a form of negotiation. Diplomacy and politics is not only for politicians anymore. The challenge: our population centric COIN doctrine requires that our soldiers and Marines think politically and act socially.

What these little wars require are more strategists vice military planners.

Where should the Afghan government draw the line for admitting weakness. You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time (apologies to Abraham Lincoln). We take for granted that the raw power of the state remains hidden behind the rule of law. Not sure if the "blood in the water" approach to fixing government is the appropriate approach in Afghanistan.

It may be true that Dr. Maslows hierarchy of needs applies to all peoples around the world but the verdict is still out on the universal acceptance of western social fixes.


Jason (not verified)

Fri, 02/26/2010 - 11:51am

Hey all,

Surely you understand Afghanistan is unwinnable? All you will achieve is the wasted lives of coalition troops and Afghan civilians. You can never win this war, because this war is immoral. Lets face up to the truth the ONLY reason the coalition are there is to clear the way for a gas pipeline through Afghanistan and into Pakistan. There has never been ANY plan to provide democracy, freedom and all the other BS used to justify this immoral war. Get the f**k out of the country, we don't belong there and we will only ever inflict suffering and misery. The local population prefer the Taliban and they always will, so stop wasting everyone's money, time and lives and leave.


Bob's World

Fri, 02/26/2010 - 12:43am

I can only base my comments upon my own training and experience; colored by the perceptions gained here on the ground as a member of the Coalition speaking daily with Afghans, and with others who engage with Afghans. Many still with the mud of Marjah fresh on their boots.

Its not the only perspective, but I believe it is one that deserves a place at the table.

If you see only darkness on the path you are on, step back for a minute and consider this:

1. What if insurgency and COIN are not "warfare" at all, but merely another form of civil emergency which requries the careful, civilian directed and controlled, application of military resources when the emergency exceeds the capacity of the civil government infrastructure?

2. What if insurgencies can only be resolved from the top down, rather than the bottom up. Addressing the failures of governance, rather than simply setting out to get the populace to conform to the governance provided?

3. What if for all of their cultural differences, people around the world are still people, and require and desire the same fundamental criteria described by Dr. Maslow; and what if it is those needs on the TOP of his pyramid that cause insurgency rather than those at the bottom?

Pause and consider the path less taken. You may find that it leads you to the enlightenment that you seek.

(Or it may merely lead you to some intellectual vantage points that allow you to gain fresh perspectives on the positions you already hold.)

Col Jones,

Sir, how does your comments fit within this context? So far removed from the world thay you, I , Mac, Carl, or Joshua may see it concerned only with house value and investment portforlios.

"We live in a culture that promotes democratic values of being fair to one and all, the importance of fitting into a group, and knowing how to cooperate with other people. We are taught early on in life that those who are outwardly combative and aggressive pay a social price: unpopularity and isolation. The values of harmony and cooperation are perpetuated in subtle and not-so-subtle ways- through books on how to be successful in life; through the pleasant, peaceful exteriors that those who have gotten ahead in the world present to the public; through notions of correctness that saturate the public space. The problem for us is that we are trained and prepared for peace, and we are not at all prepared for what confronts us in the real world- war."

-Greene, The 33 Strategies of War, 2006, p. xv

Bob's World

Thu, 02/25/2010 - 10:37pm

Governments must be perceived as legitimate (not merely "official") in the eyes of the governed; and then they must actually extend governance to the same.

As a companion piece, that same populace must possess the degree of certain control over who that governance is that is appropriate for their particular culture.

Now maybe that happens when Mr. Karzai picks a buddy who is then personally and financially beholding to him; and then has that "Governor" delivered to the populace in a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter, and guarded by a mix of US and loyal Afghan security forces. Maybe.

I'm just picturing King George picking a buddy who is personally and financially beholding to him, and then having that "Governor" delivered to the people of Boston on a British Warship, and guarded by a mix of British and loyal Colonial security forces.

Somebody call the head of the IO department, we have a problem here! Don't you hate it when people re-gift to you some piece of crap that someone else gave to them first?

Some key intervention thoughts:

1. Never think you are the one conducting COIN

2. Never try to control political outcomes

3. Be empathetic, but don't mirror image

4. Ensure there is a legitimate government in place first, or be willing to enable that aspect first (while adhering to points 1-3).

5. For every situation you attempt to manipulate, never forget that you are being manipulated just as much. If you think you are too smart to be manipulated, go home, because by that very position you are way to dumb to be doing this.

That said, there is nothing wrong with the military operation in Marjah, the military's role is to shape conditions to allow the politicians to resolve the insurgency. Marjah is as good of a place as any. Key is to remember that the military operations are just the shaping operations, and the political operations are the decisive ones.

Hi Mac,

My last reply was offered as a critique NOT a criticism. Take it for what it's worth (I'm just a young army major still learning :)). I really enjoyed your article and the new point/counter-point between you and Carl Prine.

So, as to indirect methods. For the past two years, I've been studying "other" approaches than sending in a regular army unit to drop the hammer and occupy a village.

On the military side, we have the traditional SF FID missions, the Jim Gant tribal "revolt," and the RA venture into SFA.

On the non-military side, we have numerous approaches from the IMF and UN top-down nation-building to grass roots NGOs like Greg Mortenson, Mohammed Yunnis' micro-finance, Libby/Len's conflict resolution in Palestine/Israel, and police efforts throughout the US to counter gangs and drugs.

I'm still in the observe mode. Eventually, I'd like to analyze each method in further detail to discuss what works and what doesn't work.



"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 02/25/2010 - 3:46pm


I believe you know that I do not believe our assumptions and social theories which shape our population centric approach are appropriate for Afghanistan. In my opinion, we have turned into a one-trick pony. We are unable to disassociate ourselves from the idea that COIN is always a struggle for mens minds and not territory; economic and social programs can always reestablish popular support for an established government; government forces can always inoculate vulnerable populations against insurgent propaganda and terror.

In my opinion, we have created a Kobayashi Maru scenario for ourselves. We cant beat the scenario, but cant bring ourselves to change the premise of the game. Having said this and because I personally have not been offered a chair at the adult table; we must continue to do our best to help our soldiers and Marines on the ground. It seems to me that you are trying to change the premise of the game.

I believe that our current assumptions and social theories (modernization, political and economic development theories) force us into a Populace Resource Control (PRC) requirement, no matter the mantra that COIN is a struggle for mens hearts and minds not territory. My personal opinion is that "hearts and minds" expressed as social work has no place in a shame and honor culture. It is misinterpreted as weakness. I cant help but think that many of our well intentioned, social programs in both Iraq and Afghanistan have done for specific communities what public housing has done for the inner city. Where is the ownership?

Your beast and habitat analogy is perfect. Your question whether different centers of gravity (capabilities, requirements, and vulnerabilities) exist is very appropriate. Different social centers of gravity exist. But that doesnt matter right now. We are unwilling to accept the notion that the locals might not buy into our worldview or that we are too highly invested in a social work approach to warfare.

Yes, if we seek to kill the beast, then we should target those centers of gravity that feed and shelter him throughout his habitat. But if this is the case, then we are no longer following a population centric approach but a beast centric one... or am I mistaken? Where is Gian Gentile when you need him?



Thu, 02/25/2010 - 1:48pm

Of course I was referring to the earliest critiques of HAM! But why should I add to commonsensical definitions already part of the literature, Mac?

But regardless of whether we spatchcock White or explore in deeper detail the "government-in-a-box" nnotions of McChrystal, I'm still not convinced that the essentialist conception of hearts and minds was ever valid and is especially valid in today's post-Maoist struggles.

The real point of my critique wasn't on "population," however, but on "control." To me, the agency of this control is immaterial -- if we could do so on our own, we would wield the proper coercion or compulsion over the population until such time that the host government could catch up.

More to the point, the real aspect is what is to be controlled. As a feral, criminal phenomenon that also exhibits strong anti-imperialistic and anti-statist characteristics, the various Taliban comprising the bulk of the "enemy" thwarting our goals can exploit the population in many ways.

The most crucial one is for the inputs necessary to sustain the rebellion. But even if we cleave the "population" from the insurgent in the most draconian fashion, this particular phenomenon is blessed with foreign donations from the Muslim diaspora; the skimming of our very own redevelopment aid in order for the programs to continue; and the fruits of safeharbor across the fictional colonial border.

Those other inputs (some endogenous, some exogenous) are enough to sustain the various Taliban militias for some time and likely quite sufficient to feed the war machine against the weaker Afghan national forces.

So, is the center of gravity really the people of Marjah? Or is it elsewhere, dispersed across time zones although with the hands sticking most often on the clock face of Pakistan's ungoverned Pasthun villages?

Even if we cut off 100 percent of the inputs feeding the Taliban from endogenous sources, do not these other revenue streams keep the beast healthy enough to persist forever?

Should not the true center of gravity be on that which feeds the beast, and not necessarily only a portion of the habitat in which he roams?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Thu, 02/25/2010 - 1:04pm


It is great to hear from you. I hope all is well. Allow me to reference Charles Wolf Jr. and his article "Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: New Myths and Old Realities (July 1965)" in my response. Here is what I believe our assumptions guiding our population centric counterinsurgency (COIN) approach in Marjah.

- COIN is a struggle for mens minds not territory.

- COIN is a political, economic, and social rather than military problem.

- A successful COIN program requires that the established government snatch popular support away from the insurgents.

- Economic and social programs can prevent the loss of popular support, or reestablish popular support for an established government.

- It is vital that government forces quickly demonstrate the prospect of improved livelihood to the people so as to inoculate the vulnerable population against insurgent propaganda and terror.

I am not going to argue the merits of population centric COIN and the need for its adherents to push social programs and to socially reengineer the indigenous society to make it all work but I just cant seem to let go of the notion that if we want to win men's minds, we must first control them and the territory they inhabit.

Control implies that we must direct, organize, manage and administer these men (population). It is called Populace Resource Control (PRC). Id venture to say that the Karzai governments approach to PRC differs markedly from the way we believe the inhabitants of Marjah should be organized, managed and administered. I sought to share the "weaken, isolate, attract, and integrate" mental model to help ponder the differences in the PRC approaches.

Please define and explain endogenous and exogenous inputs? What does "controlling" endogenous and exogenous inputs look, feel and taste like on the ground and how do I translate this concept into a mission statement with specified and implied tasks? How about success criteria or metrics? I cant help but believe that controlling internal and external inputs translates into boots or administrator on the ground forcing someone, somewhere to do something and hence my comment that "we" dont need to control the population. Our allies do.

Reference the "population paying for peace". Charles Wolf Jr. would agree with you. Economic redevelopment creates wealth and the Taliban raise taxes. This is indeed a simple cause and effect narrative, but since it is in the realm of economics, it might actually be exempt from the shackles of cultural complexity.

Thanks for your post.




Wed, 02/24/2010 - 5:34pm

Nice to see you back in the saddle, Mac.

This I found a little bracing: "WE don't need to control the population. Our allies do."

Why should we assume that "controlling" the population will lead to victory over the various insurgencies in Marjah or elsewhere in Talibanistan?

Perhaps if we controlled the inputs (endogenous and exogenous) that feed the fairly independent Taliban militias on both sides of the border, we also might arrive at "victory," and do so long before we or our Afghan and Pakistani allies ever secure the hearts and minds of the population.

If we think of the commercial construct of Marjah as a market through which the Taliban cadres could tax activity, thus feeding the insurgent engine, then the "population" are really pretty docile creatures, and only their toil was needed by the Taliban, although their loyalty probably came with the deal.

The only means to really defeat the Taliban and pacify the area is by sealing the enemies off from the inputs that support them. By bringing in that "government in a box" (really, economic redevelopment projects), does that not indirectly feed money to the cadres, regardless of whether they choose to fight, because the "population" will still pay them for peace?

clynton keel (not verified)

Wed, 02/24/2010 - 5:28pm

well just had a post dissapear into the ether.. well thanks for replying pleased you well read it confirms what i had susspected. did not mean to teach you to sock eggs.
As for the opium issue i know our western political imperatives make drug issues problematic..however their is merit in the sort of proposal i suggested the phased nature gives a less destabilising shift for the economy...smashing up the economic base of the society is not bright unless this is the means for shifting the patronage of economic resources from local production to central afghan govt funds...that has implications that your analysis of tribal conflict indicate would be unhelpful...undercutting local elietes will damage their prestigue would it not??? well i'll stop waffeling its late here in the uk all the best. clynton

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Wed, 02/24/2010 - 4:26pm


I am not familiar with "The Game of Swat" but I have read Fredrik Barths "Political Leadership among Swat Pathans", as well as stuff by Akbar S. Ahmed and Talal Asad who criticize his work.

I think your approach to managing the opium trade is better than burning the bazaar outright. I am not a practitioner of the dismal science so I dont have a proposal of my own to address the problem. I believe Josh is correct when he says that we shouldnt eliminate a key source of income without providing an appropriate alternative. On the other hand, the "cold turkey" approach may just be what the doctor ordered. I dont know. I do know that folks will fight to control the trade. There are lots of secondary, tertiary, etcetera trades and services dependent on the poppy.

I actually play the "game of being a khan" when wargaming how a particular political, economic or military initiative might play itself out. I also use different mental models and analytical frameworks to assist me in gaining a feel for the social dynamic in play.




clynton keel (not verified)

Wed, 02/24/2010 - 3:31pm

hi the game of swat heres a reference...hope it useful as i have found it from memory and well what was in this article i cannot directly recall but lets hope its of use.

Barth, Fredrik (1959) 'Segmentary Opposition and the Theory of Games: A Study of Pathan Organisatin in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 89(1) 5-21.
here are some more

1981 Swat Pathans reconsidered. In his Features of person and society in Swat: selected essays of Fredrik Barth. 121-181. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

1959 Political leadership among the Swat Pathans. London: Athlone Press.

1981 Features of person and society in Swat: selected essays of Frederik Barth. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

1956 "Ecologic relationships of ethnic groups in Swat, north Pakistan," American Anthropologist 58 (6) : 1079-1089.

The autonomous tribal areas of the northwest of pakistan in the 50's are more likely a parallel for the current decentralised back to basics cultural modus operandi of the Talibs i would expect. If not then at least i tried to add grist to the mill.

clynton keel (not verified)

Wed, 02/24/2010 - 3:05pm

hello just would like to ask a couple of questions brought to mind by the brotherly debate between faust and MAC... Have either of you read the anthropology book The game of SWAT ?? it analyses pashtun power relations and alliances. Secondly why are we obsessivly destroying opium economy instead of controlled integration of it in short term. Buy up opium at best price for pharmaceutical use...undercut narco barons (economic warefare??) set local farmers max limit on subsequent crop area and use funds from drug companies to promote food production say over a three year period... back to first point on the game of swat it will be useful to game its possible outcomes ?? yours an interested anthropology masters student from east sussex england.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Wed, 02/24/2010 - 1:55pm

Brother Schmedlap... of course I am talking about our Afghan allies. Who else would I be talking about? I actually believe that we can predict the far future reasonably well if we look at patterns of behavior. In my demented opinion, I recognize a tendency of academics to develop theoretical innovations on the basis of recent diplomatic developments or events - even before these developments have assumed the character of long-term trend or pattern of behavior. When you suggest that certain behavior has remained fairly consistent since Joshua received the order to "cross the Jordan, seize Jericho; on order, secure Ai; be prepared to clear Gibeon you are looked at as if you have a thing growing out of your forehead.

Brother Mike... The "weaken, isolate, attract and integrate" mental model is a framework. It is your responsibility as strategist or analyst to flesh it out. You are absolutely correct. The system is not closed, other actors and factors exist, competition is the norm, and all seek a greater piece of the pie. Survival strategies abound. What I find interesting about these conversations is that so many who read my suck find it necessary to explain to me that the world is more nuanced and complex, chaotic and unpredictable place than my models would suggest. The "weaken, isolate, attract, and integrate" as well my "cultural operating codes and coordinating messages" mental model represent patterns of behavior nothing more. It is up to you to identify the particular actors and factors in play.

Here is an example for how to apply this model. Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in the 1880s in order to consolidate state control over the periphery would first manipulate tribal and personal rivalries (weaken) to extend his authority. He centered his efforts on playing one khan against the other (isolate), mostly supporting the weaker ones in their attempts to challenge the stronger ones. Abdur Rahman Khan would become a source of patronage (attract) and support to alter the balance of power among local players in his favor (integrate).

Ive looked at past Afghan governments and historical personalities since the Iron Amir, including the Taliban and recognize a consistent "weaken, isolate, attract and integrate" pattern of behavior. I guess I am different from those that believe that this generation of Afghans is different from his forefathers. I agree, the specifics of a given pattern will differ based on situation, location, personalities, etcetera, and etcetera. It is up to the strategist and or analyst to recognize and identify the particulars.

By the way, what are indirect prescriptions? Isnt that what population centric counterinsurgency is all about: modernization and indirect rule?



Wed, 02/24/2010 - 12:20pm

<em>"WE don't need to control the population. Our allies do."</em>

I'd be curious to know the rationale for that (unless by "allies" you mean only our Afghan allies). I see no evidence that anything other than self-rule is going to be practical in the near term. And as for the long term, guessing at that is like playing the lottery.


Belatedly, I enjoyed your article. Here are a few points of critique.

First, your figures describing the role of the civil administrator reminds me of Leites and Wolf's "Rebellion and Authority: An Analytical Essay on Insurgent Conflicts" describing the insurgent system; however, IMO, you fall in the same trap that limited their work. The system is not closed, and other actors and stakeholders exist competing for control. So, you have some room to expand, but the ideas are important because we really don't have an existing framework to use.

Second, if you zoom down into those arrows that you drew, there is a fierce competition over hearts (emotion) and minds (utility). The emotion can come in forms of trust, anger, resentment, hope, and betrayal. The utility can be land reform, trade agreements, farm subsidies, etc. This game is something that I'm going to explore later using mathematics.

Finally, you asked what is the difference between "The Man who would be King" and "The Men who would govern Marjah?" The answer is about 9,998 Marines. The laws of physics tell us that for every reaction, there is an equal or opposite reaction. The same holds true for the conflict ecosystem, and we must discuss alternative, indirect prescriptions for the long term.

Jerome- Again, I like your writing.



"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Tue, 02/23/2010 - 2:25pm

Casey: Yep... that would be me.

Mike: No reason to apologize... Self-promote away, brother. I ask you this: If the dog doesn't wag his own tail, who will? I like your stuff.



You're on to something there. Keep writing.

Here's an excerpt from one of my best friend's thesis that I'm helping edit. He's currently studying in Shanghai under the Fullbright Scholarship.

"Beyond restraint, Chinese multilateralism has proved to be pragmatic. Few can argue that the CCP is in fact a communist regime as the name implies; which is a tribute to the flexibility demonstrated in recent years by Chinese leaders. Is it socialism with Chinese characteristics or capitalism with Chinese characteristics? Which more accurately describes Chinese ideology today is in fact a difficult question. In arguing for reform Deng Xiaoping famously said that it doesnt matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice. "

We would do well removing the blinders of our own limiting labels and focusing on problem-solving to find solutions to today's complex problems.

Or as Dewitt Jones said,

"As I celebrated what was right with the world, I began to build a vision of possibility, not scarcity. Possibility... always another right answer."




First, sorry that I did some self-promotion on your thread. Schmedlap asked some questions that I've been sorting through the last couple of years, and I'm going through a creative spurt right now. I didn't mean to hijack your work.

Okay, onward bound-

Clear- Conceptually, this is the commander's discretion and driven by METT-TC. In addition to physical and ideological, it can be cultural and geographic deeply nested into what Dr. Kilcullen describes as the Conflict Ecosystem.

Think of the three parts of a wave. On the top, the environment is chaotic and complex. In the middle, life is sometimes smooth and sometimes crazy. For the bottom dwellers, life is calm. In each environment, plants and animals adapt and evolve to survive to the unique conditions presented. I think the same holds true for humans.

So, in Saving Zaganiyah, I'm going to describe how we cleared a denied, rural area in Iraq. Later, in subsequent projects, I will explore alternative prescriptions to include Jim Gant's plan and Greg Mortensen's save the children plan.

Eventually, I hope to combine all of this into a dissertaion on small wars using game theory and mathematics.



Casey (not verified)

Tue, 02/23/2010 - 12:11pm

Heidelberg. V Corps G5/9. 2004-2007.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Tue, 02/23/2010 - 12:03pm

Casey: Very likely. Where were you stationed: Schweinfurt, Suttgardt, or Heidelberg?

Schmedlap: WE don't need to control the population. Our allies do.

Mike: Define criteria for clear. Is it the total elimination of all bad men and infrastructure? Taliban presence isn't only physical; it is also ideological. Can we clear an area of this influence? How about using terms like marginalize or neutralize instead of clear. Just thinking out loud.

Jerome: Wow! I believe you might actually have a handle on the truth.


Eric R/Jerome,

I'm going to present my ideas in a series entitled "Saving Zaganiyah." It's the culmination of a two and a half year journey for me of tearing apart and reconstructing my last tour in Iraq into something that I could comprehend and process. I had a lot of help from the NPS DA department and mentors and friends in SWJ.

I decided to break it down into individual working papers so it can be peer-reviewed and harshly critiqued in the hopes of producing a polished final publication worthy of people's time and consideration.

Currently, I'm working on Part One: Shaping Operations. I've got a small team of academics and practisioners helping me edit and fact-check. Hopefully, it will be fit for print in a month or so.

If you are interested, then you can read "The Break Point: How AQIZ established the ISI in Zaganiyah" by James Few (yeah, I go by my middle name, blame my parents) that I published in SWJ back in March 2007. It details the conditions set prior to my company's intervention.



Eric R (not verified)

Tue, 02/23/2010 - 9:54am

MikeF, I like your idea on SCHIRT. Have you devloped this idea in any detail?

Schmedlap asked:

"Why do WE need to control the population? Why is it not sufficient that we establish local sovereignty in areas like Marjah, augment them as necessary (and as they acquiesce to), and then focus our efforts thereafter on connecting them to the central government in whatever form is appropriate for Afghanistan?"

I agree. I think that Shape, Clear, Hold, and Build is outdated. Build is too broad, over-ambitious, and impractical. I'm going to suggest we break it down into SCHIRT
(Shape, Clear, Hold, Integrate, Reconcile, and Transition).

Simply put, we do not have a nation-building component to compliment our security forces, and our military does not have the authority or expertise to effectively govern. In areas where the local leadership has been weakened by Taliban assassinations or harrassment, someone has to fill that power vacuum. The military can do it for a short time, but in the long-run, the unintended consequences of having a Company Commander resolve land disputes and commerce agreements can be severely damaging.



Casey (not verified)

Tue, 02/23/2010 - 7:14am

Mr. McCallister,

I'm sorry to use your writing space for this, but are you the same William McCallister I knew in Germany?



Mon, 02/22/2010 - 6:39pm

I asked...
<em>"Why do we need to control the population?"</em>

MikeF typed...
<em>"The short answer is that unless you live alone on an island, some form of gov't controls you. It can be a tribe, democracy, or caliphate, but, in virtue of being a citizen or a member of a society, you submit to the social contract of that area."</em>

But that doesn't answer it. Why do <strong><em><u>WE</u></em></strong> need to control the population? Why is it not sufficient that we establish local sovereignty in areas like Marjah, augment them as necessary (and as they acquiesce to), and then focus our efforts thereafter on connecting them to the central government in whatever form is appropriate for Afghanistan?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Mon, 02/22/2010 - 3:34pm

Brother Josh,

You totally missed the premise of the article. I asked how Afghan administrators and ANA military commanders will reassert government authority in Marjah. I highlighted a number of strategies that might be used by civil administrators and military commanders to do so. I also described a number of tactics that the civil administrators and Afghan military commanders might use to deal with rivals in the area.

I stand by my comment that simple cause and effect narratives do not describe the social dynamic in play. The intent of the article is to encourage others "how to think" about the situation within the cultural context not "what to think". You automatically default to a "what to think" mode.

Brother Josh, weve been here before. This conversation, like some of our previous ones, boils down to a "how to think" versus "what to think" disagreement. The difference in our thinking is fundamental and hence akin to me discussing apples while having to answer your questions about oranges.

The goal of my post was to provide an analytical framework for the outsiders participating in Marjahs power politics. The "weaken, isolate, attract, and integrate" framework might actually answer how Karzais man, the tyrant, was able to gain and retain influence in the area. No man is an island. All conquerors and tyrants need local allies. I am arrogant enough to believe that my musings provide a framework for analysts and operational planners to wargame what strategies a tyrant might use and how the locals might respond to challenge the tyrants power. The analytical framework or mental model may even encourage strategists to develop indicators to monitor the social dynamic in play. This is what strategists and intelligence analysts do, or am I mistaken?

I agree with you. We have painted ourselves into a corner. The Afghan government is sovereign and monarch over all it surveys. We are unable to IMPOSE righteous conduct on this government. It doesnt help that we never miss an opportunity to tell anyone who will listen that the Karzai government is sovereign. We must therefore resort to questionable diplomatic maneuverings of our own to shape the political environment. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It is what it is. All we can do is hope that the local administrators and military commanders will do the right thing. How do you leverage hope? You dont. Hope is not a method. You leverage resources and violence; the carrot and the stick.

Please Josh, you have worked long enough with the military to know that there exists a plan to deal with internally displaced persons (IDP). Why the insinuation that the operational planners did not consider and plan for internally displaced persons (IDP)? Of course they did. Did you know that formulas exist to assist civil-military planners in developing plans? One formula states that 50% of an urban area needs to be destroyed before 20% of the population departs the area. This allows you to determine initial humanitarian assistance or Class X requirements. It is a planning factor only and must be shaped to fit the situation on the ground. There is a whole staff section and personnel dedicated to deal with this issue. But this is a sidebar conversation.

Again, I am not asking for a course of action (COA). I am asking that you wargame the battle for Marjah from an Afghan perspective. How will "protect the people" play itself out? Ive participated in a number of conversations for how WE intend to protect the people. We will recruit and train X number of police and security forces per cycle to meet some ideal ratio of X police and security personnel per 1000 inhabitants. This will translate into one policeman standing on every street corner in Marjah (sarcasm). We will also build an appropriate infrastructure for the rule of law to work and all that goes with it, etcetera, and etcetera. I got it. There is something soothing in technical solutions to complex social behavior. But let me ask you, from an Afghan perspective; what is the process for recruiting and controlling the local police and security forces? Will the civil authority install a local as police chief or will he be an outsider? If he is an outsider, how will he go about ensuring that his subordinates are loyal to him? Is it true that the local administrator relies on his police forces to offset and protect himself against the power of the military commander? Is the relationship between the civil administrator and his police forces and the military commander exploited by individuals seeking to weaken one or the other? What are the alliance networks and patronage relationships of civil administrator, police chief and local Afghan National Army (ANA) commander? Will there be corruption? If so, what form will this corruption take? Is it true corruption or a lubricant to establish patronage relationships?

I believe my analytical framework might assist in gaining a more nuanced appreciation for the process of recruiting potential security forces in Marjah and the relationships between those that control military or para-military forces. It works for me. If it doesn't work for you, then don't use it. I am prepared to share with you a number of different outcomes based on my wargaming the "protect the people" from an Afghan perspective.

Well have to agree to disagree concerning Marjahs political economy. The opium market is worth a lot of money. I just cant bring myself to believe that it is in anyones interest to eliminate this tremendous source of wealth. I imagine that all sides are actually fighting to capture a share of the profits. We can revisit this topic as it plays itself out and I will be the first to admit I was wrong if it turns out that you are correct.

I am not going to argue the merits of population centric counterinsurgency and the need for its adherents to push social programs and to socially reengineer the indigenous society to make it all work. The invention of population centric COIN was demand driven but has evolved into protecting intellectual monopolies; fighting for who gets to write the history of this thing and who doesnt, and money making think-tankery rather than focusing on bringing knowledge to power. I am also not going to dwell on the fact that we are all idiots. The fact that we are all idiots is why it is important that you continue to share your insights with the analysts and planners because stuff sticks. You might favorably influence an altering of the plan. The military calls them contingency plans. When all else fails and all seem lost, contingency plans assist in changing direction. A fragmentation order initiates the process. Think about it, if we are correct, people will eventually have to listen to our suck. But beware; being right is a two-edged sword. It might make you feel good in the short run but those in power will never forgive you for being wrong, hence, no seat at the adult table for the likes of us.

Take care brother; dont let the bastards get you down.


Schmedlap asked,

"Why do we need to control the population? Isn't it sufficient that the Taliban not come back? Is control of the population necessary to prevent the Taliban from coming back?"

The short answer is that unless you live alone on an island, some form of gov't controls you. It can be a tribe, democracy, or caliphate, but, in virtue of being a citizen or a member of a society, you submit to the social contract of that area.

The long answer is described by Dr. Kilcullen here (H/T Wilf)

I'd submit that in these post-colonial small wars, the real question that we must answer is "who is the 'we' that must control?" Barring occupation, we cannot force others to govern well. We can assist, coerce, and advice, but we are limited in our influence to some degree.




Mon, 02/22/2010 - 2:39am

Why do we need to control the population? Isn't it sufficient that the Taliban not come back? Is control of the population necessary to prevent the Taliban from coming back?


Read my comment above: step one has to be ensuring we take care of the people we displaced. All the governance you discuss has to come afterward - that's step 3 or 4 or 5.

In the interim, once we've accounted for and taken care of the thousands we told to run away, we have to decide how to handle the area of Marjeh. There are competing accounts as to whether it is officially an unofficial district or not (that is, whether it has a defacto district institution, and whether we want to support a non-IDLG-approved district administration or not). There are unofficial districts in nearly every province of Afghanistan, though some are more official than others--like Kushamond in Dila, Paktika, or Spin Gar in Achin, Nangarhar. Some are less official.

From what I understand, the previous head guy in Marjeh had control of the compounds we call "Marjeh" and varying amounts of influence over the surrounding countryside. And more importantly, part of McChrystal's "government in a box" is installing a German ex-patriate as the Marjeh head guy. Complicating things is this <a href="… Chandrasekaran dispatch</a>, which highlights the Karzai government is at odds with McChrystal--and that the man they choose and who retains the most influence in the area is also a monster who was so bad the locals invited the Taliban into their area for protection.

Let me step back for a moment, and keep this kind of brief. You might write off these concerns over concept as being "too late to lament the fact that we might be idiots," but to me that is at the heart of the issue. If we cannot judge this situation on its own merits--which you complain in your piece we do not do while failing to do the same--then we need to consider radically altering our plans.

With that in mind, my COA is pretty straightforward: actually protect the people (ever notice that, despite all the population-centric talk, the only metric we hear from ISAF is number of EKIA?), decide how we will position ourselves in the area, and then and only then do we ponder how best to support and prosper the political economy.

Last thought: you can differ with me all you want re: the political economy. But we saw this happen last year, in areas like Garmsir and Now Zad. The Marines went in, shut down the opium industry, and sent a few officials on tour through the bazaar. NGO workers in the area report that locals are scared, since they had their poppy shut down and no one ever bothered to follow through with agricultural or financial assistance. They don't know where or how they will eat this fall and winter. So we DID fundamentally alter the political economy of the area, even if as an unintended consequence. We destroyed it, in fact.

I see the same thing looming in Marjeh--simply by our being there we place restrictions on poppy growth. But we are not, no matter what USAID and the State Department say, prepared or capable to follow through with appropriate or sufficient agricultural or financial aid to the people whose livelihoods are suddenly voided. Which is why I get so worked up over it: it's prioritizing short term gains (which make for good press releases) over long term fixes.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 02/21/2010 - 7:19pm


I am not talking about theorizing. I asked you to wargame how the Afghan's are going to restore governance and reestablish the bazaar.

I venture that not much will change in form and function from what you fear we have destroyed. I differ with you on this point. I do not believe that we be able to destroy Marjah's political economy. I agree with you that it is pure hubris to believe that all that is required are a bunch of social engineers following a technical plan to pull Marjah, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. What we require most are strategists not technicians attempting to execute a western social blueprint for a better society.

Here is how I wargame the outcome. The incoming "government-in-a box" is unlikely to change anything. The Afghan civil administrators and military commanders are strategist and as such will attempt to assume control over the market place and all it's commodities via attraction, deception, and/or defection. Security is a commodity. I disagree with your point that there exist neutrals in Marjah. There are no neutrals. There are potential allies, actual allies, associates, advocates, accomplices, and/or opponents. A rival solidarity group can actually be all six at once depending on the gambit in play.

The incoming "government-in-the-box", like the Taliban, will seek an accommodation with the local elites and like with the Taliban, there will be cases where the incoming administration will eliminate with prejudice intransigent local elites. Merchants and landowners will change sides. Local fighters will reevaluate their relative power positions and power relationships and alliance networks will realign.

If you were a strategist Josh, what advice would you give to the coalition commander in the Marjah area of operation (AO). What does he need to know to better navigate this complex human terrain?

I think this is the conversation we should be having... It is too late to lament the fact that we might be idiots.



That's my bad, I didn't see the irony in what you were writing. Was quoting the movie adaptation of that Kipling novel meant to be ironic as well? Or was that for real?

I don't want to deceive anyone here: I have never been to Helmand, and I don't want to lend the impression that I have. But I don't see personal experience as the issue. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been to Afghanistan, including President Obama.

But being there only counts for so much unless you know what you're seeing. It used to be a sport in the blogosphere to make fun of the "slice of life" stories the British newspapers would run about the South: sure, they saw the things they reported, but they had no idea <i>what</i> they were seeing.

That's not to denigrate your experience. I know you do your homework. But I do as well, and when we look at the big picture here, even in Marjeh, the whole thing not only doesn't make much sense, it looks like it was barely planned. "The General wouldn't act without a good reason" is hardly a justification for supporting something - if it were, then, for example, General Sanchez' tenure of Iraq would be remembered fondly since a General was doing it.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 02/21/2010 - 6:00pm

Brother Josh,

I must apologize to you for I didn't address my empirically inaccurate statements. So here goes.

By the way Josh, I actually spent time in Kandahar and Helmand provinces and had an opportunity to gather information in the area we are discussing by means of observation and experience. That is what empirical means doesn't it? Brother, you are not the only one that has spent time in country.

I am not really sure why Marjah might be a key population center. Could it be that it is a Taliban stronghold and center of an extensive opium network? Could this be the reason that it is a key population center regardless of the fact that Marjah and its surrounding area might have less than 50,000 inhabitants? Why would we detail approximately 15,000 Afghan and Coalition forces in support of Operation Mushtarak if the area wasn't key in someone's population centric campaign plan?

You are absolutely correct. We have not liberated the area from the clutches of the nefarious poppy mafia. Wow, you actually believed that I thought this to be the case. It is called irony; a literary technique. Simple cause and effect narrative in play. The Afghan national flag flies over the Loy Charahi Bazaar; poppy mafia defeated. But we know that our opium merchants have only departed for their secondary bazaars located further south. It is obvious now that my attempts at irony failed badly and I apologize for my professional faux paux.

I am off now to put on my American blinders once more...

Love you brother, talk more soon.



Things are good on my end (let's take that discussion offline).

Here's where my frustration comes in: we know how the area has been governed. We know the Taliban was there with at least a semi-functioning government, and we know the opium industry provided the area with income and food.

We have now destroyed that, and while you're right to point out that we have to ponder the "what next," simply theorizing about what people to ally ourselves with is the wrong question to ask at this stage. The right time for those questions was back before the offensive even began, when General McChrystal was throwing around bizarre ideas like the "government in a box."

What we need to focus on now, right away, is not a lengthy period of building and establishing institutions. That can come later. What has to happen, right now, is for mine-clearing and basic humanitarian assistance. You say there are no neutrals there; such a declaration flies in the face of almost every ground-level experience in that country. Most of the people in most of the areas we go to are neutrals, trying their best to survive while two groups battle over who gets to rule them. By any definition, that's neutral behavior (and we saw that in Marjeh, judging by who ran, who stayed, and who hid).

Right now there are literally tens of thousands of people displaced by the fighting and unable to find refuge in internationally-run IDP camps. Their well-being should be our first priority (that is, if we really ARE there for the people of Afghanistan and not, as the military would have us believe through their press releases, just trying to kill off Taliban). That means either repatriating them to their houses as soon as humanly possible and if not then ensuring that they can find shelter, and food, with an eye toward ensuring they have a realistic chance of generating whatever income this year that our destruction of their poppy fields has denied them.

Then, and only then, can we start thinking about permanent Afghan solutions. What I'm seeing on this site and others like it is a skipping of all the really hard, messy human parts and jumping immediately to the "engineering a government" stage of the planning. If we don't have that already in place - and it's pretty obvious we don't - then looking at those questions has to wait until we can make sure that what we are doing right now is not actually making everyone in the area worse off.

If the media is to be believed, and I know they cannot always be, then what we have achieved so far is to remove the only functioning government Marjeh has had since the 1970s and to destroy their primary method of generating income <i>and we don't have a follow up</i>. At this stage of the game, that should be inexcusable, and what I'm seeing here--skipping the mitigation and jumping right to the ruling--is symptomatic of that larger refusal to really think through the consequences of our campaigns.

Sorry if I come on strong, but it feels like it's 2006 still--that's how little the military has advanced on this front.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Sun, 02/21/2010 - 5:02pm

Brother Josh,

Allow me to take off my American blinders. While I am very interested in how the Taliban leadership administered the town and surrounding area, I am actually more interested how the incoming civil administrators and Afghan military will interact with the locals. This is the question I raise in the offending paragraph. Obviously I didn't ask the question clearly enough.

The incoming ANA and government administrators are themselves outsiders and like the Taliban require local allies to administer the town. How will they recruit these allies Josh? What are the nuts and bolts of this process? Is the process the same as in lets say Detroit? Telling me that providing the locals with economic development projects will attract them to the central government or that greater security will get the locals to pledge their loyalty to the Karzai government is a bit too simplistic wouldn't you say? A simple cause and effect narrative to describe the complexity of Marjah.

Come on brother, throw this dog a bone and lets wargame how this thing is going to play itself out from an Afghan perspective.

By the way... how are you doing? Haven't heard from you in a while.



You're not making much sense here. In paragraph one, you call Marjeh a key population center (it isn't, the enormous and sparsely populated area around Marjeh barely has 1/10 the population of Helmand, which itself only has about 3% of Afghanistan's population), and that it has been "liberated" from the "poppy-mafia," when, unlike the Kabul government, the opium lords created a solid economic base and provided services to their people.

Then, in paragraph 2, you complain that Americans don't enjoy viewing Afghanistan on its own terms, preferring instead simplistic narratives about the conflict and its potential aftermaths.

"How might the landowners, merchants and farmers, civil administrators, leaders of the Afghan National Army (ANA), local police, local fighters, and allies of the Taliban interact with one another?"

We already know that: it existed before we sent in 10,000 Marines.

Now, saying the above is NOT to excuse how the Taliban rule. But if you're going to complain about Americans viewing the place with American blinders, at least remove your own before trying to talk about it.

clynton keel (not verified)

Fri, 03/05/2010 - 11:14am

hi , been away for a few days and i see this is rolling along nicely..

I have one gripe


" This is indeed a simple cause and effect narrative, but since it is in the realm of economics, it might actually be exempt from the shackles of cultural complexity."

Economic anthropologists would be rolling in their graves those alive having heart attacks and joining them...

western modern society may like to think that economics is a mystical abstract realm independent of the cultural fabric of life this is frankly crap!!

Just look at the western banking crisis pause and think of the ramifications it has on all aspects...political stability, military spending and deployment social cohesion you name it...

Yes western liberal society has mature political and social and charitable institutions and a social contract that means we are not out on the streets breaking heads (at the moment anyway)

Afghanistan does not, it is a semi feudal narco economy a web of obligations reaching into the social fabric many contingent on the wealth and patronage and hence obligations these economic realities bring..(crude description i know forgive me)

As for hearts and minds im more of the opinion of stomaches and influence on who's will be full sort of thinker...

The afghan govt needs to project the obligations of this harsh economic reality upon the people for as sure as eggs is eggs the Taliban will have been as ruthless on the one hand to weaken the dissenters and as generous on the other to reward the loyal...

The poppy fields are testament to the economic power a form of control of hearts minds and stomachs.... Cash driven...

So i ask now that we have eviscerated the local economic status quo are you seriously going to have a situation in an honour culture of hand outs???

Its the Afghan equivalent of sacking the iraqi army on mass and that was identified latterly as doltish in the extreme..

Well thats made me feel better for venting my spleen please take this as an exasperated effort to focus on a bread and butter issue (pun intended) which seems to have been over looked. If has been covered and i've over looked it, sorry.


clynton keel (not verified)

Fri, 03/05/2010 - 12:01pm

For what its worth.I'd just like to add a comment about development...

i fail to see that our liberal desire to bring afghan society up to our perceived standards as worth the effort...this one of those sets of good intentions paving the way to hell senarios...

The strategy should focus on stabilisation of the new dominant political authority ie the kabul govt..

They are the side we have chosen in this power struggle...

If that means no education for girls tolerance for the narco economy as a tax revenue to fund central control (i have mentioned the possibilty of providing it as a resource for pharmaceutical companies before).

Then it may not live up to our ideals but it would leave a viable set of structures we can declare as 'the best outcome given the unique cultural realities of afghan society...' blah blah

After all you dont sell pork ribs to saudi just because its morally ok by our standards...(poor analogy i know)

harsh but true reality needs to be faced not just on the ground but within decision making circles and the media...

life does not always bend or conform to our western ideals...

indeed the more we push the more those who are opposed will push back...

we have habitually seen this as a conspired or inspired global movement..

are the models of its autonomous cell like structure etc attempts to force disperate reactive elements into a cohesive universal model???

are our conceptions, ethnocentric conceptions, clouding our view..??

The best way to dominate any population is to dominate it through the idioms it professes to live by... If it is bound in honour and shame control it through honour and shame manipulate your way to dominance or at least foster your chosen and do what you must to place them in that position of dominance...this is the afghan way harsh as the environment even if its unfair and partial to our liberal eyes...

if we really want to change it then we will have no choice but to bite the bullet and get 100% colonial about it...with all that brings.

i personally wish 'hearts and minds' had never been adopted as the media slogan its a fuzzy statement that leads to fuzzy thinking...

'a what do you want, when do you want it, only if you do this.' slogan appears a more apt description...yes/no????