Small Wars Journal

There is No “Stalemate” in Afghanistan: We’re Losing

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 7:35am

There is No “Stalemate” in Afghanistan: We’re Losing

A critical component of turning the tide must be economic development.

Daniel Fisher

Let’s Not Kid Ourselves: This is No “Stalemate”

In recent Congressional testimony, Gen. John Nicholson suggested that the situation in Afghanistan is a “stalemate.” However, the Taliban now contests or controls about 40% of the country—up from 30% one year ago. Moreover, as the insurgency increases its stranglehold on the countryside, the fight is increasingly encroaching on the country’s urban centers, as the Taliban’s capture of Kunduz City in two consecutive years shows. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats stated in a May 11th Senate hearing that security is likely to continue to deteriorate through 2018.

Stalemate suggests that opposing sides have fought one another to a standstill. Prolonged stalemate implies that opposing sides might be ready for a negotiated peace. But the reality is that the insurgency is gaining ground, not losing it. The hard truth is that we’re losing the war, not winning it. Peace in Afghanistan has been discouragingly elusive, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Both the U.S. and NATO Will Increase Troop Levels

Although President Donald Trump has asked the military for a coherent strategy before approving a troop increase, it seems inevitable that we’ll be sending more troops to the embattled country. NATO is likely to follow a concurrent course. But even the higher end of the range of consideration—5,000 additional U.S. troops—will not be enough to quell the emboldened insurgency. With similar troop levels in the early stages of the war, the country descended into chaos as the U.S. focused attention and resources on Iraq.

Granted, the capabilities of the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) are far more robust than they were then. And, in contrast to their counterparts in Iraq, there’s even a fair amount of will to fight. But as the recent attack on an ANA base in Balkh province (where 140 Afghan soldiers were killed) and the Taliban seizure of Qala-e-Zal district in Kunduz Province demonstrate, those capabilities will not be enough to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The unfortunate circumstance that a full 35% of Afghan defense forces choose not to reenlist doesn’t exactly portend a brighter future any time soon.

Security Concerns Mask Other, Under-Reported Crises

Headlines focusing on spectacular insurgent attacks and the extent to which the U.S. should bolster its train, advise, and assist mission obscure other important problems. There is also, for instance, a very real refugee crisis. More than one million Afghans are internally displaced. That number is likely to increase as Pakistan continues to expel the 1.5 million unregistered refugees residing there as of 2016. Spend a few days in one of Europe’s numerous camps, and you’re likely to notice that Afghan refugees outnumber those from all other countries except for Syria.

Moreover, although stemming the insurgency inherently requires Afghanistan to work with its oft-contentious Pakistani neighbors, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are especially challenged at the moment. A recent clash between border guards in the midst of a Pakistani population census in Balochistan resulted in at least 15 deaths. In the aftermath, the Chaman border crossing - which controls one of two major trade routes between the two countries - is now closed. Pakistan is Afghanistan’s number one trading partner - 45% of exports flow to, and 26% of imports flow from, Pakistan. At a time when Afghanistan’s economy continues to struggle, closing Chaman is a significant blow.

But when it comes to the Afghan economy, the recent border clash is just the tip of the iceberg. Although it closed slightly in 2016 to 35% of GDP, Afghanistan’s trade deficit remains massive and persistent. Increasing poverty combined with an inflation rate of 4.4% means that already-impoverished Afghans have even less purchasing power to pay for all those imported goods. Meanwhile, the increasing rate of unemployment, which the most currently available figures place at 26%, doesn’t help matters much, nor does decreasing income per-capita: although 2016 GDP growth was 1.2%, the population grew by 3%. Declining per-capita income warrants special concern. A robust literature on conflict risk reduction shows that declining income or slowing income growth increases the risk of civil war. Thus, even if we are able to somehow magically broker a peace deal through increased pressure on the Taliban, the country is likely to remain squarely in the so-called “conflict trap” in the absence of measures that generate stable growth.

Pursuing Security and Development Simultaneously

If the intent of the inevitable troop increase in Afghanistan is to render a negotiated peace more likely, then the strategy must have an economic development component. Programming that effectively implements small-scale projects targeting specific community needs could serve as a good start, but won’t be enough. A broader strategy that protects current or impending investments by regional actors that carry the potential to increase government revenue and stimulate growth, such as the TAPI gas pipeline and the Mes Aynak copper mine, would be even more prudent. Notably, after years of undermining them, the Taliban recently offered to protect these important projects, signaling the potential for regional investment to create shared national interests from which a negotiated settlement could emerge. Creating and deploying an expeditionary development capability in the spirit of DoD’s now-defunct Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) could also help spur further investment, provided that previously-identified shortcomings are addressed.

Specifics aside, we should be careful not to value any renewed U.S. commitment to Afghanistan by troop levels alone. Nor can we credibly celebrate the killing of the latest insurgent or terrorist leader unless we are simultaneously creating a viable state. Where we go from here matters - let’s hope that President Trump looks beyond military solutions as he forges a path forward.

About the Author(s)

Daniel Fisher served as an infantry rifle platoon leader and scout platoon leader for 2-18 IN, 170th IBCT in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. He holds a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School.



Tue, 05/30/2017 - 5:02am

RCJ wrote:

‘So far you have only stated your disagreement. Help me get to a better theory, and find a single thing I have said and prove me wrong.’

I could not agree more with your standpoint on Vietnam. IMHO the first, foremost and supreme question the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution asked of our political leadership was whether we wished to oppose Vietnamese independence or hold the General election promised at the Geneva Conference in July 1954 and leave. We chose to oppose VN independence and invaded.

In the same ‘Forget the Alamo’ mode we invented a fictitious country and called it the Republic of Vietnam which had as much political legitimacy in the eyes of all Vietnamese either side of the 17th parallel as the current Republic of Texas / California wack-jobs enjoy with most Americans.

For good measure, much of the Army’s distinguished leaders (past and present) recognized the folly of a ground war in Vietnam and were violently opposed to our intervention. The Air Force (led by LeMay) and the Navy (led by Marine Cmdt Greene) considerably less so, for all sorts of bad reasons.

It is difficult to imagine how badly the country was let down by our political leadership prior to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964. But there’s the rub. The disaster of Vietnam was shaped by a period in the late 1950s - early 1960s wherein the dereliction of duty prosecuted by our political and military leadership was in extremis.

The absurdity of the strategic framework we attempted to cast upon Vietnam was completely bizarre and I would caution extrapolating the lessons learned after VN to any current political/military crisis. Certainly, the nature of the Iraq War bears some of the same political judgmental idiocies, despite the different character of WMD and The Domino Theory fabrications, but in AF/PAK I find the profoundly differing nature of our troubles there determines the harsh lessons of VN to hold little utility.

Needless to say resistance and revolutionary energies exist in AF as much as they exist in the US, VN, UK etc. and any military or political force that attempts to oppose that energy will either fail or face endless conflict. Unfortunately for everyone the governing elite of Pakistan has decided the latter option best serves their political/economic interests. Like their fellow-travelers in Tehran, Riyadh, Damascus and bizarrely Moscow their strategy for self-preservation is to ensure their neighbors must endure constant political and economic upheaval thru the barrel of a proxy’s gun.

In fairness, you acknowledge the UW activity of Pakistan but IMHO you do not give their destructive strategy enough weight. They have an Orwellian need to cultivate a political mindset within the beliefs of 200 million wretchedly poor Pakistani’s that their country is threatened on two fronts – essentially surrounded – by hostile and violent neighbors hell-bent on overrunning their country and only a strong aggressive (and richly funded) Pak Army can ‘keep the dogs at bay’.

Essentially, they fear the resistance and revolutionary energy within their own country more than any other entity and have chosen the most destructive of Operational and Strategic effects to deflect that energy and as such determined the miserable future of both their fellow countrymen as well as their neighbors. Basically, they created the Taliban to ensure the resistance and revolutionary energy within Pakistan does not overwhelm them.

From the same quasi-fascist ideology, the House of Saud have ALQ/ISIS, the Iranian Supreme Council the IRGC and Putin has his little green men; all differing tremendously in character, but in nature their political purpose differs little.

RCJ wrote:

‘The nature of conflict, however, is rooted man, and that is essential to the framing of good strategy.’

When you write ’good’ I’m assuming you mean the better side of human nature. However, IMHO we are faced with opponents who believe the first, foremost and supreme task is that their strategy must be effective. It is my experience their strategy comes from the darker side of human nature. Not good but merely effective.

This puts us at a huge disadvantage as it is much simpler to break things than it is to create. IMHO one of the prime reasons we struggle to address this huge disadvantage (despite our vastly greater resourcing) is we fail to understand how weak we are at the tactical level in Small Wars.

All this tactical weaknesses interconnects and the cumulative effect of these interdependent actions, actors and assumptions produce a negative Operational consequence across the TO. These in turn produce a negative Strategic effect and before you know it we’ve screwed the strategy pooch. When considered as a force of human nature (light or dark side), strategy loses most of the potential reality needed in matters involving situationally appropriate human actions and assumptions at the tactical level.

As the man said, ‘Strategy is the use of the engagement for the purpose of the war’. In short strategy (very different to operational and strategic effect) is all about consequences, mostly the consequences (operational and strategic) of tactical threat and action for the course of subsequent political events.

IMHO this weakness at the tactical level in Small Wars is a direct consequence of our success in WW2. In WW2 we annihilated away any negative consequences of our actions, actors, and assumptions at the tactical, operational, and strategic level until the enemy capitals were devastated and total victory was achieved. In Small Wars annihilation does not work. Our opponents understand this but we do not.

But the whole MIC/RMA mickey-mouse bullshit approach is another argument.

So, what?

Nuclear weapons make it real. They force upon us the need to solve the problem. We literally have no choice. Pakistan is a failing state. The lot of the majority of Pakistani’s is a miserable one and their political elite, both civilian and military, seem to like it that way. We cannot remove the nuclear threat of rogue NIEDs by force, so it must be done by the Pakistani body-politic.

From what I can determine what drives Pak UW in Afghanistan is the Pak elite believe if their countryman begin to witness their Afghan neighbors enjoying any degree of peace and prosperity (and let’s face it Afghan expectations for peace and prosperity are extremely modest) they will begin to exert revolutionary pressure on the privileged position of the elite in order to enjoy the emerging prosperity of their Afghan neighbors.

The obvious new-found prosperity in neighboring India and China ratchets up the potential political energy posed by such circumstance into a serious threat to their privileged position and as such must be stopped at all costs.

I believe it is important to realize when it comes to Small Wars the natives of the Punjab are much more capable than we are. Thousands of years before Thucydides put quill to papyrus these folks where fighting wars motivated by fear, honor and interest. They are the masters. That doesn’t mean the smartest guy in the room is the best warrior but if we hope to shape an effective strategy our first and foremost task is to understand the nature of the problem.


One cannot determine if one is "winning" -- or for that matter "loosing" -- it would seem, unless one understands what "winning" meant/means:

Condoleezza Rice:


"We are going to fix the (Greater) Middle East the way we fixed Europe after World War II." (Item in parenthesis is mine.)

END QUOTE… (See Page 209.)


This new reality has led us to some significant changes in our policy. We recognize that democratic state building is now an urgent component of our national interest. And in the broader Middle East, we recognize that freedom and democracy are the only ideas that can, over time, lead to just and lasting stability, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.


This being the logic that was applied to the idea of "winning" (and thus, if we fail, "loosing") -- whether one was talking about terrorism/terrorism sanctuaries, etc., in such places as Afghanistan and Pakistan -- or weapons of mass destruction, etc., in such places as Iraq and Iran.

Thus, as to such things as "Pashtun Movement," "Butt Hurt," "Emotions," "Punitive Expedition," etc. -- noted in the comments below -- in the "winning"/"loosing" context offered above, these such thoughts appear to indicate that one does not really understand what "winning," and thus what "loosing," actually looks like/means/meant to the U.S./the West, and indeed to our opponents in the Rest of the World, following 9/11 and still today?

Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 10:47am

In reply to by Azor

Azor...actually you would not believe just how little space there is between my view of the failures in AFG and what Bob is posting here......

(And, while I do not spend much time on SWJ of late, Outlaw and I more often than not see eye to eye on the nature of these conflicts; and where we disagree, we still understand where the other is coming from.)

Your assumptions are basically wrong....

The issue at hand BTW in this article is that we have largely failed in AFG and if you notice my comments...nothing changed in that opinion...we have indeed failed...

BUT again you have never been to AFG nor Iraq nor say.....nor actually spent hours coversing with a live and true jihadist....

Remember the old US saying...."ground reality learning "trumps" book learning"...pardon the pun....

Here is your core problem.....and it is the same with many Americans.... especially since 9/11....

IMHO I never really paid much attention to Islam before 9/11 and even past 9/11 BUT when I was notified that someone requested my presence in Iraq I knuckled down and read what the literature had out there ...I read everything I could get my hands on from those that had been in Iraq and or frorm Iraqi's themselves..not academic stuff but rather social media commenters and posters...

My first Arabic translator was a American citizen from Sudan and her father is one of the leading warlords there...we spent hours going over the Koran and what I was learning in my interrogations.....and when you spend 10-12 hours per day together you tend to actually learn something..if you are willing to open your ears and just listen.....

You know what she told me one are the first American who asks some really insight and thoughtful questions and I am surprised that they are actually answering you...

My second interpreter was a Palestinian American citizen and when he introduced himself and I heard his name...I mentioned that hey your brother was a major Palestinian leader who led the first Intifada and was recently jailed by the Israeli's and was the first Arab elected to the Knesset....and who spoke Hebrew like an Israeli.....

He was stunned and said I was the first American (2006) who recognized his name and knew about his brother...

What I am trying to get you to see is that when one takes the time to sit down, listen and try to learn... the ground reality is far different than what many say it actually is...AND in alot of cases it never matches "book learning"....

AND I also learned that if you place yourself into their shoes and threat people fairly and with respect you might be surprised just what you learn....EVEN if not a Muslim..... extensive SF UW training and deep experience was what I was "seeing and understanding" in Iraq and Syria....guerrilla warfare never changes just the weapons and was like a homing coming party...only 35 years later...and it was like it had never changed....and you were meeting "an old friend you had grown up and old with".....


Wed, 05/17/2017 - 1:03pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


I see that you are deliberately hijacking a discussion of an article on OEF-A.

If you so dislike the notion of an "Imperium Americium", then perhaps you should take up your quarrel with Bob, who has a clearly different take on American interventions than you do. Otherwise, stop attributing arguments to me that I have not made.

Any commentator bombarding others with their preconceived opinions instead of delving into the issue at hand will receive criticism from me: you included.

Nice copy-and-paste from SWC, by the way, complete with the long ellipsis...

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 12:16am

In reply to by Azor

Come on Azor you are soap boxing it again.....and alot of your stated facts are a alot of the times...simply wrong....

I have heard that term "American Imperialism" thrown out on the streets of Berlin and in the halls of the Otto Suhr Institute at the Free University here in Berlin by the left and extreme left since 1964....

Besides right now even Putin and the US far right are using the it appears they both seem to have now under Russian political warfare a common enemy the US.... spend an interesting amount of time bashing we have seen on the Syrian and Ukrainian threads....

Your quote
You have shamelessly pitched every single initiative that the Trans-Atlantic establishment has come up with, whether to be more muscular in Ukraine and Syria, to more confrontational with Iran (conveniently avoiding the issue of the JCPOA), to keeping the EU together at all costs, to demanding more US commitment to Europe while conveniently ignoring the unpopular 2% target. Now that the establishment has decided to follow the anti-Obama playbook (smearing him as a crypto-Muslim foreign-born anti-American), you have jumped in with both feet.

Thank you for revealing your solid alt right opinions....have known they were there for awhile but you hide them nicely behind text book supported answers....looking like a true academic which you are not....
Your do need to listen to what some say as they have far more ground experience than you do...and that ground reality of the real world is what you are missing these days....

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 3:41am

In reply to by Azor

Azor...I will jump out of this thread because......

1) we are in fact losing which is the thesis of the article and

2) Bob and I are trying to get you to "see and understand"...the following...

While there are a large number of ways to proverbially "skin a cat"....we are showing you "a way".........nothing more nothing less and you can agree or disagree with us....

BUT when you select "your way" test it from multiple directions to see if it withstands the everyday grind of ground reality and then readjust accordingly...

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 12:02am

In reply to by Azor still do not understand what I have written either on the Syria thread nor the Ukrainian thread.....

My so called intervention in Syria was as follows..had the US supplied the necessary tools to the FSA or what Obama and now Trump policy is of arming the Kurds...and then simply stood back and let the Syrians themselves figure it out and then toss out Assad and then come back in with needed assistance after the fighting settled down as a valued supporter who made no demands on which way they want to go then 1) there would have been trust and 2) the US would have been seen as a valued partner who was not going to meddle in which way themselves went politically.

Remember the Obama constant debate on who was and or was not a "moderate"...just a smokescreen to create the impression of doing something and not having to make a decision...

AND what are we getting now...we support a US named terrorist group that is working together with Assad/Iran and Russia against the wishes of the majority ethnic population...

AND since yesterday while supporting that ethnic population the US got into full scale combat with Assad and Iranian militia forces...

Had we followed my concept...none of that would be occurring....

BTW you really do not have a solid foundation in the area of UW.

Reference Ho...and your comments.....I met on the field of battle a regular NVA BN that had been bombed all the way from NVA to the Fishhook in Cambodia...and we fought it out for three running days...killing 350, and capturing 50 wounded and unwounded and they were still fighting me on the fourth day...and they were not fighting me.... they fought for Ho and they believed they were right.... they fought to the last bullet and then surrendered as they had completed what they had sworn to do attempt and that was to recapture what they felt was their own country as we were seen as invaders. BTW...after Tet 1968 there was virtually no coherent VC structure and most VC units were being backfilled with NVA die to the high loses and that Ho was taking over the home grown VC movement that did not necessarily agree with him at times.... know little about Cambodia...I do I spent 10 months training and leading a Cambodian recon company then when the leader of Cambodia was overthrown by Lon Nol my company took their weapons and went home and then died fighting the Khmer Rouge which was at that time just a radical offshoot of Communism...which BTW Ho did not approve of but it kept the HCM trail and their sanctuaries safe....

BTW I can give you countless examples of what worked counter insurgency wise....but when you lose they do not simply lose...

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 11:12am

In reply to by Azor

Azor...I once had a really great friend from my old days in SF in Berlin who now is a PHD teaching in Jordan and who speaks three different ME dialects..and who has decided to remain in Jordan since he literally loves it there....and has been there for over 40 years after leaving SF....

I once told me...the only thing one needs to be a great interrogator or strategic debriefer is the following.

1. curiosity of the world around you
2. love of cultures and other places in the world and have travelled
3. possibly worked and lived in one of more foreign countries
4. speak a foreign language

You actually then do not even have to have any training....talking and listening are far more important than training....

BUT most of all UNDERSTAND your own personal biases ..........and then learn to turn them off when looking at the world...

Biases tend to color our view of what we are seeing and trying to understand....and they do not allow one to fully "see and understand"....

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 3:04pm

In reply to by Azor

I have more questions than answers, and I reply more to test premises and question assumptions rather than to assert any particular narrative

AND you get lost in the rambling......and never reach a narrative whatever the true narrative is it get's lost in all the quoted facts...figures...referenced books and articles....almost like a smokescreen hiding what the actual narrative is suppose to be....

Almost like someone working in an echo chamber and wanting to hear their own voice....and nothing else.....

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 3:01pm

In reply to by Azor

Deleted duplicate


Fri, 05/19/2017 - 1:20pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


I do not know what your theory is. Are we discussing the history of U.S. interventions, counter-insurgency warfare, foreign internal defense, military occupations, “people’s wars”, individual-state relations or a nebula of all of these?

If by a “new era” you are referring to Fukuyama’s “End of History”, then we arrived here because of the triumph of the United States, its allies, its clients and its partners of convenience. Yet this triumph occurred after the U.S. had committed amoral and outright immoral acts of foreign policy. However, because I concur that human nature is constant, I never believed that liberalism and democracy would extinguish all other forms of society and governance. What actually took place in the 1990s was a collective celebration of the end of the conflict with the Soviet Union. In 1945, revelers in Trafalgar and Times Squares celebrated the victory of liberal democracy over its foes, while Iron Curtains descended across Central Europe and East Asia. According to the Democracy-Dictatorship Index, not as much changed from 1988 to 2008 as most people in the West believe. Central Europe is free, Latin America has improved and some countries have traded places in Africa, but otherwise the key change was the end of a specific international conflict. Arguably, the same proportion of people live in unfree countries today as they did in 1988. You speak about popular power growing in strength “exponentially”, but I vigorously disagree. The mass liberal democratic movements of the late 1980s defeated the world’s most powerful army and liberated tens of millions without firing a shot. Even where such movements were unsuccessful, they nevertheless shook the strong states to their foundations. Not only were the odds much longer than today, their resolve was that much deeper. That period will probably be the high-water mark for some time to come. And Jack Dorsey had nothing to do with it…

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people care little about who rules them, who occupies them, or why, so long as they have their basic needs satisfied or believe that they can satisfy them. In the West, we actually depend upon those whose self-actualization is predicated on bettering themselves and society: helping those in need, acting in good faith, combating corruption, pursuing justice. We depend upon these "meddlers", these "busybodies", and these "nosy-parkers", who are the bane of corruption. We laud Malala Yousafzai because of the optics of her life, yet it was her father Ziauddin who quietly dug in his heels to oppose the misogyny of his culture. Malala now lives in the UK and will probably not meaningfully influence Pakistani society. Pakistan needs more Ziauddins in Pakistan, not Malalas in the UK.

In my opinion, you have formed an outlook based upon emotion and your own personal experiences, and have arranged the facts to suit a narrative comprehensible to you. I would suggest to you that there is no simple story or morality play at work. Humans and their communities are as complex and dynamic as anything yet discovered in the known universe. We do strive to comprehend what is incomprehensible to us, and this constant striving does improve our lives, but there is an impenetrable fog that we may never pierce. As for a “better theory”, you might as well ask if we have a purpose or a “higher object”, or whether the universe is finite or infinite. I have more questions than answers, and I reply more to test premises and question assumptions rather than to assert any particular narrative.

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 9:54am

In reply to by Azor

We share the same facts, but we apply a different lens.

Yours is the lens formed in an era where state power could routinely trump and suppress popular grievance. A lens colored by the bias of your position and culture (whatever that, and whomever you, might be).

I have that lens as well. I've used it for decades. But we are in a new era, where relative power has shifted from governments to the governed. Suppression is harder to attain, less durable and harder to sustain, and far more provocative and consequential in effect with each passing year.

You can disparage what you do not agree with, if that appeases some deeper concern that perhaps a perspective you have long considered crystal clear is not what it has appeared to be at all. That your "knowledge" is flawed because your understanding is flawed. Good facts are necessary, but are worthless without appropriate context and understanding.

Human nature is unchanged. But popular power has grown exponentially, and governance that accepts and flexes to that reality will endure and prosper. Governance that rejects and seeks to control that reality will shatter and fail. You are trapped by your knowledge of the facts. It will be gaining an understanding of the fundamental nature of human dynamics, and considering the effects of the current strategic environment that sets you free. But you reject that premise, satisfied with the box you've locked yourself within. Afterall, you've spent a lifetime building it.

So far you have only stated your disagreement. Help me get to a better theory, and find a single thing I have said and prove me wrong.


Thu, 05/18/2017 - 5:03pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


You referred to Ho as a “nationalist revolutionary”, yet Ho was responsible for the deaths of far more Vietnamese civilians than combatants, whether foreigners or Vietnamese. Ho and the Communists’ war against the French was as much a war of national liberation from France as it was a war to impose Communism on the Vietnamese people. Not only was American, British and Nationalist Chinese support crucial to resisting Japanese occupation, Soviet and Communist Chinese support was crucial to expelling the French, and later to defeating the anti-Communists. Without the involvement of the Soviet Union and China, South Vietnam would not have fallen under Communist rule.

Historically, the Vietnamese have played foreign powers against one another in order to maximize their self-determination, and this has involved as much collaboration as it has resistance:

*France against China
*Japan against France
*The United States and Great Britain against Japan
*The Soviet Union and China against the United States
*The Soviet Union against China
*The United States and Russia against China

You claim that there was an, “additional 3,000,000 deaths because we were fearful of communist ideology, so we acted against our core principles as a nation to thwart their hard-won independence, create artificial ‘North’ and ‘South’ states”. Actually, you are including the higher end of estimates of total deaths in Indochina from 1954-1975. Yet even if one assumes the highest total for civilians killed at the hands of American and South Vietnamese forces, the total is one third of what the Communists’ civilian bodycount is. Nor do you address the fact that North Vietnam began a war in the South, in violation of the Geneva Accords, which escalated from subversion and guerrilla warfare to open conventional warfare for almost a decade prior to major U.S. intervention on behalf of the South.

Well, given that resistance to French and Japanese occupation as well as the imposition of Communism on the country all depended upon heavy foreign intervention, one can infer that either most Vietnamese were less than enthusiastic about the Communists, or that most Vietnamese were treacherous collaborators with the imperialist running dogs, no? Ho was after power, and his methods mirror those of the Stalinists throughout East-Central Europe. Of course, nothing seems more indigenous to Vietnam than totalitarianism originally intended for heavily industrialized economies, does it? Nor can I think of a greater expression of freedom of choice than hundreds of thousands being shot, starved and bludgeoned to death in order to collectivize their plots of land. I got out of this rut decades ago when I began researching facts rather than reading narratives. You know: facts? Those inconvenient dates, times, totals and ratios? Honestly, Bob, I expect better from you than this first-year Humanities tripe.

I see that you’re going off-road with your story about how the world works. Perhaps we should refer back to the Muslim Conquest in the 7th Century, rather than some silliness at the turn of the 20th? Had it not been for a certain deranged warlord with a taste for prepubescent girls, the Mediterranean may well have remained the locus of Western civilization, and Algerians and Egyptians might have been no worse off than Spaniards or Greeks in 2011. So what, exactly, is indigenous here?

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 10:24am

In reply to by Azor

One has to look through the facts to assess the fundamentals. Ho didn't "cause" resistance against French occupation through ideology, or for any external party. What caused resistance against French occupation was the French occupation. And yes, resistance against occupiers and revolution against the governments they create and protect tends to be a bloody business. Perhaps both the purest, and least effective form of democracy, designed to challenge what has become intolerable, not to bring what is good. Did many who collaborated with the French and later the Americans die at the hands of their own population who valued independence over foreign favor? Yes. Some 3,000,000 Vietnamese were killed between 1955 and 1975, and that is AFTER the fighting against the French was over and liberation was won in 1954. An additional 3,000,000 deaths because we were fearful of communist ideology, so we acted against our core principles as a nation to thwart their hard-won independence, create artificial "North" and "South" states, and set the stage for an additional 20 years of conflict. Our fear may have been rational, but we need to own the effects of our decision and not color it too much in the context of our biased perspective.

As to "Arab Spring," this did not begin with a Tunisian merchant in 2010, the modern version has been flashing, and being suppressed since the constitutional revolutions in Turkey and Iran in 1906/08; the Arab Revolt leveraged by British UW efforts in WWI; Algerian efforts against the French and their puppets; and of course the post- Cold War, post- 9/11 efforts we attribute to Islamism today. Hard fact is these are people who have little effective and legal means to shape the governance affecting their lives, and have been forced to live under autocratic regimes shaped and protected by a long line of external powers for the purposes of those respective powers. The ottomans, the Europeans and the Americans all in turn shaped the governance of the region to suit their own interests.

As to "liberal democracy," what does that have to do with self-determination? That is what the US has preached, but their is little indicator that the US version is what any significant population in the middle east thinks is best for themselves. Not our place to judge or manipulate, and our efforts to do so have provoked much of the motivation for the acts of transnational terrorism that vex us so today.

Occupation, be it physical or by policy, is de facto provocation for resistance warfare against the occupier. The character of that occupation can mitigate the degree or scope of that effect, but the very nature of the act provokes the nature of the response. The French "liberated" Egypt from the Ottomans and were shocked by the resistance against their good deed and against the enlightened perspectives on governance they brought. We are similarly shocked. Sometimes people don't appreciate an offered hand up, when one is simultaneously standing on their balls.


Wed, 05/17/2017 - 5:32pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

But to whom was the U.S. an occupier? In Afghanistan, the U.S. is an occupier to most Pashtuns, as almost all aspects of the U.S. presence clashed with “Pashtunwali”, irrespective of Pashtun popular support or indifference to the Taliban. Yet on a relative and absolute basis, the Afghan civil service, ANA and ANP are primarily staffed by non-Pashtuns who fought alongside U.S. forces in 2001. The non-Pashtun Northern Alliance were “nationalist revolutionaries” insofar as they wanted to overthrow the rule of minority supremacists backed by a foreign power: Pakistan.

RE: Indochina

Ho was an agent of the Comintern for some years before establishing his “nationalist” bona fides in 1941. Yet throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Comintern’s proselytizers were either agents or officers of the NKVD. To complete the circle, the late JFK’s “brain trust” determined that South Vietnam was indefensible due to its geography and resulting inability to control its borders. Yes, the CPV and NLF had supporters in South Vietnam, and yes the CPV considered itself Vietnamese rather than North Vietnamese. But in the end, it was the NVA backed by the Soviet Union and China that won the war, not the NLF. How did Ho and the CPV represent “liberty and self-determination”, given Ho’s mass murder of ~750,000 civilian dissidents or perceived dissidents? How did Mao’s free hand in Burma and Cambodia represent any sort of “liberty and self-determination”, given that he would murder 10% of the Chinese population?

RE: Muslim World

Which states are the U.S. preserving at the expense of “liberty and self-determination”, and conversely which states that exemplified these qualities did the U.S. “replace”?

As I have stated previously, I believe that the invasion of Iraq was a true march to folly. Having said that, I also believe that Hussein was one of the more odious tyrants of his time, and worse than Khomeini, Qaddafi, the Assads and Karadzic, but “better” than al-Bashir, the Kabilas, the Kims and Hutu Power. Until Operation Desert Storm, Hussein had spent almost his entire presidency invading his neighbors, and then turned to the Kurds and Shias at home until the no-fly and no-drive zones limited his ability to cause mayhem. In the absence of 9/11, do you think that an Arab Spring would not have happened?

As for Muslim liberal democracy, where is it? Turkey “was” the model until Erdogan decided to ensconce himself as a new Sultan. Islamism and anti-Christian violence are major problems in Indonesia. Egyptians elected the Muslim Brotherhood and Gazans elected Hamas. There are legitimate concerns that democracy in Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be very illiberal as well in the absence of dynastic rule. Tunisia is certainly faring well since the Arab Spring, but how can tiny Tunisia outweigh the “Arab Winter” in Egypt, Libya, and Syria?

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 3:52pm

In reply to by Azor

Collaboration is when the citizens of an occupied country work with the occupiers in exchange for favor.

Nationalist revolutionaries, like George Washington accepting help from the French; or Ho accepting help from Russia or China, or AQ-X and ISIS-Y revolutionary movements accepting help from AQ or ISIS, are not collaborators. The external parties are conducting UW, and revolutionaries take help from whomever they can get it from. Didn't make George French, or Ho Russian, nor does it make all the movements we brand after their UW supporters "AQ" or "ISIS."

The US missed a chance to support liberty and self-determination in Indochina because we were so fearful of the ideology being employed by our competitors. Similarly we miss the chance to support liberty and self-determination in a dozen Muslim countries across the Greater Middle East because we cling to a Cold War model rooted in preserving governments we agree with, and replacing those we don't.

As to Outlaw's thoughts on Syria, I have not been following.


Wed, 05/17/2017 - 3:07pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


Who exactly are the “rural Afghans” you speak of? Depending upon their location, ethnicity and sect, you might as well be referring to different nationalities. It was not as though there was an Afghan nation that held a referendum and decided that every clan or tribe was its own principality or kingdom. Afghanistan was an ungoverned space on the fringes of powerful empires and then their successor states. It was ungoverned partly because it was more of a liability than an asset, and partly because its diverse population were hostile to central governance.

Ho was a collaborator as well, albeit with the Soviets and Chinese. Ho relied upon limitless advanced Sino-Soviet weaponry and the deployment of hundreds of thousands of advisors and soldiers in North Vietnam, in order to invade and occupy South Vietnam in violation of peace agreements, whereas neither Saigon nor Washington made any attempt to invade and occupy the North.

Nor was Ho as popular with Vietnamese as many mistakenly believe. He had to murder 3.75% of his subjects in order to "win their hearts and minds", at a rate seven times higher than the murders attributable to Saigon, despite the latter’s apparent corrupt authoritarianism. Although Vietnam would later go to war against China and its interests, Ho nevertheless helped China impose the Khmer Rouge on Cambodia, and we all know what those foreign collaborators did. ;)

For the record, I do not agree with counter-insurgency as practiced by the U.S. in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. I do prefer the containment strategy in Somalia and Yemen. I think that the U.S. should have simply made Indochina ungovernable by the Communists, that the Pashtuns should have been contained and the Taliban attrited, and that marginalizing the Sunni Arabs in Iraq and Syria will fan the flames of Salafi-Qtubi-Jihadism.

I know that you believe you have the fundamentals figured out and that the rest is mere conversation. But I will disagree.

If you and Outlaw see “eye to eye”, then what of his promotion of intervention in Syria on behalf of the FSA?

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 2:17pm

In reply to by Azor

And of course, Massood was assassinated. Very aware of who he represented. Gul Agah Shirzai, oto, and to a lesser degree Hamid Karzai, were pure opportunists. It is not by accident that rural Afghans to this day often assume we are Russians. Many of the senior Afghan Army leaders served the Russians as well as us. Patronage flips like a pancake in Afghanistan. Who one works with depends on what flip is in motion when they come in.

Anyone who collaborates with an external power for their own personal gain is, well, a collaborator. Yes, the Vichy French in WWII. But also Diem's government in Vietnam; and absolutely the governments we stood up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And no, I do not "conflate" Iraq and Afghanistan; but while very different in character, the conflicts do share a great deal in nature. That is not conflation, that is just having an appreciation for the strategic nature of conflict, in which all strategy is rooted.

And trust me on this, you cannot begin to understand the conflict in Afghanistan until you can appreciate how it is similar at a fundamental level to a thousand other conficts in nature; equally to how is is unique unto itself in character. Your doctor does not "conflate" you with his other patients suffering from the same condition. But he does need to have a keen understanding of the nature of the condition if he is to apply your unique characteristics into his decision calculus on how to treat you. Otherwise all he would be doing is treating symptoms. Which, of course, is what we do in Afghanistan by applying the logic you cling to so fiercely.

None of the time I have taken to lay these past few posts out has been to convince you, your mind is firmly set. That is your prerogative, and your are entitled to your beliefs. I do however see opportunity in the position you adhere to offer a contrasting perspective for those who are curious about these types of human dynamics and open to consider them in a different light. Also, crowdsourcing strategic thinking in venues like this is an effective way to identify strong and weak points in either the thinking applied or in how it is best communicated.

(And, while I do not spend much time on SWJ of late, Outlaw and I more often than not see eye to eye on the nature of these conflicts; and where we disagree, we still understand where the other is coming from.)


Wed, 05/17/2017 - 1:49pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


With all due respect, the group that cooperated with the CIA following the Soviet withdrawal was led by a warlord who had fiercely resisted the Soviets: Massood was known as the "Lion of Panshir" for his exploits. He fought the Taliban continuously and was assassinated by Al Qaeda just prior to 9/11. His "Northern Alliance" coalition defeated the Taliban in 2001, backed by American special forces and airpower.

Your references to "collaborators and opportunists" seems to hark back to World War II, and those who sided with the Germans, Soviets or both.

Massood and the Northern Alliance were Islamist per the definition of the term, although they would have seemed akin to secular liberal democrats when compared to the Salafi Jihadis and probably the Wahhabis as well.

You also seem to conflate the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. In the latter, there were foolish attempts to sweep away socio-political structures and impose foreign values and institutions. In Afghanistan, the Taliban were always destined to be a problem, whether they were perpetrating subversion, guerrilla warfare or conventional warfare in the open. In Iraq, there was no major faction that was implacably hostile from the outset. It was in fact the CPA that created the insurgency in Iraq, which it took a few years for Petraeus, billions in cash and tens of thousands of dead Americans and Iraqis to quell.

The Taliban consider any individual or group that is not Taliban to be "other". Therefore, they would not soften for say a Hazara-led government.

Bob, we are talking about Afghanistan, not "a thousand other places throughout recorded history".



Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 12:21pm

In reply to by Greywolf



Wed, 05/17/2017 - 8:29am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

" a western style democracy in our image - was, and remains infeasible."

This is the key point that so many military leaders don't want to accept, and our political leaders have been unable to articulate a strategy beyond this desire.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 8:05am

In reply to by Azor

Afghanistan is the easiest country in the world to flip a government through UW, and perhaps the hardest one to make it stick. Such is the character of their win-lose patronage culture. The guys who collaborated with us are the same guys, families and tribes who collaborated with the Russians.

No, what we attempted to do - stay and build a western style democracy in our image - was, and remains infeasible. Perhaps a government not put into power by foreigners could pullinit off if they wished, but not a government of collaborators and opportunists. That is the nature of the conflict, just as it has played out in a thousand other places throughout recorded history. We thought we were exceptional and somehow exempt from human nature. We are not.


Tue, 05/16/2017 - 4:39pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones


You seem to want to make sweeping assumptions, such as on the "nature of man".

"We" were reacting to 9/11, and blending retaliation, counter-terrorism, development aid and reconstruction together. It could have actually worked in much of Afghanistan. However, it could not and will never work in "Pashtunistan", which lies astride the Durand Line. Note that the U.S. had no problem gaining the support and trust of the non-Pashtun factions known as the "Northern Alliance", who comprised the land forces of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

The realized costs and unrealized risks of prizing Pashtunistan from Pakistan's grasp would far exceed the costs of containment and attrition.

The Taliban were not a creation of the U.S. any more than Al Qaeda was. Both owe their existence to a combination of ul-Haq's Islamist policies, the eclipse of Arab Nationalism by Salafism in the wake of Israeli victories, and the Sunni counter-revolution against the revolutionary Shia theocracy in Iran.



Robert C. Jones

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 3:23pm

In reply to by Azor

Ahh, you want to skip strategy and jump right to tactics. I'll assume you are an American.

Look, all of the unique attributes of any given conflict are shaped by the culture, history, geography, etc. of the people involved. That is the character of the conflict and critical to shaping good tactics.

The nature of conflict, however, is rooted in the nature of man, and that is essential to the framing of good strategy.

We largely ignored both going in, and worked on the character portion a bit (but not too hard), but have never stopped to really ponder what type of conflict we were in, or what role we were playing in the conflict. So all that has gone to date is the proverbial "noise before defeat." The conflict is what it is, and will never be what we have thought it to be, and certainly not what we want it to be.

Cheers, and DOL,



Tue, 05/16/2017 - 2:53pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

How much time you got?

You are determined to shove the square peg of Afghanistan into the round hole of American imperialism provoking a revolutionary insurgency or "illegal democracy".

You don't care about Afghan history or the Taliban or even Pakistan, so long as you can bloviate about how American intervention is inherently wrong.

Coloring the past, present and future with the failures of Vietnam is no more intelligent than doing so with the successes of Desert Storm.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 12:15pm

In reply to by Azor

Or you could attempt to make a rational argument to prove my position wrong.

Standing by.


Tue, 05/16/2017 - 12:02pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Tinfoil hat activate!

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 11:47am

In reply to by RantCorp

"Taliban" has become as generic in Afghanistan as "Charlie" in Vietnam. It is the insurgency, a blend of resistance warfare insurgency against the foreign occupation; and revolutionary (illegal democracy) insurgency against the illegitmate government put into power and protected by the occupiers in exchange for their collaboration.

As to Pakistan, of course they conduct UW in this space to advance their own interests. They would be fools not to. We paid and threatened them in a classic "silver bullet" deal to act against their own interests and help us accomplish our illogical goals. They had no choice but to say yes to our face, and then act against us behind our backs.

We don't understand the problem, and we color the actions of all the actors through our rose, white and blue colored lenses. To blame Pakistan for the insurgency is baseless. Yes they support and leverage it as best they can, but they didn't build this iteration, we did.


Tue, 05/16/2017 - 11:21am

In reply to by RantCorp


I agree actually, but I didn't want to delve into the thorny Pakistani issue too much.

It is also more complicated than Punjabi-centrism, as the Sindhs are not threatening to the state. Pakistan has a number of centrifugal sectarian (Shia) and ethnic (Pashtun, Balochi, etc.) forces that can tear that country apart in much the same way as East Pakistan was. I have no doubt that the lessons of 1971 continue to inform both the Army and the ISI.

As regards the Pashtun, I believe that the Taliban are a manifestation of Islamabad's strategy of subverting Pashtun ethnic nationalism and channeling it into tribal Islamism. How else to control a prospective nation of 40 million? On the one hand, the Pashtuns are useful as auxiliaries when Islamabad wants to interfere in Afghanistan; on the other hand, the Pashtuns are also a threat to the territorial integrity of Pakistan.

You are correct that little effort was made to distinguish Al Qaeda from the Taliban in 2001, and that in Afghanistan we can only ever deal with one half of the "Pashtun Question". Resolving the other half would require denuclearizing Pakistan which neither Clinton nor Bush were prepared to do.

Even if the Pashtuns can be integrated into the Afghan civil and security services, I doubt that the Afghan ones can be separated from their Pakistani co-ethnics. Therefore, we're back to containment and occasional attrition in the south...


Tue, 05/16/2017 - 3:45am

In reply to by Azor

Azor wrote,

'The Taliban is a Pashtun movement '

With the greatest respect I would argue the Taliban is a Pakistan Army 'movement' and as the Pakistan Army has a Punjab-centric conigtition I would consider first and foremost the Talibs serve the interest's of their Punjabi masters.

Unfortunately for everyone those interests have no concern for the well-being of the Pashtun, the Afghan nor us.

IMHO our failure to understand the real reason for the Taliban's existence is a primary reason why we cannot shape a meaningful strategy.

With all due respect to Lt. Fisher, his article is heavy on problems and light on solutions.

I would start out by countering that Lt. Fisher has ignored the elephant in the room: the Pashtuns. The Taliban is a Pashtun movement, and regardless of whatever policies are enacted in Afghanistan, the Taliban will always have a base of support among the Pashtuns of northern Pakistan. There is no solution to this vexing problem unless there is intervention in Pakistan, which is an impossibility. Arguably, the Pashtuns are ungovernable and the withdrawal of governance from their areas of Afghanistan as well as the containment and attrition of the Taliban is probably the best outcome. Afghanistan is surrounded by states with centrifugal ethnic and sectarian forces of their own that spill over into Afghanistan, so we should be thankful that the diverse 58% of non-Pashtun Afghans are relatively docile.

Lt. Fisher suggests combining security with economic development as though this approach has not been tried. Despite the corruption and waste, the U.S. has contributed more in development aid to Afghanistan than it did to the Marshall Plan for postwar Europe.

Development may well work in the north, but the southern Pashtun areas need to be sealed off and forgotten. The only solution there, for the foreseeable future, is a military one, unfortunately.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 11:40am

In reply to by Greywolf


That is my point. We let our emotion over the horrendous crime (yes crime, not act of war) levied against us cloud our judgment. I completely agree that a punitive expedition was the right call. But one that left Mullah Omar in power to rule by the lesson he had received. Frankly, I suspect Omar would have given AQ up if approached in a more culturally savvy way than what we tried.

Israel didn't declare war on Argentina and Brazil or "terror", they just quietly and ruthlessly hunted down Nazi war criminals.

As to "terrorist organization" that describes an aspect of AQ tactics, but not who or what they are. Terrorism is a term with no strategic meaning. It is symptomatic. More accurately they are an illegal, independent political action group seeking to reduce Western influence in Muslim countries, oust corrupt regimes, and form a multination Caliphate to prevent this from happening again. To that end they conduct a distributed and networked approach to UW targeting the growing revolutionary energy among Sunni populations, and targeted terrorist attacks. We should have stolen their message and became the champions of this reform, instead we were so blinded by our anger we became the champions of sustaining the autocrats and enabling them to act with impunity. I think that is being "butt hurt."


Tue, 05/16/2017 - 7:50am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

"We were butt hurt about 9/11"

A terrorist organization kills nearly 3000 people, mostly Americans, and you marginalize it.

The biggest mistake made during the 6 months following 9/11 is we didn't go in with enough determination to take down bin Laden and anyone associated with him.

Removing the Taliban should not have been an objective.

It should have been a good old fashioned punitive expedition.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 5:54pm

Once one accepts that the policy goals have been impossible from the very beginning, one can move past esoteric questions of "winning" or "losing."

We misframed the nature of AQ. We misconstrued the character of the relationship between Mullah Omar's government and AQ. We were bamboozled by the Northern Alliance and every other Afghan opportunist who saw the chance to gain patronage power through collaboration with the latest foreign power to roll into town. We were butt hurt about 9/11 and arrogant in our certainty in our cause, our power, and our "exceptionalism. And we sure as hell did not understand the culture and history of the people ( on both sides of the AF/PAK border) who we were about to descend upon.

What could go wrong? Frankly we've gotten off lightly. Best to stop digging, and either reframe feasible policy goals, or if too headstrong to do that, pack up and let nature run its course.

Let us consider the reason why we are "losing" -- not only in Afghanistan -- but also, more-generally, throughout the world today.

In this regard, let us use the litmus of "interests defined by power" to help us with this analysis.

Thus, if a nation (for example, the United States) is "winning" -- wherever in the world this may be and via whatever strategy, means, methods, etc., that this nation chooses to employ -- then what this means is that, via these strategies, means, methods, etc., this nation has maintained or increased the degree of power, influence and control it holds in the world (for example, relative to other nations?).

On the other hand, if a nation is "losing" (again, for example, the United States) -- wherever in the world this may be and via whatever strategy, means, methods, etc., that this nation chooses to use -- then what this means is that (a) via these chosen strategies, means, methods, etc., this nation has, in stark contrast to "a" above, (b) failed to maintain, and thus has lost, the degree of the power, influence and control (relative to other nations?) that it previously enjoyed.

Next, let us look at the degree power, influence and control the U.S. enjoyed at the end of the Old Cold War -- as compared to today -- and see if we can determine if we have:

a. Maintained and/or increased our such attributes (which would indicate that we were, indeed, "winning?"). Or if we have, post-the Old Cold War,

b. Failed to maintain this degree of power, influence and control (which would indicate that we were, in fact, "losing?"). And, as to either of these matters,

c. Why this result has occurred.

In this regard, let us consider that, in truth, we have:

a. "Failed" to maintain the degree of power, influence and control that we enjoyed soon after the Old Cold War. And that, therefore,

b. We are, in fact, now "losing." Herein, one of the primary reasons for this adverse result being:

c. Our choosing to use "advancing market-democracy" as our way forward/our grand strategy post-the Old Cold War. Herein, the U.S. failing to heed the "lesson of the past era" (to wit: that of the Old Cold War) "and the needs of the future" defined by Paul Nitze in 1993:

"The lessons of the past era and the needs of the future argue that the fundamental U.S. foreign policy goal should be accommodating and protecting diversity within a general framework of world order. We should seek a global climate in which a large array of political groupings can exist, each with its own, perhaps eccentric, ways. We should seek to eliminate force and intimidation as acceptable means of resolving disputes between these groupings. To assure progress toward this set of goals we should seek to foster cooperative efforts among the diverse groupings necessary to a resolution of common problems. An emphasis on diversity provides certain guidelines for handling problems that are truly internal to individual nations. The overriding principle must be a respect for sovereignty: there should be no effort to impose political, economic, or social preferences on others."

Bottom Line:

Thus, much as with the Soviets/the communists in the Old Cold War, likewise with the U.S./the West in the current era, we are, in fact, (a) "losing" -- not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world -- and (b) for the exact same reason, to wit: our similar (and similarly ill-advised?) effort to transform outlying states and societies more along alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines.

Approaches thus which, in both instances noted above (the Old Cold War and the post-Cold War eras), provide:

a. Not for the power, influence and control gains (and, thus, the "winning" needs) of the "expansionist" party. But, rather,

b. For the "power"/the "winning," etc., needs of the "containment" and "roll back" entities. (To wit: the state and non-state actors that happily exploit the huge numbers of "natural enemies" that are created -- both at home and abroad -- by these highly unwanted, broadly challenged and actively and aggressively resisted alien and profane transformational efforts.)

Thomas Doherty

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 1:12pm

If that is the John Muhammad Karzai’s boy from TK I worked with him in the past also. However, that was before there was a paved road from KAF to TK. FYI, John Muhammad was assassinated and so was Mutual (sp) the Police Chief.

Bill M.

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 11:48pm

I haven't been there since 2010, but based on the reports I'm reading I tend to agree with the author that we're currently losing. I disagree with him that the addition of 3k additional U.S. troops and facilitating a viable economy will stabilize the region. Due to self-imposed constraints we will not apply the appropriate level of force to bring the spoilers to the table to seriously negotiate. They'll continue fighting for their spheres of power and influence, they're not interested in our version of a nation-state, especially if it undermines their power base. Further complicating the problem, is a number of external actors like Pakistan, India, Russia, Iran, and China all have interests they'll pursue that are in competition with NATO's. Multiple actors pursuing different goals in a landlocked country whose ability to sustain itself economically without considerable outside aid is not a problem the U.S. will resolve. We can contribute to a solution, but it may be best at this point if we take a backseat and let another country lead that is more willing to deal with those we tend to consider undesirable.

If there is no peace, then there is no chance of a viable economy, and of course no stability. In hope that I'm wrong, and a negotiated settlement becomes possible, I think the author's recommendation to support building consensus around TAPI gas pipeline (as one example)could create common economic and security interests among a wide number of actors, and that may lead to a uncomfortable stability. I also think there is the risk of the pipeline resulting in Afghanistan becoming another country inflicted with resource curse syndrome, where a corrupt few benefit from single trick economy. There will be no middle class and in time the people will rise up again.

Building roads, increasing telecommunications infrastructure, and perhaps a rail system, a banking system, and other structures that connect this land locked country to the outside world are essential for economic development, but again these efforts will result in little gain relative to stability unless the conflict is resolved. It is the chicken or egg argument. Doing both at the same time sounds good, maybe it needs to happen, but it seems to present a Ying and Yang situation where there is no progress for either effort.

Is this welfare? Developing the means for Afghanistan to sustain itself is not welfare, it is assistance. Donor countries providing the funds to sustain Afghan's security forces isn't welfare either, we're paying for a service. It is an expensive service that arguably is not resulting on an acceptable return in investment, but our alternatives are? The topic of welfare may have a place in the larger discussion, but that isn't what the author suggested, at least the way I read it. Furthermore, welfare has a purpose that is often under appreciated until that that safety net doesn't exist.


Sun, 05/14/2017 - 9:49am

How can you tell we're losing with a mission this ill defined?

Maybe our new CINC could articulate the desired end state? Never mind...what was I thinking?

J Harlan

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 2:19pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

$ 2 per week. Really? Really? In any event the aim of much of the billions poured into Afghanistan was welfare- the false idea that if median GNP increased the guerrillas would behave. That's the premise of what all the development corps,IOs and NGOs were doing. Economic growth/ better living standards would stop the rebellion.

Most US military don't realize that their projects were approved by the Taliban. Some Taliban commanders issued very ornate letters of approval for village chiefs to show to any passing guerillas who might object. How else do you think your workers went home at night safely? The local commander got a kickback- tax, zakat, protection money- whatever you want to call it.

The big picture idea was that the "accidental guerilla" could be induced to stay home if he had a job. It was wrong and the tax payer shouldn't put another dime into Afghanistan in the false hope that a few % increase in GNP will end the insurgency. US cash fuels it.

J Harlan

Mon, 05/29/2017 - 10:12pm

In reply to by Greywolf

If the end state is the Taliban partially back in power what has been the point of 16 years of war and perhaps a trillion dollars spent?

This is likely the least sensible war the US has ever fought. It has never had an achievable goal beyond revenge.

I'm not a fan of the Clausewitzian quote but surely he had in mind adventures like Afghanistan when he warned about having wars that were not based on foreign policy. Here we have a war based on ego, profit, hubris, bumper stickers and career building. The only thing missing is a King for our side.


Tue, 05/16/2017 - 7:40am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


Paying for security doesn't bother me. In fact, the war will end eventually when the major waring parties come to a security agreement that likely will include government posts and the control of trade routes. Essentially, there will be financial incentive for each side to negotiate peace. Look at the arrangement made between the Taliban and Haqqani back in the mid 90s for a clue as to how this will end.


Sun, 05/14/2017 - 9:53pm

In reply to by J Harlan

I Commanded an Engineer Company in Afghanistan for a year. I built roads, which meant that 1) I lived outside the wire and 2) if you wanted to know where I would be tomorrow, all you needed to know is where I ended work today. I did not have enough security for my job site, so we hired the local Warlord to provide security. I paid each worker $2.00 a week, of which $1.00 went to the Warlord. I was never attacked as long as I was under the protection of John Muhammad.

So no, this is not welfare. You can call it extortion. You can call it protection money. But it was not welfare.

J Harlan

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 9:43am

By economic development the author really means welfare doesn't he? The US taxpayer will pay Afghans (after corrupt officials take their cut) to do their farm work and expect that having a few extra bucks will stop the young guys from having a go at the ANSF or NATO.

Let's think this through. Will giving the lads cash (and providing shovels and picks) prevent them from laying IEDs at night. No. If the US cash increases crop yields will villages have a surplus they can feed guerillas with. Yes. Will they have more cash for "taxes" or zakat. Yes.

US development dollars fund the Taliban and do nothing to reduce the number of guerillas. Has a rising GNP and generous welfare state reduced gang membership in the US? No so why should it work in Afghanistan?

If you want to reduce guerilla activity leave the rural Afghans alone. No cash. No night raids. No air strikes. No aid. No ALP. Just leave them be.