Skip

General Disarray
May 11, 2009 11:08 AM   Subscribe

The U.S. replaces the top General in Afghanistan after he'd held his post for less than a year. General McKiernan is being replaced by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who came under some criticism in the past for the treatment of detainees by his Special Operations forces under his command. He is credited with the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in 2006, and the Obama administrations hopes he will bring unconventional thinking to the use of force in Afghanistan. He is already working on some new ideas in military civilian collaboration, but does he play poker? Will he embrace the population-centered warfare approach? Will this General, a prominent figure in Bush's war on terror, be an effective tool in the use of Smart Power, or just make matters worse?
posted by cal71 (61 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 


Afghanistan, not Iraq.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 11:25 AM on May 11, 2009


This seems like smart thinking. McKiernan's been quite good at working with and developing the Afghan National Army but clearly the situation in Afghanistan calls for someone with a more radical approach: I'm not hugely familiar with McChrystal but his Iraq record is quite impressive.

Thanks for the links, I haven't read the article on population-centred warfare but the abstract sounds way off what sounds like the US should be doing in Afghanistan: I'm interested to see how they make their case.
posted by SamuelBowman at 11:26 AM on May 11, 2009


Come on, it's easy to tell Iraq and Afghanistan apart! Iraqis have mustaches! Afghanis have long pointy beards!
posted by mudpuppie at 11:41 AM on May 11, 2009


The "more inside" is a backslash?

Anyway, some of the things brought up about the men under this guy's command in the third link are pretty disturbing. That said, his Air Force Times article shows remarkable sensitivity and understanding of Afghanistan and how the military can best work with the populace there. Any military commander more concerned with working with civilians than knuckling them under is going to be necessary in Afghanistan.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:50 AM on May 11, 2009


Finally putting a SOF general in command seems like a very good move if they are really looking for someone innovative and aggressive. And the selection of LTG McChrystal seems to fit into the shift to "Af-Pak"...
posted by lullaby at 11:53 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


[fixed the first sentence - proofreading is your friend]
posted by jessamyn at 11:54 AM on May 11, 2009


“Our mission there requires new thinking and new approaches by our military leaders,” said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates... “Nothing went wrong and there was nothing specific,” Mr. Gates said. It was simply his conviction, he added, “that a new approach was probably in our best interest.”

More white phosphorus, perhaps.

Will Obama have the guts to call his Afghanistan escalation a "surge"?
posted by Joe Beese at 11:55 AM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


"We had also, to all the visitors who came over, been one of the bright shining lies."

.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:59 AM on May 11, 2009


Will Obama have the guts to call his Afghanistan escalation a "surge"?

Maybe calling it "adding more troops as should've been done years ago" would suffice.
posted by lullaby at 12:00 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or how about calling it "Operation: If we had never diverted all those troops and resources to the snipe hunt in Iraq, we would be done in Afghanistan by now!"
posted by vibrotronica at 12:03 PM on May 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not convinced Afghanistan requires a military solution. Nobody else throughout history has seen that work - not the USSR, not Alexander, and very likely not the US. Putting more troops there sounds logical, but it's not clear that increasing troop levels will give us an outcome that allows an exit strategy. BTW, what is our exit strategy in Afghanistan?
posted by krinklyfig at 12:13 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Creamsicles for everyone!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:18 PM on May 11, 2009


I was just reading Spencer Ackerman (aka Attackerman!) about this move. There are a few other things about this guy: his odd stance on the official misinformation campaign after Tilman's death and the secret torture and detention site which was run by his subordinates in Iraq.
posted by shothotbot at 12:23 PM on May 11, 2009


oops, missed that third link somehow - covers a lot of the same ground. Apologies all around.
posted by shothotbot at 12:25 PM on May 11, 2009


BTW, what is our exit strategy in Afghanistan?

Same as Japan, I assume. A permanent base of 50,000+ troops keeping the locals under a watchful eye.
posted by GuyZero at 12:38 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


GuyZero: "Same as Japan, I assume. A permanent base of 50,000+ troops keeping the locals under a watchful eye."

And no doubt, sometimes under even more.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:48 PM on May 11, 2009


> Nobody else throughout history has seen that work - not the USSR, not Alexander, and very likely not the US.

Well, to be fair, the Soviets didn't exactly get a fair shot in the same way the British did and the U.S. has now. It's hard to say what would have happened there had the U.S. not started shipping boatloads of Stingers over and turned it into a proxy war. I doubt it would have been fun for the Afghans, although since they ended up getting the Taliban as a booby prize, it's hard to say if it really would have been worse.

Of course, if the U.S. can't control the situation and the American public finally runs out of tolerance for a continued military operation, the Russians might just get another try.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:53 PM on May 11, 2009


Kadin2048: "if the U.S. can't control the situation and the American public finally runs out of tolerance for a continued military operation..."

Then what? They'll vote back in the other wing of the Imperialist party? The one that started the Afghanistan occupation in the first place?
posted by Joe Beese at 12:59 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


BTW, what is our exit strategy in Afghanistan?

I had a great one, it was called "Lets kick the hell out of the Taliban for fucking with us, then rebuild your infrastructure, and dump a ton of money into getting your country self reliant, reducing the likelihood that you would ever tolerate the presence of an authoritarian regime again, and helping to create bridges between our two cultures. Eventually you will become the jewel of the Middle East, admired and respected by all, and we can leave your country secure in the knowledge that we are allies."

But then we decided that Saddam needed a good fucking and we spent all our money on that instead.

Personally, I still think my idea was better.
posted by quin at 1:05 PM on May 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


After seeing what the Russians do to Chechens, I can only imagine the fun of a foreign adventure in Afghanistan. It's probably a good thing that current geopolitics basically preclude them from stepping in.

But the basic problem with Afghanistan is that it's not a state, it's barely out of the iron age, and a fair percentage of the folks who live there have no interest in anything else. Oh, and the only thing they're good at economically is heroin.
posted by klangklangston at 1:06 PM on May 11, 2009




Damn. I was hoping to be the guy's replacement!
posted by Postroad at 1:23 PM on May 11, 2009


"Lets kick the hell out of the Taliban for fucking with us, then rebuild your infrastructure, and dump a ton of money into getting your country self reliant, reducing the likelihood that you would ever tolerate the presence of an authoritarian regime again, and helping to create bridges between our two cultures. Eventually you will become the jewel of the Middle East, admired and respected by all, and we can leave your country secure in the knowledge that we are allies."

Allow me to repeat repeating myself by saying that greatest of all US post-war rebuilding strategies did all that except for that little bit.

And Wikipedia sez it's only 30,000+ troops.

But Germany has twice that apparently, in the 60,000+ range. Scary Germans and their precision machine techniques.

Basically, once you have a war, the US never, ever leaves the country. Also, Yankees in Atlanta. (I joke! I joke!)

Anyway, there is no exit strategy. There never has been.
posted by GuyZero at 1:29 PM on May 11, 2009


I had a great one, it was called "Lets kick the hell out of the Taliban for fucking with us, then rebuild your infrastructure, and dump a ton of money into getting your country self reliant, reducing the likelihood that you would ever tolerate the presence of an authoritarian regime again, and helping to create bridges between our two cultures. Eventually you will become the jewel of the Middle East, admired and respected by all, and we can leave your country secure in the knowledge that we are allies.

Sounds great but before you put your plan into motion you might want to learn where Afghanistan is actually located. It's not "The Middle East" Although it does get included in "The 'Greater' Middle East a term which:
is a political term coined by the Bush administration[2] to englobe together various countries, pertaining to the Muslim world, specifically Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan.[3] Various Central Asian countries and the lower Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia[4] ) and Cyprus and Greece are sometimes also included. Some speakers may use the term to denote areas with significant Muslim majorities, but this usage is not universal.

This expanded term was introduced in the U.S. administration's preparatory work for the G8 summit of 2004[4] as part of a proposal for sweeping change in the way the West deals with the Middle East.
Anyway, you're plan basically amounts to "lets bomb them into our image, which they will love us for." The dream of every colonial power who thinks that they are doing their victims a "favor"
posted by delmoi at 1:31 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why are we even still there? What do we win? A puppet government that hopes to "normalize" relations with the Taliban and every hill-tribe?

Why? I just don't see the payoff. Is it to protect the poppy crop? Is it merely to relieve pressure on Pakistan's government? Because they, in turn, have nukes?

What can we conceivably win?
posted by orthogonality at 1:34 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]



What can we conceivably win?


to paraphrase Tim Krieder, in Iraq and Afghanistan we're stuck, not in a war, but a test of character. The Kobayashi Maru that all colonial powers encounter. And we're not doing well.
posted by The Whelk at 1:43 PM on May 11, 2009


quin: "I had a great one, it was called "Lets kick the hell out of the Taliban for fucking with us, then rebuild your infrastructure..."

Aside from the fact that "the Taliban" is little more than our umbrella term for anyone on Afghani soil who dislikes the sight of American soldiers, the problem with your plan is that there's no way to "kick the hell out of" an insurgency - as you so rousingly put it - without blowing up a lot of women and children in the process. [And unlike America with its corporate sanitized news media, the rest of the world gets vivid color images of the results.]

Then you get stuff like...

Afghans riot over air-strike atrocity

... and you create two new extremists for every one you killed.

But that keeps the war profits flowing - which is the ultimate goal of the enterprise - so why not.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:48 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not "The Middle East"

Fair enough. I was using the vernacular of a group I disagree with and didn't even realize it. Replace with "Jewel of the region" as needed.

Anyway, you're plan basically amounts to "lets bomb them into our image, which they will love us for."

My plan is still miles better than what we went with which was "lets bomb them and walk away" which did absolutely nothing but create animosity and a vacuum into which the Taliban was able to begin regaining their foothold.

Let's be honest, after 9/11 we were going to bomb the people that attacked us. I may not like it, but I knew it was going to happen as sure as the sun rises. I just felt that everyone would have been much better off if we hadn't abdicated our responsibility and used the opportunity to make some lives better.

I'm not even saying that they should have rebuild it in our image, hell getting them back to the way it was prior to 1996 when women could be doctors and teachers would be a great first step.

Even if our only legacy was to help remove the conflicts from Afghanistan and set them on their own path, free from everyone else interfering, we would have done them a pretty great service.
posted by quin at 1:49 PM on May 11, 2009


Occupying Afghanistan successfully is a costly fantasy bound to failure, just like almost everything else in American political life right now....

[derail]

America's economy remains in tatters; we have a dying auto industry, lack decent health care or a sustainable energy policy, have a two trillion dollar deficit, an overextended military that is a fiscal sinkhole, and our political class is owned by bankers.

The endemic cronyism, corruption, waste and mismanagement of the Bush administration has resulted is virtually no real reform or accountability, and we are forever being distracted by non-issues spewed forth by our bought-out media.

Afghanistan is but one symptom of a larger failure of political imagination and political will.

[/derail]
posted by ornate insect at 1:53 PM on May 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


New Afghan General had role in Pat Tillman Friendly Fire incident

Yeah, his central role was first to be one among dozens of generals who signed on to commend Tillman for a silver star, which was ultimately approved not by McChrystal but by Wes Brownlee--and then to be one of the many soldiers at all levels of the chain of command to publicly decry false statements about the nature of the incident that caused Pat Tillman's death.

"April 29, 2004: Silver Star commendation signed by Gen. Wes Brownlee, acting Army Secretary."

Another soldier who, like McChrystal, signed on to support Tillman's silver star award, later publicly reported that the commendation statement accompanying the award had had new language inserted into it after he had signed it, falsely indicating that Tillman had come under Taliban fire at the time of his death. Meanwhile, McChrystal himself was one of the first to make noise about the fact that Tillman's death was likely a friendly fire incident.

The way the press is reporting this, you'd think there was all sorts of uncertainty surrounding whether McChrystal played some central role in the Tillman cover-up, when in fact, he was one of the first military officials to challenge the given account of events, and it's reasonable to assume that when he signed on to the silver star commendation, it didn't include the suspect language about Tillman's being under Taliban fire either.

But never mind. Just keep up the cracker jack job of unbiased critical analysis. Just as long as it's suffocatingly critical and pessimistic. We're all better off being paralyzed by our sense of frustration and impotence than we are noticing that things are slowly but surely actually changing in important ways.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:01 PM on May 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Maybe calling it 'adding more troops as should've been done years ago' would suffice.

Or "closing the barn door after the horses are gone." It might have been possible to transform Afghanistan into a modern country if Bush hadn't taken his eyes off the ball, but I'm not sure what we can really accomplish now.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:05 PM on May 11, 2009


Andrew Exum of the blog Abu Muqawama writes:
I do know that many policy-makers and journalists think that McChrystal's work as the head of the super-secret Joint Special Operations Command was the untold success story of the Surge and the greater war on terror campaigns. I also know that McChrystal and David Petraeus forged a close working relationship in Iraq in 2007 and have much respect for one another. (Prior to 2007, the relations between the direct-action special operations task force and the overall command in Iraq were strained at best.)

[...]

This tells me that President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Gen. Petraeus are as serious as a heart attack about a shift in strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was ruthless, and they were not about to do the George Casey thing whereby a commander is left in the theater long after he is considered to have grown ineffective.

The sad truth of the matter is that people have been calling for McKiernan's head for some time now. Many of the people with whom I have spoken do not think that McKiernan "gets" the war in Afghanistan -- or counterinsurgency warfare in general. There was very little confidence that -- with McKiernan in charge in Afghanistan -- we the United States had the varsity squad on the field.

That all changed today. I do not know if the war in Afghanistan is winnable. But I do know that Stan McChrystal is an automatic starter in anyone's line-up.
posted by lullaby at 2:05 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


saulgoodman: "Just as long as it's suffocatingly critical and pessimistic."

Bush: I want to invade Iraq.

Shinseki: You'll need 500,000 troops.

Bush: I don't have that many.

Shinseki: But that's how many you'll need.

Bush: You're being suffocatingly critical and pessimistic. Invasion on!

... several years later ....

Obama: I want to escalate in Afghanistan.

Common Sense: It's an obvious quagmire. You have no exit strategy. You'll only be fueling extremism.

Obama: You're being suffocatingly critical and pessimistic. Escalation on!
posted by Joe Beese at 2:11 PM on May 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


We had a slim chance early on to do some good in Afghanistan. Then we invaded Iraq. Then we tortured Muslims. Then we cheered as Israel vandalized Lebanon from the air. The we cheered as Israel brought the iron fist down on Gaza. And all that time we regularly dropped the random bomb on Afghan civilians.

We're done. We need to leave and soon under the best circumstances we can manage.
posted by wrapper at 2:13 PM on May 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


The war in Iraq was of course a huge mistake based on misinformation and lies. Afghanistan:
Al A\Qaeda hit us on 9/11...we asked Taliban to cough up the perps, Osama , and the refused and also refused to shut down the training camps in Afghanistan. Now, you become the guy calling the shots. What would you do at that point?
posted by Postroad at 2:18 PM on May 11, 2009


Fuller's right about changing policy (although I've often disagreed with him on certain nuances). And war among the people has been the new paradigm for a long time now. They just haven't gotten it into gear. I suspect, in part, because of bureaucratic resistance (big hobby in the upper echelons in the military) and in part because Bushco wasn't interested in a solution. And troop levels there have been inadequate since the inception of the engagement.
So - fuck 'surge,' we're not the Spartans and we shouldn't have sent 30,000 troops to do a 600,000 man job in the first place.
Bruce Reidel (et.al.) have a lot to say on this topic.
(Lots of Reidel's thinking here)

As it is, this (as outlined in the AF times piece - albeit shallowly, and the SWJ) is precisely what the war in Afghanistan needed from the outset. It should have been a counterinsurgency op from the get go, and it's what I assumed would be implemented. And anything we do militarily is perishable if it’s not accompanied by reconstruction. But when that didn't happen it was a dead giveaway to me the Bush administration wasn't interested in anything beyond making noise.
And it's not like this is some new thing Obama is pushing on the military. You had everyone and their brothers (Gen. David Rodriguez comes to mind) talking about an international commitment lasting a generation and COIN ops. Oooh spooky. We're such f'ing fascists - but it's been done in Japan and Germany and the ROK in the past. Only we weren't, y'know, bombing the hell out of them continually. Which I think is what Obama has in mind, ending the conventional type war. (I'd argue against bases per se. I'd rather have some sort of host-country international type deal (big digression there tho)).

One can argue 'pipeline' and 'imperialism' etc. - and there are valid points to be made (Ralph Peters notwithstanding). But looking at this from a technical and security standpoint, we (that is, the world, including in this case nations like Japan, et.al. who are interested in what's going on in the region) can't afford an unstable Afghanistan. Not just the 'failed state' arguments, because what's Somalia? Sudan?

But because of the nature of the vacuum (Fuller is right that Islam extremism and politics are linked - but it's a forced relationship) and what fills it there. In this case, the taliban and other groups which capitalize on their mobility and ideological connections (which can span boarders, etc.) and in contrast to the clans who are bound by traditional ethnic and familial relationships as well as regional claims.
So we need a counternarcotics strategy (because that's where the taliban gets most of its money) as well, and a way to ween folks off that - because you can't just kill someone's cash cow. But also a way to address Pakistan because they're part of the fragile political environment there and they're being affected by that situation - not only us, but the border incursions and political influence - et.al.
I don't get where Fuller is at on that. If the Pakistani army is more than capable of maintaining state power against tribal militias then why is it a fantasy to think of ever sealing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border?
You've got internal (Pakistani) conflicts - ethnic separatism in the Baluchistan and Sindh provinces fr'instnce, and the uprising in the FATAs - etc. etc. - all of which requires a separate political solution - so security IS a big concern and you're not going to have security without armed forces.
(And I don't buy the Cambodia/Vietnam analogy - Gates & Co have been calling Afghanistan and Pakistan AfPak for some time - and they ARE tied together in many ways).
((Also - if we are talking imperialism - Reko Diq in Baluchistan is a dead giveaway - world’s largest gold and copper reserves)


So to stabilize Afghanistan, Obama has to stabilize Pakistan - I will say where Fuller is right is on India.
India is the #1 geopolitical threat to Pakistan and, gee, ya think all the trouble Afghanistan is causing Pakistan makes India UNhappy?
And yes, they've been farting around in that backyard. So it's going to be nigh-impossible to stabilize either without dealing with India (also - friends with Israel and third-largest Muslim population in the world). How to do that, and keep China happy...I dunno.

But the U.S. still needs a hell of a lot of education in the culture, situation, etc etc. of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Having troops that stay there longer to get to know people is a step in the right direction. Ending conventional warfare is another good step (hell the supply lines are unsafe as it is - anyone seen how vulnerable we are?). Plenty of ways to be culture conscious, and engage in conflict among the people while fostering security. It can be done.

Politically - that's a different story. Right now we do still have some policies in place that are antithetical to that goal.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:31 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


What would you do at that point?

Ooo! Ooo! I know! Invade Iraq!

No, wait... is it Ghostbusters 2?
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:44 PM on May 11, 2009


Smedleyman: "So we need a counternarcotics strategy"

I agree. Decriminalize drugs at the federal level. Withhold highway funds for states that don't follow suit. Use the savings to fund rehab centers.

Which will happen right around the time that America stops trying to dictate the political arrangements for the rest of the planet to suit its own convenience.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:50 PM on May 11, 2009


“Aside from the fact that "the Taliban" is little more than our umbrella term for anyone on Afghani soil who dislikes the sight of American soldiers, the problem with your plan is that there's no way to "kick the hell out of" an insurgency - as you so rousingly put it - without blowing up a lot of women and children in the process.”

Who’s ‘our,’ kemosabe? There’s no question if we want to just bomb the place flat without regard to discerning who the real enemy is we’ll have a never ending war.
But there are plenty of ways to kick the hell out of an insurgency without blowing up anyone. In fact, air power is extremely limited in a serious counterinsurgency campaign. And expansion of internal security forces who know the region and people better because they were born there. There are methodical steps to a counterinsurgency campaign which can be successful. Doesn’t mean they always will be. But essentially who we’re fighting there is the Taliban who does prey on disparate tribes, who don’t much care for being preyed upon, so given the folks would be on our side, the odds are heavily in our favor.
From what Obama is doing, what he’s outlined, the methods he’s adapted – or at least says he’s adapting in policy – and the people he’s putting together, I think he’s serious about identifying who “the Taliban” are, where they live, what fuels them, etc. etc. and putting a stop to them while building up internal Afghan security forces and – most importantly – counterinsurgency and intelligence forces which can investigate internal threats as well as external interference (like from, say, India or Pakistan) or false flag operations, etc. etc. Doesn’t mean these people are going to adopt a western democracy – and who says they should? But I can see regional tribes ceding some power to a national authority in order to have security from external interference and exploitation.
Pretty much all you’d really need. But this “cheap and fast” thinking has to go out the window with the bombs. We would have been better off if Clinton properly addressed this years ago. Or Bush the Greater. Or Bush the lesser even. But no, it’s still an issue at present.
So, if not now – when? We wait for the whole place to collapse? Maybe Pakistan fails and next time some terrorists throw a nuke at us? We wait for China to move in (boy wouldn’t that be a treat)?
I’m just not seeing the ‘go to’ moment here. Nor am I seeing “leave it alone – some more” as an option.
Lullaby – Exum’s piece on COIN vs. Counterterrorism is pretty much what I’m talking about in terms of making a policy decision (and here).
I’m not in favor of fighting a holding action. Too easy to give the people we’re fighting the initiative in a region where too many people already don’t like us for (stupidly) blowing up their stuff.

"Which will happen right around the time that America stops trying to dictate the political arrangements for the rest of the planet to suit its own convenience."

Yes, because I was talking about domestically. In the middle of discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan I suddenly veered off on one sentence into a major digression on the domestic war on drugs. I was in no way referencing how to stop the Taliban from profiting from narcotics production in that region (which spiked massively under Bushco). And clearly I was talking - as all of us filthy warmongers do, of simply bombing randomly to accomplish that. Clearly no one - not marine veteran Representatives on the House Armed Services Committee, understand that "We have to supplant the opium crop with something else," "To just go in and destroy it would be like going into Iraq and destroying their oil fields," he said during a telephone interview. "If we do that, we lose the support of the people."
And clearly, it's only the U.S.interested in the international drug trade. Which has no health consequences.
It is important. And it's an important global issue. Back in '60 the Senlis Council study group (based in Europe) said mixing counternarcotics operations with military operations was a bad idea - which is in part - why I mentioned the two separately.
It's been well circulated (here and elsewhere) that poverty drives Afghan farmers to cultivate poppies. According to the study:
"By focusing aid funds away from development and poverty relief, failed counter-narcotics policies have hijacked the international community's nation-building efforts and undermined Afghanistan's democratically elected government. U.S.eradication efforts have increased skepticism among local Afghans of Kabul’s ability to administer and provide poverty relief for its far-flung provinces and thereby driven many Afghans to support the Taliban."

Right now, or at least - heretofore, the U.S. has been fighting a counterterrorism war in tandem with counternarcotics operations. Which means, practically speaking, there is no strategy beyond seek and destroy. Which is just (stupid) power application, not a strategy of any kind.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:16 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


That should be '06. And looks like the link is gone. Sorry. It's quoted here (along with more than you'd ever want to know on Afghanistan) by Marvi Memon I believe.
(Worth reading in any case - "The problem with the new counter-narcotic strategy
formulated by US authorities is that it is based on the five pillars of improving public information, alternative development, eradication, law enforcement, and justice reform. It doesn't take into consideration Afghanistan's deteriorating security and volatile political situation. The US
strategy is meant to fight the insurgents and the narcotics trade simultaneously which it cannot do due to capacity issues." ..... "Instead of linking counter-narcotics to counter-
insurgency strategy, it would be prudent to link it to a comprehensive long-term development strategy..."
posted by Smedleyman at 3:27 PM on May 11, 2009




Only a coincidence I'm sure, that the new guy looks so much more like Obama than the old guy.
posted by jamjam at 4:02 PM on May 11, 2009


Sorry if I was ill-tempered, delmoi and Joe Beese. Had a rough day.

jamjam: Damn. He does kind of look like Obama.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:59 PM on May 11, 2009


Aside from the fact that "the Taliban" is little more than our umbrella term for anyone on Afghani soil who dislikes the sight of American soldiers

Funny, I thought it was the label a bunch of guys who ran the country used for their own faction.
posted by rodgerd at 8:56 PM on May 11, 2009


The war in Iraq was of course a huge mistake based on misinformation and lies. Afghanistan:
Al A\Qaeda hit us on 9/11...we asked Taliban to cough up the perps, Osama , and the refused and also refused to shut down the training camps in Afghanistan. Now, you become the guy calling the shots. What would you do at that point?


They did not refuse - they were negotiating. Anyone who doesn't understand this haggle - it takes months merely to get kidnapped sailors and ships out of Somalia - shouldn't be a diplomat.

There were also overtures from the Taliban that another option was to deliver bin Laden's head on a plate (Afghan politics have a long, long history of betrayal, double-dealing, and backstabbing.)

But no, that wasn't good enough for you. (And by "you" I am referring to the majority of the US public at the time, as well as the Bush Administration). You were riled up. So you suborned a couple of tribal leaders in the north of the country, distinguished from the Taliban mostly by the fact that they were not presently in power, and bombed the shit out of the country (and continue to do so), displacing hundreds of thousands and killing thousands more. And, of course, you never got bin Laden.

What would I have done? First of all, I wouldn't have gone for regime change. I wouldn't have demanded that a foreign citizen be handed over without proof. The Taliban were asking that bin Laden be tried in a Muslim Court; the US could have counter-offered with the Hague. I would have made a deal with Pakistan, to stage Special Forces (not regular army) troops and aircraft there, and infiltrate from the north-west. If negotiations had continued fruitlessly over several months, I would have used the Air Force and drones to attack suspected bases in the mountains and further inside Afghanistan. I would have let the Taliban know that I was in talks with their enemies. I would have increased the pressure on them until bin Laden was squeezed out of the country like a seed from a ripe piece of fruit.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:17 PM on May 11, 2009


Let's be honest, after 9/11 we were going to bomb the people that attacked us.-- quin
Ah right then. We were going to kill someone (along with their neighbors) so we might as well come up with a good follow-up plan! And of course the best follow up plan is one that involves them loving us for invading their country. Because that totally sometimes happens!
The way the press is reporting this, you'd think there was all sorts of uncertainty surrounding whether McChrystal played some central role in the Tillman cover-up, when in fact, he was one of the first military officials to challenge the given account of events ... But never mind. Just keep up the cracker jack job of unbiased critical analysis. Just as long as it's suffocatingly critical and pessimistic. -- saulgoodman
What analysis? All I did was link to the article, which went over what you talked about.
But there are plenty of ways to kick the hell out of an insurgency without blowing up anyone. -- saulgoodman
So you should have no trouble coming up with historical examples of successfully "kicking the hell out" of insurgencies, right?

Anyway, I do think there is a chance for success in Afghanistan, but people really need to understand the difference between "their best interest" and "what we wish they would do" Those two things are not going to be the same thing. Particularly with the Opium issue. Holbrook the other day was saying stuff like "We'll offer wheat, then burn the crop if the farmers don't accept it. Then offer wheat again." That kind of "why won't they stop smashing their faces into our fists!?" logic isn't going to get us anywhere.
posted by delmoi at 9:36 PM on May 11, 2009


But there are plenty of ways to kick the hell out of an insurgency without blowing up anyone. -- saulgoodman

I think that was a Smedleyman comment you attributed to me, delmoi.

What analysis? All I did was link to the article, which went over what you talked about.

Hey, fair enough point (like I said, it was a rough day).
posted by saulgoodman at 9:49 PM on May 11, 2009






The war in Iraq was of course a huge mistake based on misinformation and lies. Afghanistan:
Al A\Qaeda hit us on 9/11...we asked Taliban to cough up the perps, Osama , and the refused and also refused to shut down the training camps in Afghanistan. Now, you become the guy calling the shots. What would you do at that point?


Fascinating. And absolutely untrue. See e.g. this article. The Taliban were willing to give up Bin Laden IF the US provided evidence that he'd done it OR were willing to run a trial in Afghanistan. This is an awful lot better than the US has ever done in the reverse sort of situation.

Only someone who's never read a history book could think that anyone could attain victory in Afghanistan.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:23 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I should add - if we were going to invade a country, why not the country that birthed and funded Al Qaeda, the country where 16 of 19 hijackers originated, the country where Bin Laden was from, the country that funded the bombing of the Cole and the earlier bombing of the World Trade Center... Saudi Arabia?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:25 PM on May 11, 2009




r... Saudi Arabia?

Aw man, do I have to say it? I feel like I've spent the last 8 years saying it.
posted by The Whelk at 7:15 AM on May 12, 2009


Throughout the long history of the Afghan War, the United States has never accused the Taliban of using white phosphorus weapons -- until now. Suddenly, after the emergence of glaring evidence of Afghan civilians being seared and maimed by these chemical weapons following American airstrikes and combat operations, the Pentagon has released "classified information" claiming that the Taliban have actually been using white phosphorus weapons for six years...

The "classified intelligence" was released in friendly territory: The Times (UK), owned by Fox News' own Rupert Murdoch. ...

The Times does not fail to push the new "get Pakistan" line as well. After first noting that much of the alleged Taliban WP seems to have been leftovers from the mountains of ordnance dumped in the country during decades of war, some of the rounds are, we're told, "newer models which, it is suspected, had been smuggled across the border from Pakistan." Straight from those halal-eating surrender monkeys in Islamabad, I'll bet! We need to go in there and clean that nest of vipers out!
- Chris Floyd
posted by Joe Beese at 7:26 AM on May 12, 2009


"Only someone who's never read a history book could think that anyone could attain victory in Afghanistan."
Totally. We should just leave. It's worked so well in the past. The situation will probably fix itself and we'll have no blowback.

Y'know, one can argue that we shouldn't have backed the Muj, but, y'know, we did. It's history. You can't just not deal with it. Want to argue we haven't dealt with it well in the very recent past? I'm with you there.
But 'victory' depends on the goal. If we're aiming to conquer them like so many in the past (Alexander aside) yeah, we'll fail. But there are achievable goals there.

“So you should have no trouble coming up with historical examples of successfully "kicking the hell out" of insurgencies, right?”

Funny, I’m usually on the other side of this extolling the possibilities (not the virtues, but the possibility) of successful insurgency against any (usually the U.S.) government. But it works both ways. No such thing as ‘never’ in warfare. So let’s see. Off the cuff, and just counting the 20th century you have the Second Boer War, the Philippine Insurrection, the Ottoman Turks vs. Arab revolt (about 1918), the Iraqi rebels v.s the UK in 1920, the KMT vs. Communist in China 1922-49, Our first dance in Nicaragua in 1925, the French resistance and the SOE/OSS vs. nazi Germany in WWII, Tito’s partisans in the Balkans Vs. Germany about the same time, the Greek Civil war (the ELAS vs. all comers 44-49), France (in their stunning belief that after using guerilla tactics successfully, conventional forces would work against them) vs. the Viet Minh ending about 54, the little thing in Palestine everyone forgets with the Jews vs. the UK (friend of mine’s grandfather and I talk a lot about that, oi. The U.S. might as well have been supplying the Jews, they weren’t, but…), The Hukbalahap rebellion in 47, the Indonesian revolt against the Netherlands in ‘48, The U.K. (again) v.s Malay communists from 48 to 60, the Mau Mau’s in Kenya against (yep) the U.K. in 56, France’s clusterfuck in Algeria from 54 to 62, The Yemini insurgents in Aden in 55 (UK again), The UK vs. the EOKA Greeks in Cyprus in 59, then there’s a little known guy named ‘Che’ and his buddy Castro in Cuba against Batista from 56 to 59, the FALN in Venezuala from 58 to 63, Vietnam – easy one, then it’s Guatemala vs. Marxist rebels for 30-odd years until ’96, Portugal vs. the MPLA in Angola (which was merc heaven for a long time – 61-74), Same deal in Guinea-Bissau in the same time frame, we could count the OAS’ thing with France 58-62 – but, nah.
Uruguay and the Tupamaros from 63 to 72, Portugal vs. the FRELIMO in Mozambique in 74, the Columbian civil war which was mostly the U.S. and Columbia vs. FARC and the ELN starting in 64 – ongoing, in Northern Ireland - the U.K. vs. the IRA since ’68 – arguably still going, Spain vs. the ETA 68- ongoing, in Oman the U.K. vs. the PFLOAG from 68 to 76, Germany vs the Red Army 70 to 92 (GSG9’s victory there), currently in the Philippines you have the NPA and the Moros fighting the P.I. from 1970 until now, the Tamil Tigers vs. Sri Lanka starting in ’72 and ongoing, the thing with Palestine (PLF) and Israel is ongoing since 73, Rhodesia (another merc. Paradise) vs. the ZAPU until 1980, Morocco vs. some mobile nomads in the western Sahara from 75 to 91, then there’s the Soviet-Afghan war, the Salvadoran civil war (again), the Senderista insurgency in Peru, Nicaragua (again), a huge thing starting in 1988 kin Kashmir with the Indians taking on muslim separatists which is ongoing, Algeria (again) clusterfuck there with the the FLN taking on the Islamic – whomevers starting in 92 and ongoing, then there’s our wonderful vacation in Somalia from 92 to 94, Chechnya starting in 94 and handing it to the Russians still, in Nepal the Maoists again – from 96 until now, and our things in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Which of those were successful in terms of taking out the insurgents? Well, let’s count all “ongoings” as failures, albeit limited failures. But not all ongoing events have no end in sight.
So – Columbia – Uribe focused on winning hearts and minds, gained broad support of the population against the revolutionary armed forces of Columbia – and the insurgents hold on their traditional zones of control is weakening, they’re having recruitment problems and losing their financial base.
I’d call that a win in the making.

The British in the Malaya fight in the 50’s – the U.K.s Gerald Templer worked for political and social equality for all Malays (granted citizenship en masse, worked for women’s rights, built schools, clinics, police stations, brought electricity to rural villages, goosed local police and military forces 1000 percent and gave communities local control and oversight over their own militias) – which did kick the hell out of the insurgent movement. (Rich Clutterbuck has a good analysis on this in “The Long Long War” Also Thompson’s standard “Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam”)

Venezuela fought an urban insurgency (68 to 73) by retraining all the police (mostly in Caracas) and they eventually defeated the terrorists.... there are more examples.

But I’ll grant the term “kicking ass” is misleading – the only real way to kick insurgents ass is by annihilating them along with the population (which the Nazis were often happy to resort to).
But insurgencies have been handed serious defeats.

More of a truism is that, for the most part, failed counterinsurgencies are the result of unsuccessful operational practices. Insurgencies tend to win because the power fighting them blows it.

Vietnam and the Soviet push into Afghanistan are classic examples of this. Emphasis was on conventional, large unit operations that emphasized killing the enemy rather than engaging the population.
They would attack the enemy in a given area, take them out, but then abandon the community. Artillery and airpower is swell when you’re fighting nation to nation (and there’s a huge argument to be had there that the defense infrastructure drives the war policy – in our case defense corporations – in the soviet’s case, they had little else – but I’m fairly fanatic about taking the profit out of war, whether it be cash for corporations or prestige and credit for the politburo) but attrition does not work unless you’re willing to engage in genocide.

The Soviets were leaning that way. In the U.S., we dabbled and tried to keep it quiet. Although in both cases it sapped the will to fight of both the rank and file and the folks back home (less of a problem for the Soviets, but still) pretty much it’s an objective that can’t be reached.

And it gets in the way of training – both in form (because you’re training the local units to fight like your conventional forces – which is stupid for a number of reasons) and function (because only a psychopath would engage in wholesale slaughter in his own country – even if he’s killing ‘the enemy’ eventually he hits some folks who aren’t – that’s sort of a downer, yeah)

Meanwhile SOF ops were limited to raids and recon (because again – no big dollars to spend there and some generals do love their kickbacks – or they’re just myopic). In Vietnam, we pushed our SOF guys aside (economy of force, yeah?) and the Spaznuts… ‘scuse me … Spetznaz, were pretty much in the same boat.
They went through the Afghan mountains at will, but – so? Just because no one wants to fight you, doesn’t mean you’re winning.

And a lot of brass in Vietnam were taking tactical knowledge from the guerrilla engagements in Greece and Malay, but ignored what happened with the French (actually, to be fair, the French ignored what happened with the French as well – and again in Algeria) and ignored the outlook of the people, and the terrain – all the classic blunders – and believed in the litany of large-unit ops (again, much of that had to do with the defense contractors, but still).. and really, the Soviet command should have learned from us, but didn’t. And they had a unified command (see 1 paragraph below).
There’s an argument to be had whether they could have “won” without outside forces taking a hand – but that’s an academic argument. Such things happen. insurgents want this to happen, they work for it by design (like what, they're going to 'fight fair'?) Might as well argue you could have taken some guy on had you spent years in the gym or if he didn't whip out a club. Well, you didn’t spend years in the gym. He did whip out a club. So you lost. What happened is what happened.

In the Soviets case they don’t even have the excuse that their command structure was schizophrenic (allied leadership was divided unequally between the U.S. ambassador, CIA and senior military commander). The government the Soviets set up was toothless and when they disengaged, it collapsed because it didn’t have external assistance – so the Taliban disposed of them handily. Same deal with South Vietnam.
So again – what happened, happened.

Jumping back to the Philippines – that was successful (U.S.) – because we used 600 small garrisons vs. 5 or 50 large bases
But for the most part the more mechanized the military, the less ability they have to successfully execute a counterinsurgency operation.
Isaiah Wilson and Lyall (at Princeton) argue that this is because of intelligence gathering, et.al. –and they’re correct.
Much like community policing only works if the cops get out of the car once in a while and, y’know, f’ing talk to people.
But the other side of that coin (pun int’d) is the fact that the domestic policies tend to drive that mechanization and people (politicians, generals, etc.) look for ways to use them. If you’ve got a hammer, many problems look like nails. And if your guys at home build helicopters or jets, you want to find a way to use them.
No one makes money off training or personnel. And yet – that’s exactly what’s required.

One can argue that certain counterinsurgencies were won because of the willingness of whatever power to use brutality – terror, massacres, etc. – I’d argue that the successful counterinsurgencies worked IN SPITE of these techniques.
The difference being similar to the attention one receives from a parent.
You have some parents who are wholly engaged in a positive way in their kids lives and the kids prosper. They read to the kid, take them to enrichment activities (the museum, the zoo, etc. etc.). And there are parents that are engaged negatively. They beat the kid. Yell at them all the time. Etc. And we see examples of children who are successful precisely because they hated their parents.
Now, I’m not arguing for success in such a manner. I’m only pointing out the common denominator which is attention.
Autocracies and oligarchies and dictatorships that engage in terror, etc. are stable only because they are vigorous. They work to constantly maintain their state – much like a parent who constantly yells.
Children will seek such behavior if they can’t get attention in any other way.
So too – a population can be won in either way – it’s the attention that matters.
However – and this is a huge however – history has shown that only in the case of positive engagement can a population be self-sustaining.

Old story about the guy who loved his mother and hated his father – but only cried at his father’s funeral because he didn’t know how to define himself without the object of his hatred.
Similar idea here.
Look at post-war Japan as an example – plenty of counterinsurgency operations going on, but because of the level of engagement by the U.S. government the country was able to redefine itself. So much so that they took our heads off economically 40 years after the end of the war.
They were self-sustaining because our policies did not require us to constantly “yell” but rather allowed them to be self-sustaining.
This, to my mind, is perfectly possible in Afghanistan.
But it does require a rethinking of our policies.
COIN is very very different from counterterrorism – call COIN a strategy and CT one tactical facet of the overarching strategy.

And again, the British victory over the communists in Malaysia is a classic example of what, generally, works – which is understanding and engaging people on their own terms, which leads to good communication which leads to high confidence information, which means you can get local militias and police forces together and establish rule of law and security.
(One can argue the British aren’t there anymore – but the objective isn’t exploitation, it’s stability. Any fanatic outlook is antithetical to stability everywhere. – Granted there were colonial/imperial elements in the British government, but that’s a different policy. Hell, if the imperialist elements had won, they would have fostered more divisions in Malay society).
But none of that means anything without a long term commitment – in the case of authoritarian policies it means constant vigilance because the police forces you’ve set up need outside support (because they’re essentially terrorists and traitors to their own people). In the case of policies that aim to build self-reliance, you’re going to have to protect it from outside influences (like a baby chick) because any new organization is subject to predation.
Once they have a set of traditions, have expectations and predictability within their system, an outside influence is more easily spotted and countered because they’re confident in how their own system works.
And after a bit, if you’re the good guys, you leave. And you have a stable, self-sustaining nation which is secure and has its own interests and internal elements are empowered and can seek political redress instead of having to use terrorism to seek their ends.
Which is indeed, kick ass.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:05 AM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


(and to be clear on post-war Japan – you had communist incursions, plenty of folks trying to stir up trouble; ethnic relations were a powder keg - the Committee for Protecting Korean Rights attacked a train station in Tokyo, etc. lots of chaos and potential for an insurgency– but you had the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers committed to the stability of the transitional government – they cut political prisoners loose – even the communists, gave women the vote, fostered labor unions, tried war criminals – hell, the constitutional provisions were so liberal that Shidehara (who was a pacifist) and his cabinet didn’t want to adopt it.
Anyway, they were vulnerable to insurgency through the ‘60s, you had demonstrations and violence - but it never happened. Domestic security was well organized, avoided brutality and de-escalated wherever it could. – So this would be a good model of an absolute victory over insurgency - in that it never occurred.)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:05 PM on May 12, 2009


So let’s see. Off the cuff, and just counting the 20th century...

You, sir, have very historically cognizant cuffs.

There is probably some kinda topical cream you can get for that.
posted by quin at 3:20 PM on May 12, 2009


So to stabilize Afghanistan, Obama has to stabilize Pakistan - I will say where Fuller is right is on India.
India is the #1 geopolitical threat to Pakistan and, gee, ya think all the trouble Afghanistan is causing Pakistan makes India UNhappy?


I'm not sure what your point is here, but yes, deeper destabilization of the region is extremely troubling for us in India. Note that:-

a) There's a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka right now.
b) The army in Nepal found itself being ordered around by its once enemy, and now has a political crisis.
c) There are 1500 armed deserters in Bangladesh who have disturbing links with fundamentalists.
d) Burma is still ruled by nutcases.
e) International regional cricket, which was once the biggest Confidence Building Measure (CBM) between India and Pakistan, is pretty much dead, for, ummmmm, political reasons.

... and on top of that, we, ummmmmm, are on the fucking frontline out here. Believe me, schadenfreude is the furthest from our thoughts here; a destabilized Afghanistan OR Pakistan (and remember: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan caused a huge stream of refugees to flow in to India as well) is extremely EXTREMELY dangerous for India as well. I don't mean to sound hoarse, but South Asia in general has suddenly become a very scary neighbourhood indeed.
posted by the cydonian at 9:10 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"a destabilized Afghanistan OR Pakistan....is extremely EXTREMELY dangerous for India as well"

True. My mistake for speaking imprecisely. There are elements in India which do appreciate this (and the Indian government has to deal with them as well).
That said, I do think India has the same problems the U.S. has - plus they're in close proximity - PLUS they have to deal with the U.S.
I was speaking purely from a U.S. perspective with the tension and history between Pakistan and India in mind. Bit of a catch-22 from the Indian side, seems. Although I haven't studied that in detail.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:05 PM on May 13, 2009


"to paraphrase Tim Krieder, in Iraq and Afghanistan we're stuck, not in a war, but a test of character. The Kobayashi Maru that all colonial powers encounter. And we're not doing well."

I doubt anyone is following this anymore, but just wanted to say, that's an excellent point and one that is rarely heard in most conversations or commentaries.

Also, thanks for introducing me to Tim Kreider.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:12 PM on May 14, 2009


« Older The Campaign for North Africa   |   Rejoice for it is Spring Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post