In this post an expert in the Af-Pak region explains why America must fight in Afghanistan. It’s valuable as the rationale of the war has received far too little discussion. For professional reasons this person remains anonymous.
This subject is of extreme importance to America. The Af-Pak war may come to dominate the attention of the Obama Administration, as it did the Bush Jr. team — draining energy and political capital needed to fight the economic crisis and implement their ambitious domestic policy agenda. That could have sad consequences, since America has a long-deferred list of vital public policy reforms. The Boomers retirement, starting in the next decade, will complicate these both politically and financially.
Why are we in Afghanistan?
FM, round #1
Do the following statements seem sensible?
“The mission is to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other transnational extremists. That’s what it had become before the operations conducted in the wake of 9/11. Al Qaeda wants to carry out further attacks on the US and our allies, and we need to deny them safe havens in which they can plan and train for such attacks.”
— From “The Battle Ahead – General Petraeus on US Strategy”, Ralph Peters, op-ed in the New York Post, 19 May 2009
“Failure in Afghanistan would mean not only a possible return of pre-9/11 safe havens, but also a sharp blow to the prestige of the United States and its allies.”
— “Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan“, David Kilcullen et al, Center for a New American Security, 10 June 2009
Both of these are absurd, IMO.
- We’re supposed to spend billions of dollars and nobody knows how many American lives to prevent “a sharp blow to the prestige of the United States and its allies”?
- Is there any evidence that the al Qaeda “safe havens” in Afghanistan were relevant to 9-11?
The Afghanistan camps primarily trained fighters against the Northern Alliance. The most important training of the 9-11 terrorists took place in the US. Whatever minimal additional training was required could have been done anywhere in the wilds of the Western US. It’s easy to camp there for a month and see nobody, if you stay off the trails. The Forest Services and Bureau of Land Management have a small force of professional staff to patrol the vast areas under their supervision.
Reply, round #1
The 9-11 hijackers received several months’ training in Kandahar, which was where Bin Laden had set up one of his training camps after we bombed the one in Khost. Of course, as you note, such a camp can be run anywhere there is no government presence. I don’t think you could realistically set up a hidden, undiscoverable training camp in the U.S., although you could wander around for a long time and never see a cop.
FM, round #2
They were in Kandahar for several months. That does not imply that they received or needed several months training for 9-11.
You could not set up a USMC training camp undetected in the US. But the 9-11 hijackers did not need weapons training — other than box cutters. I doubt they needed lecture halls, mess halls, obstacle courses, parking lots, fancy firing ranges. But they could camp in tents for a month, moving every week, and conduct training for a 9-11 event.
Reply, round #2
No, it doesn’t. But they didn’t emerge from a vacuum. Camps in the Kandahar (the Tarnak farms out near the airport) provided a criticalindoctrination period. They also trained there — physically, mentally, ideologically. Saying that all they needed were box-cutters so why bother with everything else is like asking why we put tank drivers in the Army through boot camp. That training period is still crucial for an organized resistance movement.
As for the mechanics of buying plane tickets at the same time and entering flight school — you’re right, some dusty tents in the desert won’t help you much with that.
Now, the nature of these groups has changed over the past eight years. They are much more cellular, much more Internet-friendly, and much better able to communicate and indoctrinate online. But that doesn’t meant the camps themselves are not still important or necessary, or that they wouldn’t benefit from having stable territory to organize. Many of those changes into a diffused group are in reaction to attacking the territory they once used in Afghanistan.
Getting too organized was bad for the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). But being too disorganized has prevented al Qaeda’s previous signature of high-profile, devastating, coordinated attacks. Having that training ground surely counts for a lot.
FM, round #3
You are confusing two separate issues. An “organized resistance movement” requires extensive training. Intelligence, counter-intelligence, operational security, weapons, logistics, reconnaissance, communications, codes — even urban insurgents must perform these functions.
But the 9-11 were 9-11 guys were single mission terrorists. They needed simple training, but it probably required neither a long time (i.e., months) nor elaborate fixed sites — as required for actual armed forces (even irregulars). That they received ideological training at Afghanistan camps does not mean that ideological training required camps.
Their leadership element needed more sophisticated training or prior experience. But neither requires camps. And those people were probably not on the 9-11 aircraft.
These are the key points, IMO:
- The Afghanistan camps were probably not relevant to 9-11, and even total domination of Afghanistan will not hinder 9-11.
- If our activities in the Af-pak theater promote recruitment for al Qaeda, which many experts have warned it will, we are increasing the odds of another 9-11.
Reply, round #3
But that must be balanced by the ample evidence that intentionally disrupting al Qaeda, of which destroying their easy safe haven in Afghanistan was a part, has contributed to the whole “no attacks on American soil” thing.
FM, round #4
The majority of our impact on al Qaeda resulted from standard police and security work. Disrupting their funding and communications networks, assassination of their leaders, cutting of their sources of State support, etc. As for the camps, would the Taliban really risk certain death from the sky by allowing new al Qaeda camps? If they did, on what scale — how large, how long — could they operated before we detected and destroyed them.
The initial invasion of Afghanistan was probably a good thing to do, an effective reprisal. Showing that aiding America’s enemies has a high costs. But the calendar show that time has marched on, and citing 9-11 as a pretext for unrelated actions is merely “waving the bloody shirt“.
None of this provides any substantial support for the Afghanistan War. We are repeating our mistake in Iraq, invading and occupying a country at vast cost with no important national interest at stake. There were no significant WMD’s in Iraq. Invasion and occupation is not needed to prevent al Qaeda from staging another 9-11. It might increase al Qaeda’s capability to do so, through increased recruitment and convincing some that we are foreign infidel invaders.
This ended the discussion.
Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
- About America’s national defence strategy and machinery
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – studies & reports
Posts about our wars in Afghanistan:
- Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
- Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008 — George Friedman of Statfor on the Afghanistan War.
- Another perspective on Afghanistan, a reply to George Friedman, 27 February 2008
- How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
- Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s?, 26 April 2008
- A powerful weapon, at the sight of which we should tremble and our enemies rejoice, 2 June 2008
- Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War, 8 June 2008
- The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
- Stratfor says that our war in Pakistan grows hotter; Palin seems OK with that, 12 September 2008
- Pakistan warns America about their borders, and their sovereignty, 14 September 2008
- Weekend reading about … foreign affairs, 19 October 2008
- “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009
- America sends forth its privateers to pillage, bold corsairs stealing from you and I, 9 February 2009
- New bases in Afghanistan – more outposts of America’s Empire, 21 May 2009
- The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan, 1 June 2009
- Advice about our long war – “It’s the tribes, stupid”, 9 June 2009
33 thoughts on “An expert explains why we must fight in Afghanistan”
Piffle (not you FM I mean the author). The Taliban would have handed Bin Ladin over to us, or to a third party for international charges (a biot of money changing hands would not have hurt). The negotiations were well advanced, but Afghanistan, like Iraq, was already on the hit list (oh those pipelines).
And as for AQ, don’t make me laugh, it would have disappeared years ago without the West’s constant encouragement. Everywhere AQ has gone it has totally pissed off the locals. Without another enemy to fight the AQ’s lifespan could be measured in days in some areas.
Oh and guess who one of our biggest help’s has been against AQ .. Iran. Now if we worked together with them, stopped invading and killing locals in all sorts of countries, oh and funding and encouraging terrorism in Iran .. then we could probably take AQ out in a matter of months.
But we don’t, in fact we do exactly what AQ has publicly said they want us to do. And like a bunch of dumb sheep we follow their playscript to the letter .. and with the outcomes that they have predicted.
Note to armchair generals out there, you don’t beat someone by doing what they want! You have to admire AQ’s arrogence, they have stated quite plainly what they intend to do and the results they expect. They can stir us up with just rumours that they are in some country, then we send in the bombers or death squads, kill some wedding parties (what is it with wedding parties? Are all the US armed forces divorced or gay?) .. then AQ turns up saying “we told you so, we can help you fight them”.
Dear god, if we acted like that in WW2 the Nazi’s would have taken over Washington by ’46.
Fabius Maximus replies: A great comment. Iraq stabilized to a large extent due to Iran’s work uniting the Shiite Arabs, esp restraining the Mahdi Army. There are tentative indications that Iran now seeks to stabilize Afghanistan. It’s in their interest, after all.
My immediate reaction to this, Fabius, is that you appear to have gotten inside your own OODA loops.
FM replies: That’s a good thing vs. an enemy. Is it a good thing vs. oneself? Perhaps I need my meds adjusted, again.
I thought the discussion was rather interesting. And I like the point about how AQ has been mostly shut down by police work … 9-11 could also have been shut down by police work, but the muckety-mucks at the highest levels ignored the evidence.
I agree that the purpose of the war is now lost, and is essentially pointless. Pack up and come home.
Have you read “Jawbreaker?” If you put any credence in the author, we had an opportunity to kill OBL and blew it. Makes one wonder if the continued hostilities are for some other agenda and it is time to don the foil helmet …?
Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t agree with the following:
“war is now lost, and is essentially pointless.”
In terms of US national needs, yes. In terms of the US government, I suspect that the goals in Afghanistan are a friendly Af government and long-term bases. Both of those are attainable, although the cost might be high. The distinguishing — perhaps unique — feature of the US empire is that it does nothing for us. Profitable for various special interests. Perhaps also driven by visceral or atavist drives.
“Afflicted Powers”, a very interesting early essay on 9-11, commenting on Bush’s hysterical elevation of Al Q to the status of global menace, quotes Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle” in saying “once you begin to respond to the world as spectacle, you cease to be able to think strategically.”
This phenomenon, of responding to self-created phantom enemies, goes back at least through the Cold War.
FM note: See Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War at Amazon. See here at New Left Review for an excerpt.
FM: “That’s a good thing vs. an enemy. Is it a good thing vs. oneself? Perhaps I need my meds adjusted, again.”
I note in passing that there is a Sufi order, the Mevlevi order, who are better known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes. As Sufis, they are of course, hostile to fundamentalist Islamic groups such as Al Qaeda.
For a long time, I have advocated forming an alliance with the Sufis, but I now fear that it is getting awful late in the day.
dosco had it pretty much right — prompt sharing of intelligence between CIA and FBI would have enabled the latter to track the two al-Q members of the 9/11 conspiracy who were known to have multiple-entry US visas, who subsequent to the Malaysia meeting entered the US and spent many months living with another Muslim who was known to the FBI. Surveillance & phone intercepts would have led to many of the other 17 in time to put them under watch and probably roll up the whole gang. So yeah, intelligence sharing plus police work.
As for Afghanistan & the Taliban, my understanding is that we went there because they were an overt “state sponsor” and I believe the “Reply – Round 2” above made a valid point about the importance of the al-Q camps in Afghanistan from an indoctrination perspective, exposure to the senior leadership, etc. I think most movements really do need some sort of sanctuary to flourish. The post-Afghanistan distributed model is much less effective, in my opinion.
Fabius Maximus replies: The point about using the camps for indoctrination of the 9-11 jijackers was IMO absurd. That could have been done in the western US or Europe just as easily. Indoctrinaton requires no infrastructure or special equipment, hence no need for camps.
I noted the comment about our prestige in the Triage article. As far back as 50 years or more so many have talked about the prestige of the US as if it were all important. Seems to me that if we mind our own business and treat others with respect that our prestige will take care of itself. Why is prestige so important? The Bushies never seemed to give it a thought. Why do so many people focus on it?
As for the Afghan war, the Pipelineistan theory still makes the most sense as to why we are there. Instead of focusing on ideology, lets focus on where the money is going. What financial benefits are there for us to be in Afghanistan?
We went into Afghanistan to get Bin Laden. We stayed because we didn’t get him or Zawahiri, and we needed a place from which to stage to continue the search in Pakistan. Also, it was assumed (Correctly, I think), that the government we installed to replace the Taliban wouldn’t last a fortnight without American military support. If the Taliban returned to power, they would do so with Bin laden in their train, and we would be right back where we started before 9-11, with AQ free to strike American targets from sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
So partly the decision to stay in Afghanistan was driven by the failure to find and kill Bin laden. But also partly it was fueled by ego. We might have conducted a short, savage punitive expedition of limited duration, but we wanted to be seen as liberators. That the people of Afghanistan might be beyond liberation because they genuinely prefer the Dark Ages did not enter our calculations. In short, our leaders wanted to make us (And especially themselves) loved, and tried to do so at the expense of making being feared.
It might have gone differently if we had actually gotten OBL. We could, at that point, have declared victory and left. Personally, I doubt we would have done so, but it would have been a theoretical option. Having failed to eradicate the senior AQ leadership, much of which seems to have crossed into Pakistan, we faced a choice between abandoning the pursuit, or continuing the hunt as best we could from Afghanistan. My own view is that the survival of the Karzai government is a matter of little consequence, but we do need to continue the hunt for the AQ leadership, at least until Bin Ladin and Zawahiri are accounted for.
The question is whether or not our position in Afghanistan puts us in a better position to search and/or strike into Pakistan, where the real enemy has fled. It seems to me that it does, or at least that it might. I would much rather we had conducted a ruthless pursuit of Bin Laden while we had the chance. (For a discussion of Bin Laden’s escape, I suggest reading Kill Bin Laden by “Dalton Fury”, a former Delta officer writing under a pseudonym. Much of the book is filler and shameless self-promotion, but Fury’s account of the battle of Tora Bora is fascinating.)
I don’t have an easy answer for any of this, but I believe that if the Taliban returns to power, they will bring AQ back with them. I suspect that in the long run the defeat of the Taliban will come about when they finally kill enough civilians to wear out whatever welcome they have in the country, at which point they will be eliminated by some combination of local militia and whatever security forces we manage to more or less train. We’ll be propping up the Karzai government until then.
Comment #8: “That the people of Afghanistan might be beyond liberation because they genuinely prefer the Dark Ages did not enter our calculations.”
Yet another sad example of our noble intentions confounded by the perfidy of the natives who fail to recognize our munificence . . . obviously we need to hire a better graphic design shop for the pamphlets we drop into the bomb craters.
Of course, when they took over, the Taliban were celebrated as “liberators” from the Northern Alliance warlords we have put back in charge. Who liberated the country from the Communists, who liberated it from the . . . “Dark Ages”. I’m sure Afghanis have by now learned to take cover when they hear the word “liberation.”
I don’t think Afghanistan is amenable to any “solutions,” easy or hard. The rural tribesmen have been resisting attempts at modernization for a long, long time. Whatever we think of their way of life or not, they seem quite attached to it. AQ can probably be suppressed by the current strategy of Afghan occupation and strikes into Pakistan, but this is not sustainable for us, either financially, militarily or geopolitically. No matter how long we are there, the “Taliban” will be there longer.
Therefore, have to plan for the worst-case scenario of a militant Islamist government in Afghanistan providing safe haven to a reconstituted AQ. I’m no counter-terrorism expert but it seems that a fraction of the money spent on the occupation could be used for intelligence and police work for the same or better results, disrupting funding, recruitment, and movement of operatives, etc.
It’s also possible that post-occupation Afghanistan would be ruled by Northern Alliance types not friendly to AQ. Who can say, but the situation seems outside our ability to enforce anything other than a costly stalemate.
Fabius Maximus replies: Great comment! The easy solution, which probably works for any government in Afghanistan, is the traditional one: buy them off. Like we did in al-Anbar. It’s been successfully done in that region for millenia. The cost in dollars will be far less. The cost in blood (both ours and theirs) will be far less.
Partition the country into two halves; the NA gets the northern, the Taliban gets the southern. People can choose where they want to live, but the border is sealed.
At the same time, pipeline money floods the north with jobs and opportunity. This turns the war into one of attrition, the ammo being young men. The Taliban won’t last five years.
Fabius Maximus replies: That is a nice idea. But as the people of Fallujah learned, we might promise lavish aid — but that’s not part of our program. Massive firepower on civilians, search and destroy missions, popular front militia — we stick with the standard counter-insurgency formula. Too bad, yours was a good idea. It’s like our COIN theories. Wonderful stuff; we should give it a try.
I just looked at a world map to be sure I didn’t say something foolish, and lo and behold, what country appears exactly in between Afghanistan and Iraq? Iran. From an aerial point of view, Af is only a hop and a skip away from India, China to the east, and Russia a bit further to the north.
Given its proximity to these geostrategically important states, the fact that Afghanistan is essentially ungovernable, has few resources other than poppies, countless obstacles to modernization, and is traditionally the terrain of warlords and criminal operations, makes it precisely the sort of country we’re interested in. We love instability, even more than Al Q does.
Fabius Maximus replies: We may like instability, but only because it gives us an opportunity to help. They just need a nice military dictatorship, as we know how to make that happen.
I respectfully disagree with phageghost about the possibility of some Northern Alliance types ruling Afghanistan after we leave. They didn’t win the last time they went up against the Taliban unaided and I see no reason to think they would do any better this time around. For one thing, the Taliban is likely to have Pakistani and AQ support, as well as generous donations from our friends the Saudis.
I will also respectfully disagree with Fabius about the possibility of buying the Taliban off. I don’t think they’d stay bought at any price.
The lower cost alternative to prolonged war and occupation is deterrance. Whoever rules Afghanistan (And I don’t care who that is, really), must be more afraid of us than AQ or anyone else. I think that in the end, Obama will make the same basic mistake as Bush. Both men sought to make us loved. Bush thought we would be loved for bringing the Muslim world democracy and liberation. Obama thinks he can make us loved by apologizing for this, and perhaps for shooting back. I doubt that Obama will have much more success than Bush did. Like Bush, he’s looking for love in all the wrong places.
The real question, I think, is how do we deter states from tolerating or sponsoring terrorism. We will never be loved. We must be feared.
Fabius Maximus replies: Phageghost said “It’s also possible that post-occupation Afghanistan would be ruled by Northern Alliance types.” If you imply that the odds are zero, that seems a bit much to say. Improbable, yes — on that we all agree. Zero odds … nobody familar with history or people will say such a thing, IMO.
“buying the Taliban off. I don’t think they’d stay bought at any price.”
On what basis do you say that? Foreign fundamentalists are seldom popular for long. As seen in al Anbar province of Iraq, and the recent attacks on the Taliban in Pakistan. As for “stay bought”, anyone looking for permanent solutions in that part of the world should insist on getting a pony, too.
“We will never be loved. We must be feared.”
These sort of absolutist statements — black and white viewpoints — are in my experience always wrong. Life, people, are never that simple. However bizarre, it would at least be worth considering if from someone with deep knowledge of the area’s history and experience with its people. But that’s not the case here, I suspect. One of the flashing red warnings of disaster ahead is that our war strategy is least popular with those people who know the most about the folks we are fighting.
I tend to disagree with both sides of this arguement. The bases in Afghanistan weren’t needed by A.Q to train or indoctrinate. They were necessary to contribute an impression of substantiality.
A.Q. ‘s efforts can be viewed as an attempt toward global insurgency. An important step in insurgency is establishing an appearance of organization and substance. One can recruit from the fringes while camped out in the woods under a tarp. But most human beings who might be willing to die for a cause and have the intellectual capacity to execute complicated plans effectively while dying for the cause aren’t going to be impressed by an organization living like aboriginals. The camps served their purpose. Without them A.Q. may have found 10 Richard Reeds but may never have recruited a Mohammed Atta.
Fabius Maximus replies: I am not sure you understand the 2nd side to this debate, which is that the bases in al Qaeda were irrelvant to 9-11. Hence the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan had no substantial role in preventing another 9-11. What other functions the bases served for al Qaeda is not material to this specific question.
FM said:”I am not sure you understand the 2nd side to this debate..”
I fully understand it. No invasion means the bases would stand.(Though they may have had to be moved into less obviuous places)The bases standing would contribute more to A.Q.’s substantiality. This would enable recruitment of higher quality people more able to execute complicated plans-like 9/11, therefore allowing the possibility of another attack.
When your weapon is people, you don’t “make” them. You must find them. Among the ways you find them is to have a substantial place to present during recruitment, to show them like minded people, to make them comfortable with your organization. This is basic entrepreneurship. It doesn’t take reams of analysis to figure it out.
I don’t have a bone to pick in this argument one way or the other. But I do wish to add some support to OldSkeptic’s claim that Iran has been a big help to the United States against al-Qaeda. This CQ Politics post, from the same organization that brought us the Jane Harmon story, comes this whopper: not only did Iran help us in general, they went above and beyond. They handed over AQ suspects, provided locations for others, and pinpointed bombing targets inside Afghanistan for CENTCOM. Not long after, though, they were drafted into the “Axis of Evil.”
Dear FM, I’m a regular reader of this blog, but this is the first time I’m commenting here.
What shocks me (no, what really shocks me) is that your analysis of 9/11 makes no mention of Pakistan and the ISI at all. Beating up those murderous Pashtun tribesmen is all very well, but “Al-Qaeda” was and is operationalised globally by the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. Who wired the 100K to Mohammed Atta? Bin Laden? No. Zawahiri? No. Mullah Omar? No. It was Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmed, the director-general of Pakistan’s ISI.
If you can ensure that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex won’t spring the next series of terrorist attacks in your cities and mine, you can walk out of Afghanistan in the middle of a gunfight with the hillbillies.
Fabius Maximus replies: The subject of this post is the Afghanistan War, so the role of al Qaeda’s sponsors (e.g., in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) is off-topic, however interesting.
FM: “should insist on getting a pony” you’ve read that article as well … a classic. “And a pony” should go down as a standard saying when faced by ridiculous, grandious, armchair generals (or heaven forbid “strategists”).
Afghanistan and Pakistan are all part of the current ‘pipeline wars’. Read Pepe Escobar in the Asia Times and Syed Saleem Shahzad (same source) who is probably the best on the ground journalist on Afghanistan/Pakistan in the world.
Basically the US has got a bee in its bonnet about Russian/Iranian/Chinese pipelines. Especially Russian. There are some in the US elite who have never got over the Cold War (re AMD). They are desperate to have gas/oil piplines from ‘friendly’ countries (ie not Russia or Iran) bypassing the same, through other ‘friendly’ counties (like those whack jobs in Georgia .. with friends like that….).
One long planned is through Afghanistan. The Taliban were quite happy (they were the legitimate Govt after all) but drove too hard a bargain in the late 90’s. After that they were on the ‘hit list’ along with Iraq (which was on the ‘hit list’ because it was seen as weak and we knew they had got rid of their WMD).
Unfortunately for the great ‘strategists’ (though blithering idiots is a better term) the Northern Alliance cannot guarantee security and they are a bunch of drug dealers as well .. anyone remember that the Taliban had got RID of opium growing? The crops went in within weeks of the Taliban going. Plus once the US leaves the Taliban will be back in control within a few months (not 100% FM, I’d only give it 97%).
The stupidity is that the US could simply have paid of enough people to get most of what they wanted by outbidding Russia and China (not now though, but back then easily). For a fraction of the cost (not great capitalists either).
But the curse of ‘maximalism’ (Bill Lind’s term), ie winning everything instead of aiming for a reasonable deal, plus the lure of easy victories through militarism meant that the ‘blithering idiots’ stuffed everything up. Now Russia and China and Iran, though holding only King Highs have ran rings around the originally holding Full House US. Now it is the US that has a Jack High and the rest have at least pairs.
Idiots. The even more total stupidity is that Russia, Iran, etc will simply sell on the open market and are reliable suppliers (the periodic gas issues are because of the Ukraine which repeatedly refuses to pay for its very cheap gas, then holds up supply to the EU .. and steals some as well .. and Russia caves in every time … now Russia correctly wants to bypass them to supply the EU).
Wow, reading the comments above there are a lot of people who have drank the Kool-Aid propoganda.
Keep up the good work FM, reality will eventually sink through (as Feynman famously predicted).
Fabius Maximus replies: The “pipeline is the cause” theory is interesting, but lacks factual support. I suspect getting bases is a stronger motivation. Perhaps our grandchildren will learn the truth, when the government declassifies documents about the war in 2070.
As for “and a pony”, it is described in the post on this site as one of the Best geopolitical webposts, ever.
Some comments above I have to reply to.
It is all police work (though it has to be good police work). The simple reason is that it is ordinary people that defeats terrorism. Yep, Joe and Jane Soaps … us.
No monitoring system can work, bacuse the enemy adapts to it quickly. Monitor all phones and internet, they simply use code works and encryption (and anyone can create their own simple coding system). CCTV’s everywhere, well then they simply get lost in the mass, travelling at rush hours, stealing cars, changing number plates, distorting number plates (a lot of us do that just to avoid speed cameras), simply changing clothes. The monitors cannot look at everything. I suspect they also organise distractions, ie emails innoncently using loaded words. Look at the volume of Spam now, easy to overload the NSA by using Bots to generate their key words.
We respond by trying to develop better computer programs, but once you know how they work you can easily avoid or distort them. Plus most of them are rubbish (ie credit models … a significant contributer to the GFC).
So it is up to us. We ordinary people see something iffy and we go to the police. But if the police are swine (translated you go to them to tell them something and they lock YOU up) then that information flow ends. Also if you see something iffy, and the police over react (they kill some of them in their beds) then you will never tell them anything again because of guilt (especially if they are innocent).
‘Community Policing’ was a catch cry in the past and it works because the barriers between ordinary people and the police are low. There is trust. You know they will not do you over, or overreact.
The old idea where your local policeman comes round for a cup of tea is actually is the most successful model, because of the information gathering capability. You win the ‘Moral’ war, which as Boyd says (and he is not the only one) is the most important war to win. No terrorist group has ever succeded if the majority of the population abhors them and they trust their authorities. Then again if you bomb wedding parties …..
There is always a tug of war between the realists and the fanatics (or the politicians). In the first Iraq invasion, some “realists” thought we should at least talk with Saddam about his apparently legitimate complaints against Kuwait. But Bush One’s advisors felt he couldnt risk getting stuck in a messy negotiation with Saddam in an election year. So instead we launched Iraq War One, a spectacular demonstration of American might (and embarassingly, of Iraq’s weakness.) The realists did finally win out in this case, and stopped short of toppling the regime.
After 9-11, a truly shocking event, a realistic “police work” approach was probably politically impossible. The event was taken to demand a spectacular response — something that cancelled America’s sudden sense of vulnerability and re-asserted its power — which Bush was happy to lead, since it also rescued his directionless presidency. As the theater of war shifted to Iraq, we not only had to create phantom enemies, but also had to continue stoking the phantom sense of our own power. And while actual developments of the war showed these phantoms to be dangerous simplifications, we clung to them tenaciously rather than admit we had been foolish earlier.
Germany under Hitler could be said to illustrate a kind of national psychosis, in which leaders and led agree on a seriously distorted view of reality, to their own harm. America over the last eight years seems to have suffered a similar kind of national psychosis. The hallmark of a psychosis is that it’s very difficult to give it up, whatever the evidence coming in from the real world. The tragedy of the moment is that the current President came into office on a wave of popular reaction against the last eight years, with a mandate for change, but has done nothing to carry it out.
Oldskeptic: “it is ordinary people that defeats terrorism”.
I concur. I’ve read a pretty good article not so long ago: Mumbaied I, by Joseph Fouche, posted at the Committee of Public Safety, 17 February 2009.
At this point I think the surge in Afghanistan has more to do with securing Pakistan than anything else. Try this on for size: “Jihadis Discuss Plans to Seize Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal“, Terrorism Monitor (of the Jamestown Foundation), 26 May 2009:
Fabius Maximus replies: This looks like guessing to me The Pashtun people fighting the Pakistan government are, by most expert sources, Pakistani — not from Afghanistan, or receiving significant support from Afghanistan. Is there any evidence that our activities in Afghanistan have any substantive effect on the “insurrection” (if that’s the correct word) in Pakistan?
On a deeper level, it is clearly in al Qaeda’s interests to exagerate their abilities, and discuss their goals in the grandest terms. The US government might have a symbiotic relationship with al Qeada in this respect, as exaggerating al Qaeda builds support for our Long War. Just as exaggerating the Soviet Union’s strength did in the cold war (e.g., the bomber gap, the missile gap, the “Team B” effort to distort CIA’s analysis).
I’ve seen little evidence that al Qaeda contributes more than cheerleading to the conflict in Pakistan. Worse, our intervention might be destabilizing the region — as the activities of infidel foreigners have so often done.
FM: “I’ve seen little evidence….”
Isn’t one of the problems with fighting a guerrilla opponent that evidence of what he actually may be up to – whatever that may be – tends to be lacking?
Fabius Maximus replies: Yes, so we must be aware of what we don’t know. Inspired guessing is not the same as intel.
FM: “No evidence that al-Qaeda … more than cheerleading in Pakistan”
If you read the BBC website and Asia Times , some seem to see al-Q as a powerful puppetmaster throughout Asia and Africa , sucking in the discontented , the naive , and criminal opportunists , into a buch of loosely controlled franchises.
The franchises ‘ Taliban’and their allies , also al-Shabab ,may have made some mistakes recently , turning Muslims against them . ( But that may not mean they like US policies , or communism , either . )But if Al-Q was a puppetmaster , would there be other puppets ? Where are the trading routes , where are the middlemen , the bankers , the buyers and sellers of missile launchers , the fat cats ? Surely would not choose landlocked Afgh as a meeting place , with the rough climate , poor cover , dodgy roads , useless airfields .( Although an illiterate population and larval communication systems might make maintaining secrecy easier ).
Fabius Maximus replies: I did not say that there is no imagineering or fantasizing about al Qaeda, of the type that clouded our minds during the Cold War. Rather, I said that there was “no evidence.” BTW — there was neither a “bomber gap” nor a “missile gap.”
After a rigorous scientific sifting of all the comments here, I conclude we should get out of AFghanistan as quickly as possible. No one here claims that Al Q’aeda would be a dire and immediate threat to us if allowed to continue its marginal existence in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. All that was just smoke sent up to justify our initial invasion. The Taliban is another matter, but if they have to be countered, it would be in Pakistan, and not by anything wearing a US military uniform.
The pipeline? A pipe dream, rather! US prestige? Couldn’t be lower than now! The worst case result? A drug cartel masquerading as a state, or a government of religious fanatics. Good heavens, we certainly know how to get along with those!
you have declared operations in Afghanistan wrong headed – my words – and justifications “absurd.” Most commenters appear to agree, although some appear to be using only the “if it’s messed up in the world, America did it” logic, Senecal sums up with serious scientific sifting, concluding ‘get out.’
With 11 years of researh on terrorism and 4GW, I have followed your writing on 4GW with great interest from pre-site days. Based on your posts on war/4GW over the past few months, I think I can declare now being among the few in loyal opposition.
I offer here, not my opinion, but those of David Kilcullen from The Accidental Guerrilla. Given his background and time in multiple small war, insurgency AND 4GW environments, and particularly on site in Afghanistan, I think you should not dismiss lightly. 4GW, war amongst the people is not “just” something laid on our plate by the Bush administration. There are some dangerous aspects to this 21st century. We minimize and hyper focus inwardly (to exclusion of balance) at great potential peril, IMHO.
My add: In context and contrast, Kilcullen, despite his extensive efforts in Iraq, he was opposed to entering into operations there.
Fabius Maximus replies: This site has by far the most complete index to Kilcullen’s writings. And some of the few articles giving critical analysis of his theories. So I believe there is adequate evidence to show that I do not “dismiss lightly” his work.
A few of the posts on this site about the theories of David Kilcullen:
* 28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America, 7 May 2007
* America takes another step towards the “Long War”, 24 July 2007
* Kilcullen explains all you need to know about the Iraq War, 6 October 2007
* Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s?, 26 April 2008
* Another “must-read” presentation by Kilcullen about COIN, 27 May 2008
Ed: Your comment above seems to be based on serious thinking. I wonder,if the Taliban are potentially such a significant regional threat, why we know so little of their leadership, and secondly, how the other regional powers (Russia, India, Iran, even China) are responding to the Taliban?
Anna, I personally think that AQ is more oppotunistic in many local situtations that anything else. Though they definitely stir issues in areas to create overreactions from the US, we know that beacuse they have stated that’s what they actually do at times (and how dumb are we to do what they want).
BL does have charasmatic pull in many areas and that helps AQ when they offer organisation and help to local entities. Plus they do have technical expertise that they can offer. In many areas where they (claim) to operate the numbers are probably pretty low, but because of the above factors they can often seem to get themselves into more senior postions in whatever resistance movement grows up. Plus they seem to be pretty politically astute, paying politics between different groups to give themseleves more importance.
But, and this is the big but, when they become a bit too powerful they seem to be unable to resist pissing off the locals with extreme social and religeous controls. I think this seems to explain their waxing and waning that we see in many areas. They are welcomed for their support and expertise, they gain positons of power, they overreact, they shrink and change, then they grow and overreact again. Seems to be a cycle, but one that is fed by US/NATO/etc pressure on the locals.
My gut feel, for what it is worth, is that if left alone AQ gets driven out of areas pretty quickly .. but if you keep bombing wedding parties then they get cut more slack by locals, as they are the ‘enemy of my enemy”. Heck we did/do the same, remember WW2 and the Soviets, our best friends at the time?
Ed, I’ve read Kilcullen as well and listened to his podcast as well. But he is a technical specialist and in that area, dealing with just tactics he is arguably one of the best minds and experts around.
But .. (I love doing that), his description of the Taliban is only in context of after invasion. Prior to that they were the legitimate Govt of the country. Odious they were but they maintained a reasonably stable country, heavily influenced by Pakistan’s ISI. You could, and we did, negotiate deals with them. They ended opium production. Heck there was even a little economic growth.
The ‘Northern Alliance’ were some local warlords that were tolerated by the Taliban (it is a big and poor counrty after all and the Taliban wont make that mistake again after they win). We supported them and, in my personal opinion, the Taliban panicked thinking that they were facing a major US invasion instead of an insurgency backed by some special forces and aircraft. Frankly if they had stood and fought Iraq would never have been invaded as 200,000+ US troops would have had to be sent there to beat them.
Where Kilcullen loses it is in his analysis of the geo-politics and strategy. Yes, if the US/NATO had done what (e.g Tony Bliar) promised and poured aid into the country, rebuilding it, etc. Then the Taliban would probably have been marginalised and would have cut a deal in the future.
But of course we didn’t. The money was non-existant, the ‘Northen Alliance’ did what all good warlords do, advance their position and of course opened up the opium growing so they could make a lot of money like they did in the past, pre-Taliban, days. Our armed forces protected them of course, making this an interesting exercise in a sort of reverse “opium wars”.
Plus locals did not do well and that is the key. Despite all our pious words the average Afghani went backwards. What little economy there was, apart from opium growing, collapsed, law and order collapsed, corruption grew (whatever you can say about them the Taliban were not corrupt), poverty grew, the warlords did what they do the best .. take as much money for themselves as they can (no doubt quite a lot went to some how shall we say it, creative?, US/EU invaders).
And we backed it up, and just as we did in Iraq, when the locals demonstrated (stupidly believing our nonesense about freedom) we gave them good old American (British, German, etc) lead and bombs (if they were lucky, the rest got torture). Then the Taliban turned up again as the ‘good guys’, which was not very hard to do of course .. anyone would have looked good compared to us.
Now we are trying to use tactics to try and turn around a totally failed strategy. Remember the last time that happened .. Vietnam .. or earlier .. the Wehrmacht?
Fabius Maximus replies: Billions for bombing but little for rebuilding! Not the wisest course of action, but clearly the motto of the senior people at the Dept of Defense. Anyone who doubts this should visit Fallujah, reading our grandiose promises of rebuilding while touring the city.
OS: you’ve written a pretty good article on the subject here, in four installments. If anyone in US planning got the gist of this post, and realized they were fighting a losing battle, I wonder how they might get out, and how they would justify it? And if they did get out, what would be left of the original Bush ME agenda? And what would be the new balance of power in the region? Is Central Asia simply one of the rift zones where the US empire starts to shrink?
Prestige is nothing to sneeze at. It gives “or else” meaning.
And of course standard security work is a lot easier to do if you have the cooperation of the authorities or control of the countryside. So how good is our police work in Somalia? Or the places in Afghanistan we don’t have access to?
Of course one key to Afghanistan is opium. We do love our prohibitions here in America. I read an interesting stat a while back. Around 1900 about 1.3% of the population used opiates to one degree or another. And now – after 90+ years of ever more draconian prohibition laws about 1.3% of the population uses opiates to one degree or another. We have done with our prohibition laws what was once considered only possible in alchemy. Turing a pile of vegtables into an equal weight of gold.
Why this administration will not exit Afghanistan:
If an attack were to emerge from that area after the US decamped the Democrats would never hear the end of it. They can’t afford the risk.
You could, and we did, negotiate deals with them. They ended opium production.
Well not exactly. They had an over production one year and got Western Gvmts to pay them to do what market conditions required to keep their inventory from becoming worthless – reduce production as much as possible for one year. Westerners are easily duped. That was one slick scam.
Saudi/Gulf oil money remains the key to the struggle which is about Pakistan — a failed state which lost half of itself and its rationale to be the Muslim beacon in South Asia — and the establishment of Muslim supremacy in South Asia — i.e. religious war with the Hindus, that is India, a country which in the last two decades diverged from its failing path toward evolution, development and if not religious harmony, a degree of tolerance which some its own Muslims find unacceptable. The Pakistan Army is dedicated to preserving itself. Its nuclear weapons are the guarantor of itself and the failed country it dominates — 30 million in 1947, now about 180 million, 80 percent illiterate. Several religious parties are devoted to jihad, world domination blah blah blah and are supported with money from our Saudi ally. When are we going to get real about this? Can Pakistan be helped? Can Russia? Fighting an insurgency in A. to create a western-style central state on the borders of Iran and Pakistan is simple lunacy. Suppressing Saudi revolutionary lucre is the first order of business; instead we sell them weapons.