An open discussion thread about the Afghanistan War

This is an open discussion thread, of the kind that work so well at other sites (e.g., “A New Sea Ice Thread” at Climate Audit).

Please keep your comments reasonably brief, not essays.  You can ask questions, which I — and readers — will attempt to answer.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them civil and relevant to the topic.

Below the fold are links to posts on this site about the war.

To read other articles about our wars, see these FM reference page (listed on the right side menu bar):

Posts about the War in Afghanistan:

  1. Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
  2. Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008 — George Friedman of Statfor on the Afghanistan War.
  3. Another perspective on Afghanistan, a reply to George Friedman, 27 February 2008
  4. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008
  5. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  6. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
  7. Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s?, 26 April 2008
  8. A powerful weapon, at the sight of which we should tremble and our enemies rejoice, 2 June 2008
  9. Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War, 8 June 2008
  10. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
  11. Stratfor says that our war in Pakistan grows hotter; Palin seems OK with that, 12 September 2008
  12. Pakistan warns America about their borders, and their sovereignty, 14 September 2008
  13. Weekend reading about … foreign affairs, 19 October 2008
  14. “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009
  15. America sends forth its privateers to pillage, bold corsairs stealing from you and I, 9 February 2009
  16. “The Great Afghan Bailout” by Tom Engelhardt, 14 April 2009
  17. Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
  18. A joust between two schools of American military theory, 19 May 2009
  19. Can we answer SecDef Gates’ question about NATO and the Af-Pak War?, 19 May 2009
  20. Troops without proper equipment in 2004, troops without proper equipment in 2009 – where’s the outrage?, 20 May 2009
  21. New bases in Afghanistan – more outposts of America’s Empire, 21 May 2009
  22. The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan , 1 June 2009
  23. Advice about our long war – “It’s the tribes, stupid”, 9 June 2009

16 thoughts on “An open discussion thread about the Afghanistan War”

  1. Okay FM, I will bite. This site is dominated by those who feel that NATO’s broad strategic goals in Afghanistan are unattainable, superfluous, pyrrhic, imperialistic, or otherwise unwise. My question is for these people.

    Regardless of the United State’s ability to transform Afghanistan into a model democracy (a blue fairy wish, I know), does the United States have the responsibility to “fix what it broke?” Discussions of national character are common on this site; what does it say of America’s nature if we recklessly pillage lands half a world away but never pause to rectify the damage we have caused? Is abandoning Afghanistan to the wolves an ultimate act of duty or lack thereof?

    FM, if this doesn’t generate a comment storm here, I don’t know what will. ^_~
    Fabius Maximus replies: We are neither doctors nor master manipulators of cultures. So we cannot fix what we broke. We can, however, provide aid to the locals so that they can fix what we broke. Quite a different approach, and requires neither construction of a massive chain of bases nor massive military intervention.

    It will not generate a storm of comments because few Americans give a damn about our foreign wars.

  2. FM Note: this is an important comment, IMO.
    I’ll lead it off tonight: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is gradually weaving a web of inluences and agreements around Central Asia (Bhadrakamur writes about this regularly on Asia times). The substance of these arrangements is energy, and China is at the nexus of them. The US is trying to establish a military position in two of the most unstables states of the region, and we are actually wasting resources, credibility and popular support by doing so, while China keeps on making sensible business deals and practicing effective diplomacy. Partly, this is what we got for taking our eye off the ball during the seven years of the Iraq war, and earlier for treating Russia like a third world country.

    The whole last 15 years or so of American policy seems like the thrashing about of a wounded bear — scary and sad at once.
    Fabius Maximus replies: While correct, this is far too narrow. Look at China’s role in developing a chain of friendly ports — in both commercial and naval senses — around southern Asia — called the “china of pearls”. China’s massive support of the Sri Lanaka government makes them a big winner in the end of that civil war. Sri Landa will become another pearly in the chain.

    In contrast to China’s methodical and thoughtful strategy, America’s is irrational. “Thrashing about” is a nice analogy. Which do you think will have better results?

  3. The only thing I’m worried about is the war destabilizes Pakistan, that will really mess up the balance of power in the region.

    China will get involved in the Afghan War to push back both Taliban and the US; India will try to push back Chinese pressure after Pakistan is out of the way; the entire Chinese Uyghur region will be flooded with armed insurgents bent on liberation; nuclear weapons in both Pakistan and Chinese Uyghur regions will be at risk…

    Not a pretty sight.

  4. “rectify the damage we have caused? “”

    Non Sequitor, like the phrase, “I’m from the Government, I’m here to help.”

    The US can never undo the damage, the track record of this type of involvement in the middle and far east since Korea, emphericaly demonstrates. Only by leaving these pepole alone to live and conduct themselves as they see fit. Every single day, every hour, every minute more we’re there in force, compounds the overbearing costs, and exaserbates the tragidy, on all sides.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The phrase “I’m from the government … help” is often true. Consdiering this as a non sequitor is crazy, IMO.
    * Have you seen people in a disaster area when FEMA and the National Guard arrive? Do you believe they are turned away?
    * What about people who’ve lost their jobs receiving welfare — would you prefer that these families starve, as they sometimes did before the New Deal?
    * Or Medicare and Medicaid, for the first time in US history bringing widespread medical care to the poor. Perhaps you could stand at the door of your local hospital, urging people to turn down this government help.

    Think about it; you can make a long list of examples countering this nonsensical saying.

  5. “The only thing I’m worried about is the war destabilizes Pakistan,”

    The only thing ? It’s probably later than you think. How can we expect to ‘fix’ the problem, when we are THE PROBLEM to begin with.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I very much doubt that “we are THE problem” in Pakistan. Pakistan is and long has been unstable, with many internal fissures.

  6. Does anyone have a guesstimate how much it cost to overthrow the Taliban in 1991 and initially install Karzai?

    How does that compare to the recurring annual cost of operations costs now?

    If it makes sense in dollars, would in the worst case repeatedly overthrowing every few years some kind of Taliban, if they continue for instance to shelter aQ types, be more palatable geo-politically?
    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t know the numbers, but current ops are probably at least an order of magnitude (10x) more expensive per year.

  7. Afghanistan has provinces which may have different histories , cultures and languages . There are provincial governors , it seems. There was a recent Lind post on DNI about USA breakup , and I feel queasy about my country ( Uk ) jumping into integration with Ukraine and Turkey . I would like to know more about provincial governments in Afgh .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Here is a recommended reading list from Joshua Foust:

    Here are a few things I’ve written recently that explain this further, followed by a VERY brief bibliography:

    * Provinces Like Khost Need More than Just Troops
    * Tribal” Engagement, or How We Lost Kapisa… and Are (Slowly) Regaining It
    * Misinterpreting “Tribal” Sabotage
    * Breaking the Tribal Model
    * What “Intimate Knowledge?”
    * The Myth of Taliban Tribalism

    That’s a good start. Meanwhile, here are three good (and easy to find) overviews that argue against the idea of Afghanistan as a “tribal” society:
    * Glatzer, Bernt (2001). “War and Boundaries in Afghanistan: Significance and Relativity of Local and Social Boundaries.” Weld des Islams, 41, 3, pp. 379-99
    * Glatzer, Bernt (2002). “The Pashtun Tribal System.” in Pfeffer, G., and D.K. Behra (eds.), Concept of Tribal Society (Contemporary Society: Tribal Studies, Vol 5), pp. 265-282.
    * Giustozzi, Antonio (2007). Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan 2002-2007.
    * Shahrani, Nazif (2002). “Factionalism, and the State in Afghanistan,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 104, No. 3.

    There are obviously more — a LOT more. But this is a start.

  8. Burke G Sheppard

    FP asks a valid question about the cost of ongoing operations versus the cost of the occasional intervention. But assuming that we were to use the odd intervention without leaving a garrison behind, what form should it take?

    I believe the best sort of operation would be a punitive strike that did not aim to take and hold ground, or displace the Taliban for the umpteenth time. The goal in that case should be to kill enough people to make the point, period.

    I believe the Taliban WILL have AQ back in their old training camps, and I am less optimistic than Fabius about the prospects of preventing further mass casualty attacks in this country should this occur. The problem then becomes to establish some form of deterrance, rather than fixing Afghanistan, for any given definition of the word fix.

    Burke G Sheppard

  9. “It will not generate a storm of comments because few Americans give a damn about our foreign wars.

    FM, every time you put a post on foreign wars you get 30+ posts or so, and most of those folks are just agreeing with you. Is it unwise to think that these same folks will attempt to defend the view with which they have been agreeing to so passionately?

    Thank you, by the way, for your reply. Now I must ask a follow up question- Assuming that we do as you say, how do you ensure that the locals do not take our resources and use them in ways contrary to American interests? We have a hard enough time accomplishing this with 30,000 soldiers on the ground; how can we imagine doing this with no force there at all?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Of the last 10 posts about the Afghanistan War, only one had 30+ comments; the average number of comments was 17. Interesting the last 6 each had more comments than the previous (3 – 32). Also, although most posts are in agreement with my view (a rarity on this site), there are some taking the pro-war side. Such as Major Scarlet and Joshua Foust.

    The method of controling allies use of our aid has been tested and proven by decades of practice. If they misuse it too greatly, we cut it off. That can lead to a severe weaking — even collapse — of a government.

  10. T. Greer: That’s a good observation.

    The simple answer is to pay attention to the government involved. If it’s one we cobbled together — a military clique, the strongest tribal leader, one religious sect out of many, someone educated in the West who served on an oil major board of directors — then it’s probably not going to work. The current governments in Iraq and Afghanistan are merely opportunistic entities, more interested in personal power and gain than in serving the whole country.

    We don’t have an adequate public language for describing the forms of non-representative government which seem to be necessary to go from pre-industrial societies to modern economies that can support a democracy. Lacking such a language, we have to speak in terms of mythical concepts, taking any public protest for a “democratic” opposition, any government we support for a representative one, as if as if one rainy day disproved the thesis of global warming. Seeing events this way, we are bound to be disappointed.

  11. Just have to have one more q to your excellent search engine .
    -Who makes the laws in Afgh , and are they the same in all provinces ?
    -Foreign troops have their own rules of engagement , but are these congruent with national/local laws ?( Of course laws cant be applied if there are no willing / able police or judges , but they can still be there for occasional use )
    On each side one could think of assault , murder , damage to property , intimidation etc . I think under Sharia ( does it apply in Afgh ? ) these are only ” legal ” if in defence of yourself , family or community .
    We are told the Pashtun code is hot on revenge , does this make revenge murder “legal” in Afgh ? Is there a law against growing opium poppies ?
    Are women soldiers , unsegregated , legal ?
    And are there compensation lawyers ?

  12. The Taliban have been condemned by their own religious leaders. The Taliban claim to be followers of the Deobandi sect of Islam. However:

    Deoband ulema term all Taliban actions un-Islamic.

    KARACHI: Senior clerics of India’s top seminary whose version of Islam the Taliban claim to follow have denounced the actions of the hardline militia, saying the group does not qualify to enjoy affiliations with the historic madressah.

    Fabius Maximus replies: Good question, to which I do not have a clue. What was the significance of Popes condeming war during the past 2 millenia?

  13. In an April 9th speech in Turkey, Barack Obama stated, “Finally, we share the common goal of denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The world has come too far to let this region backslide, and to let al Qaeda terrorists plot further attacks. That’s why we are committed to a more focused effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.”

    To what degree do you believe that the actual Al Qaeda organization (as opposed to the worldwide movement of people who have been influenced by radical Islamist beliefs to carry out attacks [Link: NEFA Foundation report on the June 1 Little Rock, Arkansas shooting]) is still operative and a danger? Do you agree that they are currently located within Afghanistan and Pakistan? What strategy would you suggest against the remaining Al Qaeda organization?
    Fabius Maximus replies: To what extent is there still a global al Qaeda organization, as opposed to a few thousand foreign Islamo-fundos flocking to fight in Afghanistan? Why should we have to guess about this?

    If there still is a large functional al Qaeda, why is invading Afghanistan relevant? Any bases they build can be bombed out of existence without much trouble. Any “infrastructure” other than bases they can repliate elsewhere.

    Also, we fought a real global organization — training and financed by the Soviet Union — for several decades without the need to invade anyone. No expert even suggested that invading anyone was a reasonable response. Why is al Qaeda different?

  14. FM reply to #14:

    If there still is a large functional al Qaeda, why is invading Afghanistan relevant? Any bases they build can be bombed out of existence without much trouble. Any “infrastructure” other than bases they can repliate elsewhere.

    Essentially, you are saying that occupying Afghanistan & using UAV strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas is a counterproductive strategy for dealing with Al Qaeda? If so, I totally agree. Would you then suggest a global police strategy for dealing with Al Qaeda?

    Also, may I ask what global, USSR-trained organization did the USA fight for decades?
    Fabius Maximus replies: First, we have implemented an almost-global police strategy against al Qaeda. It’s been highly successful, although with our somewhat deranged fascination with things militiary it has recieved little attention. The cooperation of the EU and Saudi Arabia has been esp effective.

    Second, the USSR provided training and support to leftist-groups around the world (such as the Red Army Faction). When the USSR collapsed, so did most of them.

  15. From FM reply to #15:

    Fabius Maximus replies: First, we have implemented an almost-global police strategy against al Qaeda. It’s been highly successful, although with our somewhat deranged fascination with things militiary it has recieved little attention. The cooperation of the EU and Saudi Arabia has been esp effective.

    OK. I’ll study up on this police strategy. I want to be able to convincingly argue– to someone who has an unknown view on imperialism/colonialism– that the USA should get find an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Part of that argument is to show that the occupation/escalation is a counterproductive way to defend US security. I guess Al Qaeda is mostly a sub-clause in that argument now but it is the one that people focus on.

    I’ll read up about the Red Army Faction. It could be useful to see how state terror by proxy has been done in the past.

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