Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3

Part 3 in this series … Unlike Iraq, we have had wise and eloquent warnings about our folly in Afghanistan.  Such as this article, which I strongly recommend reading in full.

  • COIN’s siren song, Pat Lang (Colonel, Special Forces, retired), Sic Semper Tyrannis, 11 July 2009


“Counterinsurgency” as a developed modern doctrine of warfare was created in the aftermath of World War II as a system of defense against “Wars of National Liberation” that erupted across the world as various peoples rose against European colonialism.

… Basically what is attempted in this doctrine is the construction of a society that is more attractive and viable than that promised by the insurgents.

… “Counterinsurgency” made some sense for the European colonial empires. They “owned” the places where they tried this method. They were fighting to retain what they saw as their property. Whatever “investments” they made in the colony seemed worthwhile because they would be retained in the empire.

… In Iraq, the US has gained nothing of economic value and is rapidly surrendering control of the governance of Iraq to a government that is not truly friendly. The outcome of last week’s oil service contract auction should be instructive to those who think the US (as opposed to the looters granted no-bid contracts to batten on US money) has gained anything of value in Iraq. And how much have we spent there to date? How high is the butcher’s bill as of today?

It is the same in Afghanistan. Fantasize all you like… There is nothing in Aghanistan that the US wants or needs other than the ability to disrupt Al-Qa’ida’s further plotting against our own soil.


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Posts about the War 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
  • “The Great Afghan Bailout” by Tom Engelhardt, 14 April 2009
  • Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
  • A joust between two schools of American military theory, 19 May 2009
  • Can we answer SecDef Gates’ question about NATO and the Af-Pak War?, 19 May 2009
  • Troops without proper equipment in 2004, troops without proper equipment in 2009 – where’s the outrage?, 20 May 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
  • An expert explains why we must fight in Afghanistan, 11 June 2009
  • Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
  • The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  • The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
  • 4 thoughts on “Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3”

    1. If our military gets good enough at nation building after two trial runs, maybe they can come back to Washington and start from scratch *here* as well.

    2. Afghanistan ? Lets look ahead ..
      2019 :Secular vs Fundamentalist civil wars spread the chaos that began in Saudi to Pakistan , Iran , Iraq, Turkey, Israel and Indonesia. The resurgent , governing Communist Party in Afghanistan allies with its neighbours to become Communistan , hot with idealism and rich with oil . Insurgents in Old Europe use terrorism against the Albanian Godfathers in Brussels .
      The US moves all its troops to unite Africa , where in the interests of democracy and oil production , slavery is reintroduced . The Chinese stay in China , fighting a plague of gerbils .

    3. American counter-insurgency strategy, and the core value of denial in the US military in the face of repeated defeats, as so well evidenced by the article, are different topics.
      But I am convinced that if all Americans were all made slaves and their women rounded up for terrorist harems the US military would still be claiming that it ‘might still be called an American victory in some sense’ – “one can argue endlessly over the results”

      COIN doesn’t work – “IMO, the whole counterinsurgency thing, if applied successfully in Afghanistan will require a commitment of a century of effort”.

      The reason is because it is predicated on changing the culture of the target people – “this doctrine is the construction of a society” – and history has shown over and over again that people hang on to their culture above all else. That if you mess with people culture they will rise up against you until you stop it one way or another. Layered on top of a failed strategy is a mile high mound of tactical minutiae to keep everyone nicely distracted.

      Despite claiming to be based on the colonial experiences (and yet pretending not to be colonial) COIN has nothing to do with those strategies. The colonial strategy is to keep the existing hierarchy is place and just add your own layer above. This creates the least disruption to the existing society and culture. The county can then be steered to providing tribute. The colonial experience is that when you start building schools and messing with the locals directly then the trouble starts.

      And this is the practical and workable solution that the US always reverts to – after failing dismally at COIN and wasting a huge amount of resources and political capital. To many Americans the reality of this openly exploitative approach is so squalid and far from the dream of bring civilization to the savages they lose interest. And finally and most importantly the colonial period is over, it does not make economic sense any more.

      The paper is one of many we are going to see. The inevitable defeat in Afghanistan will be accompanied by the inevitable military claims that – if only more resources had been made available then a repeatedly failed strategy would have worked.

      These are the colonial wars the US military is being transformed to fight. A huge amount of effort and money is going into making the US military a colonial expedition force. The defeat by yet another dirt poor agrarian society will probably drive the organization insane.

    4. I thought the Afghanistan war was all about the oil/gas pipline route through Afghanistan from the Caspian sea, as well as the large deposits of oil and gas found in Afghanistan. “Afghan pipeline given go-ahead“, BBC, 30 May 2002.

      Scientists Find Big Afghan Oil Resources“, AP, 14 March 2006.
      Fabius Maximus replies: The pileline-stan theory has zero in the way of factual support, but seems to have gained believers after seemingly endless repetition. They are mostly speculation, citing no supporting sources. Until somebody provides evidence, I consider then an urban legend. Your BBC story is over 7 years ago, and the pipeline has not advanced an inch since then.

      Joshua Foust posted a scathing but brief critique at Registan.net (“All Central Asia, all the time”). Or see Stratfor’s analysis.

      The US Geological Survey estimate is based on sketchy data. The USGS believes the world is awash in undiscovered oil, which for some reason remains largely undiscovered. As time passes, their estimates appear increasingly optimistic.

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