Stratfor: A Small Blow to the Taliban, a Big Blow to US-Pakistani Trust

Summary: The hit on Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was another short term tactical win in our long war, achieved (like so many others) at a high cost to our long-term strategic position.  It’s why we’ve fought the long war since 9/11 with most bad results. Here Stratfor looks at the details of this successful assassination, and predicts its small fruits. This is a follow-up to Another assassination of a jihadist leader. Here’s what comes next…

The late John Boyd (Colonel, USAF) said that grand strategy focused a nation’s actions to  increase its solidarity and internal cohesion, weaken opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion, strengthen relationships with allies’ and attract uncommitted states — to end conflicts on favorable terms without sowing seeds for future conflicts. (From “Patterns of Conflict”, slide 139).


A Blow to the Taliban and to U.S.-Pakistani Trust
Stratfor, 24 May 2016

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan has fluctuated between tenuous cooperation and rampant discord. During the Cold War, Washington strengthened ties with Islamabad, doling out more than $3 billion in aid to Pakistan to arm the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. After a period of relative inactivity between the nations during the 1990s, the 9/11 attacks prompted Washington to reinvigorate ties with Islamabad once again. On Monday, the current state of the relationship between the two nations was put to the test when U.S. President Barack Obama announced that a drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province killed the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.

The strike comes at a precarious moment for bilateral ties between the United States and Pakistan. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would block $450 million in funding to Pakistan. Alleging that Pakistan has been a duplicitous ally in counterterrorism operations, a bipartisan group of representatives has argued that until Islamabad prosecutes a more vigorous and consistent strategy against militants within its borders, U.S. aid should be restricted.

In another sign of the shaky trust between the nations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not contact Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif about the strike until after it occurred, demonstrating that Washington does not have faith in Islamabad’s reliability in coordinating such high-level strikes. (Similarly, the United States informed Pakistan about the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden only after the fact.)

Pakistan’s response to the U.S. action was tempered, yet firm. Sharif stopped short of confirming Mullah Mansoor’s death, saying that authorities needed to complete their investigation, but the prime minister emphasized that the strike was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. U.S. drone strikes are very unpopular among Pakistanis, and Sharif’s response was not unexpected. Of the 391 American drone strikes conducted inside Pakistan since 2004, this is the first to take place in Balochistan, the country’s largest province.

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What happens when a nation gets nukes? Sixty years of history suggests an answer.

Summary:  The drive for war comes from hawks’ terrifying forecasts of what a nuke-armed Iran will do.  Similar warnings were made in the past about today’s nuclear powers.  What does history tell us?  Eight in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.

“The US is almost certain to be the first superpower to need to launch strategic weapons (particularly if not exclusively, in response to some galloping disaster in Europe).”
— Colin S. Gray (strategy expert, Hudson Institute), letter to the New York Times, 11 October 1977


  1. They’ll use nukes!  (“they” = our enemy due jour)
  2. The history of nukes — risky but so far a stabilizing force
  3. Examples:  India/Pakistan, North Korea
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. For more information
  6. Other posts about Iran

(1)  They’ll use nukes!  (“they” = our enemy due jour)

A commonplace of the atomic era are warnings by hawks that our enemy due jour will attack first with nukes (ignoring that our behavior was often equally aggressive).  This simple if baseless technique kept hysteria high during the Cold War.  For an example of confident wild guessing of that period see “Why the Soviet Union thinks it could fight and win a nuclear war“, Richard Pipes (Prof Russian History at Harvard), Commentary, July 1977.

Similar warnings about Iran do the same today.  But the Soviet Union was a large power wielding terrifying weapons whose application nobody understood.  Now we repeat that history, but with a small and poor nations — whose conventional military power is inferior to Israel’s, and nothing compared to ours.

(2)  The history of nukes — risky, but so far a stabilizing force

(a)  Nuclear Weapons as a stabilizing element

Despite the hawks warnings, some geopolitical experts saw that nuclear weapons would limit war.  One of the first was Bernard Brodie in The Absolute Weapon (1946).  And so it has proven to be, as he explained in “The development of nuclear strategy“, International Strategy, Spring 1978:

The notion that in an extremely tense crisis, which may include an ongoing theater war, any useful purpose is likely to be served by firing off strategic nuclear weapons, however limited in number, seems vastly to underestimate both the risks to the nation and the burden upon the person who must make the decision.  Divorced from consideration of how human beings actually behave in a crisis, it fits Raymond Aron’s definition of “strategic fiction”, analogous to “science fiction.”

(b)  Fears that other nations (not us) will use nukes irrationally

The claims that Iran will irrationally use the bomb repeat similar fears concerning China, India, and Pakistan.  Martin van Creveld describes the actual history of nukes (so far) in the conclusion to Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict (1993):

Nevertheless there seems to be no factual basis for the claims that regional leaders do not understand the nature and implications of nuclear weapons; or that their attitudes to those weapons are governed by some peculiar cultural biases which make them incapable of rational thought; or that they are more adventurous and less responsible in handling them than anyone else.

… An even more critical reason why regional leaders tend to be at least as careful in handling nuclear weapons as those of the superpowers is the fact that many of these countries are quite small, adjacent to each other, and no separated by any clear natural borders; often they share the same local weather systems and draw their water fro the same river basin.

… Much of the literature on proliferation appears to be distorted, ethnocentric, and self-serving.  it operates on the principle of beati sunt possedentes (blessed are those who are in possession); like the treaties to which it has given rise, its real objective is to perpetuate the oligopoly of the “old” nuclear powers.  To this end regional powers and their leaders have been described as unstable, culturally biased, irresponsible, and what-not.  To this end weapons seen as stabilizing in the hands of the great powers were suddenly described as destabilizing when they spread to other countries.

In practice, the leaders of medium and small powers alike tend to be extremely cautious with regard to the nuclear weapons they possess — the proof being that, to date, in every region where these weapons have been introduced, large-scale interstate warfare has disappeared. … This has been true even when the weapons have been few in number; even when delivery vehicles and methods of command and control were comparatively primitive; even when very great asymmetries existed in the forces of both sides; and even when the entire process was covert rather than overt.

… the virtual disappearance of large-scale interstate warfare from the regions in question does not mean that they are going to be free of armed conflict … The rise in these regions of Low Intensity Conflict represents the sound tactician’s response to nuclear proliferation.  If one cannot bear one’s enemy in a straightforward contest, one can seek to undermine him.

(3)  Examples:  India/Pakistan, North Korea

(a)  Fears that India and Pakistan will nuke each other (14 years later no nukes used)

Nuclear Anxiety, the Rivalry: South Asian Arms Race: Reviving Dormant Fears of Nuclear War“, New York Times, 29 May 1998 — Excerpt:

In a matter of weeks, covert nuclear programs in India and Pakistan, rivals who have three times gone to war, have turned into an open nuclear arms race, raising alarms about what comes next — and where.  Diplomats and arms control experts see this arms race as particularly dangerous because Pakistan and India, unlike the United States and Russia during the cold war, have not held serious negotiations over outstanding problems for decades or concluded agreements that reduced the number of weapons aimed at each other.

These experts now fear that Pakistan and India could be drawn into a nuclear war over Kashmir, a territory that has been in dispute since the two countries gained independence in 1947.

… ”We are at perhaps the most dangerous period since the beginning of the nuclear age — with the exception of the Cuban missile crisis,” said Thomas Graham, a former negotiator for the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency who is now president of the independent Lawyers’ Alliance for World Security.

(b)  North Korea

Iran and the Nuclear Paradox“, Robert Farley, World Politics Review, 16 November 2011 — Excerpt:

Existing nuclear powers fear that new entrants will act unpredictably, destabilize regions and throw existing diplomatic arrangements into flux. These predictions almost invariably turn out wrong; nuclear weapons consistently fail to undo the existing power relationships of the international system.

The North Korean example is instructive. In spite of the dire warnings about the dangers of a North Korean nuclear weapon, the region has weathered Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation in altogether sound fashion. Though some might argue that nukes have “enabled” North Korea to engage in a variety of bad behaviors, that was already the case prior to its nuclear test. The crucial deterrent to U.S. or South Korean action continues to be North Korea’s conventional capabilities, as well as the incalculable costs of governing North Korea after a war. Moreover, despite the usual dire predictions of nonproliferation professionals, the North Korean nuclear program has yet to inspire Tokyo or Seoul to follow suit.

The DPRK’s program represents a tremendous waste of resources and human capital for a poor state, and it may prove a problem if North Korea endures a messy collapse. Thus far, however, the effects of the arsenal have been minimal.

(4)  Other posts in this series

  1. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)?, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran, including aid to terrorists
  2. Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 January 2009
  3. Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 2 January 2010 — Forecasts of an Iranian bomb really soon, going back to 1984
  4. About the escalating conflict with Iran (not *yet* open war), 4 January 2012
  5. Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?, 5 January 2012 — No, but it’s established as fact by repetition
  6. What do we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?, 6 January 2012 — US intelligence officials are clear:  not as much as the news media implies
  7. What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program?, 9 January 2012 — Their reports bear little resemblance to reports in the news media
  8. What happens when a nation gets nukes?  Sixty years of history suggests an answer., 10 January 2012
  9. What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told., 11 January 2012
  10. Status report on the already-hot conflict with Iran – and the looming war, 12 January 2012
  11. Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran), 13 January 2012 — Insights about today from Cold War strategist Colin Grey
  12. What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
  13. Has Iran won a round vs. the US-Israel?, 17 January 2012
  14. Is Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists Terrorism?, 19 January 2012

(5)  For more information

  1. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better“, Kenneth Waltz, Adelphi Papers #171 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981) — Events of the past 30 years have impressively validated his theory!
  2. Evaluating the Nuclear Peace Hypothesis – A Quantitative Approach“, Robert Rauchhaus (Prof of Political Science, UC Santa Barbara), Journal of Conflict Resolution, April 2009
  3. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons and International Conflict – Does Experience Matter?“, Michael Horowitz (Prof of Political Science, U Penn), Journal of Conflict Resolution, April 2009
  4. Recommended:  Debunking Myths About Nuclear Weapons and Terrorism“, Stratfor, 29 May 2009
  5. How do states act after they get nuclear weapons?“, James (Prof Political Science, Berkeley), The Monkey Cage, 29 January 2012

(6)  Other posts about Iran

For the full list see the FM Reference Page Iran – will the US or Israel attack Iran?

  1. Stratfor’s analysis of US reasons for invading and occupying Iraq , 4 March 2008
  2. More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran” , 18 March 2008
  3. A militant America, ready for war with Iran , 6 May 2008
  4. ISIS: “Can Military Strikes Destroy Iran’s Gas Centrifuge Program? Probably Not.”, 8 August 2008
  5. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)? Part 1, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran.
  6. Update on the prospects of war with Iran, from Stratfor, 6 September 2008
  7. “Iraq Endgame” by George Friedman, 22 August 2009
  8. Stratfor: “Two Leaks and the Deepening Iran Crisis”, 7 October 2009
  9. This is how a nation thoughtlessly slides into stupid wars, 25 July 2010
  10. America takes another step towards war with Iran, towards the dark side, 3 September 2010

The trinity of US tactics – a constant in our small wars but invisible to us. First, use massive firepower.

Summary:  Awareness of self is as necessary for war as for other aspects of life.  It helps us see what we do, and better understand how others’ see us.  It’s the foundation for a functioning observation-orientation-decision-action (OODA) loop.  Our’s is broken, so we use our great power ineffectively.  Here we look at our use of massive firepower.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
— The Art of War by Sun Tzu (2nd century BC)


  1. The trinity of American Warfare
  2. Using massive firepower on civilians
  3. Inevitable consequences that surprise us
  4. It could get worse

(1)  The Trinity of American Warfare

A constant in our wars since Korea is the US military’s trinity of tactics — massive firepower on civilians, search and destroy sweeps, and popular front armies.  For variety, we give call them by different names in each war.  Many  posts on the FM website discuss this, such as:

A fascinating aspect of this is how some many people in our military remains blind to this continuity — no matter how experienced, brilliant, and well-educated.  Thousands of pages have been written about our use of COIN doctrines (as in FM 3-24); far less on the similarities in our wars.  Tactics repeated, no matter how seldom successful for us or others in counter-insurgency wars.

This post discusses massive firepower, sparked by a line in a comment on the Small Wars Journal.

“the world will require us to fight small wars in the future and small wars by definition are ones in which massive firepower can’t be used.”

Why this blindness?  Massive firepower is, to some extent, dependent on which side of the firepower one stands.  To Americans it suggests our wars from WWI to Vietnam.  Vast areas laid waste, millions killed.  Massive firepower is something we do to others.

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An explanation of the US and Pakistan governments’ odd behavior in the Raymond Davis affair

Summary:  As standard fare the FM website provides analysis of current events.  Seeking hidden truths (often in vain) and using these incidents to illustrate larger dynamics at work in America.  The Raymond Davis affair is rich in lesson for us.  Here we see one obvious explanation what’s happening, but ignored by our geopolitical experts and news media.   This is the 4th post; links are at the end; see the comments for updates.

To be an American geopolitical expert requires (broadly speaking) a willingness to see the US government’s views, and only the US government’s views.  Alternative views can only be false or irrational or evil.   Not always, but on important issues.  When the government’s views change, then one’s views can change (staying at most slightly ahead of the pack).  Crimestop, blackwhite, doublethink, and bellyfeel are keys to career success.   Heretics require integrity and personal courage; no matter how skillful they remain on the margins (to name a few examples:  Chuck Spinney, Winslow Wheeler, Doug Macgregor, Bernard Finel). 

The Raymond Davis affair nicely illustrates this problem.  The news media and most geopolitical experts reflexively treat the US government’s (USG) story as gospel, and alternative versions circulating in Pakistan as irrational or propaganda.  Pakistan’s government (GOP) appears torn, unable to formulate a coherent story.  We can draw some interesting conclusions, working step by step to an explanation (but not THE explanation) of actions taken by the USG and GOP.


Step #1:  The USG as the dog that didn’t bark
Step #2: Why has the GOP not ended this incident?
Step #3: Summary of the key questions
Step #4: Circumstantial evidence
Update — Step #5: Of what significance is Davis’ CIA connection?
Step #6:  Conclusions
For more information: other posts about the Raymond Davis

Step #1:  The USG as the dog that didn’t bark

The USG says that on 20 January 2010 they sent POG a note stating that Raymond Davis was due full diplomatic immunity by his job and location under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 (see Wikipedia).  In this “background briefing” by the State Department on 21 February a senior administration official said this note had been released to the press.  It hadn’t.  When  Justin Elliott of Salon asked he was told:

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The core of the dispute with Pakistan about Raymond Davis (let’s understand it before it sparks fires with Pakistan)

Summary:  The fog spewed by America’s geopolitical experts (mostly faithful lapdogs for the US government, abetted by the lackeys of the news media), has obscured the core dispute between the US and Pakistani governments.  Was Davis an embassy employee?  That’s the question.  If he was just a consular employee he had a minimal level of immunity.  It’s a simple question, although impossible for outsiders to answer.  This is the third in this series (see other links at the end).

Global wars are won by alliances.  The Davis affair has angered many people in Pakistan, seen as yet another US insult to their sovergenty.  Whatever Davis was doing in Pakistan, its strategic cost might be high.

Understanding the situation begins with the facts.  Neither government has been helpful; here we examine the various stories.  The US government provided several stories, but giving no supporting evidence.  The Pakistani government, probably hoping this nightmare ends soon, has done rebuttal by leak (while its government churns).  Conflicting assertions, where loyalists believe the home team story — and refuse to see the other side.

The first US announcement said Davis was a consular employee (matching the ID he carried):   Embassy Statement Regarding Lahore Incident, US State Department (Islamabad), 28 January 2011:

A staff member of the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore was involved in an incident yesterday that regrettably resulted in the loss of life. The U.S. Embassy is working with Pakistani authorities to determine the facts and work toward a resolution.

Realizing that this meant no criminal immunity for Davis, eventually a new story emerged.  As in this “background briefing” teleconference by the State Department on 21 February.  Excerpt (red emphasis added):

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How to lose an ally: updates on the Raymond Davis affair

Summary:  There is interesting news about the Davis affair.  Little of it appears in the US newspapers; our leaders prefer that we remain ignorant.  How sad that the people of Pakistan know more about this story than Americans relying on our news media (see comment #1 for evidence).  Updates will go in the comments; the first one is interesting!  Links to other posts appear at the end.


  1. A history of lies
  2. Government transparency we can only dream of: Pakistan releases key documents
  3. Pakistan officials comment on the affair Davis
  4. More interesting news (updated)

We continue to piece together as best we can what happened in the affair Davis.  The truth is out there.  Please forward this to people who might be interested.

For an excellent summary see “The Raymond Davis Affair“, FB Ali (Brigadier, Pakistan Army, retired), Sic Semper Tyrannis, 19 February 2011.

(1)  A history of lies

The years go by and the lies by our government continue.  They lie to us about things foreigners (including our enemies) already know, lies designed to deceive us.  Perhaps like an abused spouse, we have come to accept as natural our leader’s contempt for us. 

“There was absolutely no–N-O–no–deliberate attempt to violate Soviet air space. There never has been. … It is ridiculous to say that we are trying to kid the world about this.”
—- Lincoln White, Press Secretary of the State Department, 6 May 1960 (For more detailed lies see this memo from NASA, dated 5 May 1960)

“As previously announced, it was known that a U-2 plane was missing. As a result of the inquiry ordered by the President it has been established that insofar as the authorities in Washington are concerned there was no authorization for any such flight as described by Mr. Khrushchev.  Nevertheless it appears that in endeavoring to obtain information now concealed behind the Iron Curtain a flight over Soviet territory was probably undertaken by an unarmed civilian U-2 plane.”
Press Release from the State Department, 7 May 1960 — In fact Eisenhower made most of the key decisions about the U-2 flights

“With respect to Mr. Davis, our diplomat in Pakistan, we’ve got a very simple principle here that every country in the world that is party to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is — has upheld in the past and should uphold in the future, and that is if our diplomats are in another country, then they are not subject to that country’s local prosecution.”
President Obama’s lies at a press conference on 15 February 2010.  Davis may have been a member of the embassy or consular staff, and may have had some form of immunity (see this post for more about these immunities).  Davis is certainly not a diplomat.

(2)  Government transparency we can only dream of:  Pakistan releases key documents

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The Raymond Davis incident shows that we’re often ignorant because we rely on the US news media. There is a solution.

Summary:   Here we have another case study in disinformation.  The story of Raymond Davis (US covert operative in Pakistan) illustrates how our mainstream media and experts collude to help the government shape our view of the world.  It’s important that the sheep of America receive distorted news, as the truth might upset us.  Fortunately few Americans read the alternative news websites or foreign news sources. 

What results from a people fed on paranoia, hubris, and lies?  Thousands of people singing variations on this about the affair Davis:

Raymond Davis is covered by immunity and shot two men who were pointing guns at him , as verified by the police.  Davis should have been released long time back, but due to wild anti-Americanism in Pakistan, Davis is being held and will be illegally tried …

Here we sort through the reports to get the outlines of what happened.  We might never learn the truth.  However we can try to see through the legends the US government passes to us through their lackeys in the US news media.  And we can at least hear the Pakistani side of the story.

For more information see How to lose an ally: updates on the Raymond Davis affair.


  1. Accounts of the story in the mainstream media
  2. Real journalism — in the alternative media
  3. Better information — from the foreign news media
  4. Does Davis have diplomatic immunity?
  5. Conclusions, and a guess why we do these things.
  6. For more information

(1)  Accounts of the story in the mainstream media

Clay Shirkey has esoteric theories (see here) explaining the decline of the mainstream media.  But perhaps their subscribers just tired of reading regurgitated government lies along with a confusing fog of the facts.

  • American Charged in Pakistan Killing“, New York Times, 28 January 2011
  • A Dilemma in U.S.-Pakistani Relations“, Stratfor, 16 February 2011 — A touching account of the US government’s story, with no hint that much of it has looks false.  Best line:  “Davis shot and killed two armed Pakistani nationals on Jan. 27 because he thought they were going to rob him.”

(update) For example, the news media now commonly describe Raymond Davis as a “diplomat”, which is clearly incorrect.  He has a military background, and may have some degree of diplomatic immunity as a member of the technical or service staff in the US embassy or one of the consolates — the degree depending on his exactly status and place of work (see below for more).  But such facts will confuse the narrative, so you shouldn’t know them.

But there are nuggets of good coverage, if one digs to find them.  These contain details that contradict the US government’s story about the Davis incident, and so seldom mentioned in the US press (and by mainstream geopolitical sources like Stratfor):

(a)  “In Pakistan, rumbles of a revolution over Raymond Davis“, Los Angeles Times, 16 February 2011 — Excerpt:

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