Journal: William Polk on Afghanistan Non-Strategy Plus Consolidated Journal, Review, and Reference Links for Afghanistan

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William R. Polk recently sent out the attached letter to his distribution list.  It is a very comprehensive and I believe important review of Afghanistan.  I urge you to take the time to read it.  Appended to the end are a series of notes he used in the construction of his letter.   Polk know of which he speaks: his book Violent Politics (Harper Collins, 2007) is one of the very best books on guerrilla warfare, insurrection, and terrorism I have ever read.  You can learn more about Polk and his writings by visiting his website

Chuck Spinney, Kalamata, Greece

William R. Polk [personal web site]
669 Chemin de la Sine, 06140 Vence, France
(33) 493581627

June 27, 2010

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

On June 24, the International Herald Tribune published an editorial from its parent, The New York Times, entitled “Obama’s Decision.”  Both the attribution –  printing in the two newspapers which ensures that the editorial will reach both directly and through subsidiary reprinting almost every “decision maker” in the world – and the date – just before the appointment of David Petraeus to succeed Stanley McChrystal – are significant.  They could have suggested a momentary lull in which basic questions on the Afghan war might have been reconsidered.

That did not happen.  The President made clear his belief that the strategy of the war was sound and his commitment to continue it even if the general responsible for it had to be changed.

The editorial sounded a  different note arising from the events surrounding the fall of General McChrystal:   Mr. Obama, said The Times, “must order all of his top advisers to stop their sniping and maneuvering” and come up with a coherent political and military plan for driving back the Taliban and building a minimally effective Afghan government.”

In short, Mr. Obama must get his team together and evolve a plan.

Unfortunately, the task he faces is not that simple.

First, consider the “team.”  It has two major components, the military officers whom McChrystal gathered in Kabul.   As they made clear in the Rolling Stone interview, they think of themselves as “Team America” and hold in contempt  everyone else.   Those who don’t fully subscribe to their approach to the war are unpatriotic, stupid or cowardly.   Those officers are not alone.  Agreeing with them is apparently now a large part of the professional military establishment.   They are the junior officers whom David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have selected, promoted and with whom they take their stand..

The other “component” is not a group but many groups with different agendas and constituencies.   The most crucial for my purposes here are the advisers to the President; they were dismissed out of hand as “the wimps in the White House.” Most, but not all, were civilians.  Other senior military officers, now retired, who are not part of “Team America” and its adherents were also disparaged.  Famously, General Jim Jones, the director of the National Security Council staff, was called a “clown.” [PBI:  He is actually the most the senior clerk in the Administration.]

These were the comments that forced Mr. Obama’s hand and were what the press latched upon to explain the events.  But many missed the point that McChrystal had just a few days before his dismissal written a devastating report on his mission.   Confidential copies of it were obtained by the London newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, which published it today, but of course the President had seen it earlier.    Essentially, its message boiled down to failure.

McChrystal pointed out that he faced a “resilient and growing insurgency,” with too few troops and expected no progress in the coming six months.  Despite expenditures of at least $7 billion a month,  his politico-military strategy wasn’t working.  Within weeks of the “victory” over the Taliban in the agricultural district of Marja, the Taliban were back and the box full of government he had announced proved to be nearly empty.  As the expression went in the days of the Vietnam war,  whatever happened during the day, the guerrillas “owned the night.”  As he described it, Marja was the “bleeding ulcer” of the American campaign.

Behind McChrystal’s words, the  figures were even more devastating: Marja, despite the descriptions in the press is not a town, much less a city; it is a hundred or so square miles of farm land with dispersed hamlets in which about 35,000 people live and work.   Into that small  and lightly populated area, McChrystal poured some 15,000 troops, and they failed to secure it.

To appreciate what those figures mean, consider them in context of  Petraeus’s counterinsurgency theory, on which McChrystal  was basing his strategy.  As he had explained it, Marja should be taken, secured and held.   Then an administration – McChrystal’s “government in a box” — should be imposed upon  it.   Despite all the hoopla about the brilliant new strategy, it was hardly new.  In fact it was a replay of the strategy the French General Lyautey called the tache d’huile (the oil spot) and applied in Indochina over a century ago.  We also tried it in Vietnam, renaming it the “ink spot.”  The hope was that the “spot,” once fixed on the Marja, would smudge into adjoining areas and so eventually spread across  the country.  Clear and simple, but unfortunately, like so much in counterinsurgency theory, it never seemed to work.

Petraeus’s counterinsurgency theory also illuminated how to create the “spot.”  What was required was a commitment of forces in proportion to native population size.  Various numbers have been put forth but a common number is about one soldier for each 50 inhabitants. Marja was the area chosen for the “spot.”  The people living there, after all, were farmers, wedded to the land,  and so should be more tractable than the wild warriors along the tribal frontier.   Moreover, it was the place where the first significant American aid program, the Helmand Valley Authority, had been undertaken in the late 1950s.  So, if an area were to be favorable to Americans, it ought to be Marja.   But, to take no chances,  General McChrystal decided to employ overwhelming force.  So, what is particularly stunning about the failure in Marja is that the force applied was not the counterinsurgency model of 1 soldier for each 50 inhabitants but nearly 1 soldier for each 2 inhabitants.

If these numbers were projected to the planned offensive in the much larger city  of Kandahar, which has a population of nearly 500,000,  they become impossibly large.   Such an attack  would  require at least four times as many US and NATO as in Marja.  That is virtually the entire fighting force and what little control over Marja and most other areas, perhaps even the capital, Kabul, that now exists would have to be given up or else large numbers of additional American troops would have to be engaged.  Moreover, in response to such an attack, it would be possible for the insurgents also to redeploy so the numbers would again increase.

The more fundamental question, which needs to be addressed, is why didn’t this relatively massive introduction of troops with awesome and overwhelming fire power succeed.  Just a few days before he was fired, as I have mentioned, General McChrystal posed, but could not answer, that question. I hope President Obama is also pondering it.

For those who read history, the answer is evident.   But, as I have quoted in my book Understanding Iraq, the great German philosopher, Georg Willhelm Friedrich Hegel,  despaired that “Peoples and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it” and, therefore, as the American philosopher George Santayana warned us,  not having learned from history, we are doomed to repeat it.   Indeed,  it seems that each generation of Americans has to start all over again to find the answers.   Who among our leaders and certainly among college students now really remembers Vietnam?  So, consider these simple facts:

The first fact, whether we like it or not, is that nearly everyone in the world has a deep aversion to foreigners on his land.    As far as we know, this feeling goes back to the very beginning of our species because we are territorial animals.   Dedication to the protection of  homeland permeates history.  And the sentiment has never died out.  Today we call it nationalism.  Nationalism in various guises is the most powerful political idea of our times.  Protecting land, culture, religion and people from foreigners is the central issue in insurgency.   The former head of the Pakistani intelligence service, who has had unparallelled experience with the Taliban over many years, advised us that we should open our eyes to seeing the Afghan insurgents as they see themselves:  “They are freedom fighters fighting for their country and fighting for their faith.”  We agreed when they were fighting the Russians; now, when many of the same people are fighting us, we see them only as terrorists.  That label does not help us understand why they are fighting.

Instead of asking why they are fighting, counterinsurgents think they can overcome aversion to foreign invaders by “renting” the natives.  In Marja, we not only put in a large military contingent but, as Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported this month in The Washington Post, we offered to employ virtually the entire adult population, some 10,000 people. Unquestionably such efforts do persuade some of the people for some of the time.   But not all or permanently.  In Marja, only 1,200 people signed up for the jobs we offered.

Why so few?  After all, the Afghans,  as I wrote in an earlier article, have suffered through virtually continuous war for thirty years.  Many are wounded or sick, with some even on the brink of starvation.  More than one in three subsists on the equivalent of less than 45 cents a day, almost one in two lives below the poverty line and more than one in two preschool children is stunted because of malnutrition.   They are the lucky ones; one in five dies before the age of 5.  Obviously, the Afghans need help, so we think they should welcome our efforts to aid them.  But Marja shows that they do not.  Nation-wide, independent observers have found that attitude is common:  most do not want us there, even giving them aid.  And even those who do are fairly easily dissuaded by the insurgents.

Threats or attacks by the insurgents have brought them into our gunsights.  In Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, we have tried to so weaken the insurgents that they cannot effectively block our programs.  Our “body counts” in Vietnam showed that we killed off the entire Viet Minh several times over and today we are told that the ranks of the Taliban have been severely depleted.  But,  because the motivation that energized the first group of insurgents is widely shared, and is usually intensified by foreign military action, which by its nature is regarded by many of the natives as unjustified and brutal, new insurgents as well as supporters of the temporarily evicted insurgents will emerge from among the inhabitants of the oil/ink spot. Outsiders may have come in, but, according to US military intelligence about three in four insurgents fight within five miles of their homes.  They were “home” and taking up arms within a month in Marja.

Indeed, the campaign may have been, to use that cumbersome locution of governmentese, “counter-productive.”  According to the former British counter-terrorism chief and current head of the UN monitoring mission,  Richard Barnett, as cited in The Guardian/The Observer last week, “Attempts by British and American forces to expand their control over Afghan territory over the past 12 months have been counter-productive and led to a worsening security situation.”

The second fact is that those insurgents who don’t get killed are the ones who have learned three  simple ways to defeat the counterinsurgents.

The first of these ways to defeat counterinsurgents is to use appropriate tactics –never stand and fight.  Insurgents can see that their enemies outgun, and usually far out-number, them so they should hit and run —  lay mines, ambush patrols, disrupt logistics but never get caught.  Drawing on a Kenyan fable,  this has been termed “the war of the flea and the lion.”  The flea bites and jumps away.  The powerful lion swats, occasionally  hits, but eventually tires and moves away.   Lions don’t defeat fleas.

The second way insurgents can defeat the counterinsurgent is a form of jujitsu – using his strength against him.  His strength is his superiority in weapons.  So the insurgent seeks to incite him to use them.  Inevitably, caught in the middle,  the people  – who are after all the “spoil” in insurgency warfare – get hurt.  And when they get hurt, they naturally come to hate those who fire the weapons.   In Vietnam, insurgents would sometimes enter a “neutral” village, shoot at an American airplane and then steal away.  The attacked airplane would call in troops or gunships.  The villagers would suffer and would be confirmed in their hatred of the Americans.  It was brutal but very effective.

Counterinsurgents think they can avoid this problem by withholding as much as possible of their lethal power.  But doing so is very difficult.  Their soldiers also get hurt and angry.  And they come to hate the locals – wogs, gooks, rag heads, untermenschen – who appear to them dirty, slovenly, corrupt and cowardly.   No one can be trusted when even children act as spies or carry bombs.  Soldiers make bad neighbors to civilians in the best of circumstances and insurgency is not one of those circumstances.   As I have pointed out in my book, The Birth of America, it was the presence of even superbly disciplined British troops in Boston that touched off the American Revolution.

The third way insurgents can defeat invaders is by destroying their local puppets.   Ruling another country is, of course, expensive and difficult so foreigners have almost always and everywhere enrolled willing natives to help.  In the American Revolution we called those people “the Loyalists.”  In Vietnam, they were the government of the South.  In Afghanistan they are the “Kabul government.”

So the insurgents regard collaborators — “Quislings” as we called them in the Second World War —  as their prime target.  In America, the colonists threatened, tarred and feathered, lashed, imprisoned, hanged or drove away tens of thousands of the Loyalists. In Vietnam, French police records show that in the 1950s, the Viet Minh virtually wiped out the administration of the southern government, murdering policemen, postmen, judges and other civil servants as well as teachers and doctors.  And today in Afghanistan, as Rod Nordland reported in The New York Times on June 10, “The Taliban have been stepping up a campaign of assassinations in recent months against officials and anyone else associated with local government in an attempt to undermine counterinsurgency operations in the south.”

One Afghan told Nordland,  “I know many people who are afraid to take jobs with the government or the aid community now.  It’s a very effective and very efficient campaign; the armed opposition are using this tool because it works.”  Even from a nationalist perspective, this is very rough justice.  But many Afghans appear to believe it is both “justice” and Afghan justice.

To validate their actions, the insurgents must themselves supply what the foreigners and their local supporters offer.  We have full records of how insurgents did this in Yugoslavia and Greece during the Second World War.  The records are not so open for Afghanistan as yet.  But, we know from a study by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the Taliban has set up a “widespread paramilitary shadow government…in a majority of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.”

One of the things these shadow governments do is administer the law.  For years, I have read reports contrasting what happens in a government court and a Taliban court.  In the government court, cases languish for months or years while bribes are collected.  A UN study found earlier this year that officials shake down their fellow citizens for an amount that is  nearly a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product.  In a Taliban court, there is no bribery and no delay: Islamic law as defined by Afghan custom is immediate.   From our point of view, this too is very rough justice, if justice at all, but in insurgencies, people appear willing to put aside the niceties of peaceful life.  In our Revolution we did too.

So where are we?

For some years I have been reading every study, poll, government release, press report and assorted other documents I could find.  What I see is a decline, accelerated in the last two years, of “security.”  In 2009, there were 8,159 “incidents” involving bombs (IEDs), and in the first four months of 2010 there have already been almost half that many.  But, more important than “security,” I think, is the widely held belief that America is not moving toward anything that can be considered success.  And certainly not on anything like President Obama’s reëlection-related timetable.

I have been taxed with being severe in this judgment, but listen to General McChrystal’s Chief of Operations, Major General Bill Mayville.  Having described the war as unwinnable, he said “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win.  This war is going to end in an argument.”   Even his choice of the word “argument” may be unduly optimistic.  In Vietnam, the disgraceful scene of the helicopter taking a few people off the roof of our embassy  — while abandoning others of our supporters to the rough justice of the Viet Minh —  is hard to put out of mind.

But, I am astonished to find how many Americans today do manage to put not only the now-distant Vietnam war but also the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan out of their minds.   In lecturing around the country, I find little interest among the American public in the growing number of wounded – now over a hundred thousand – or the casualties.   Based on informal talks with members of my audiences, I have come to attribute this is to the fact that, whereas in the Vietnam war, our army was made up of draftees who were drawn from our families, today our army, and therefore our casualties, come in high proportion from the disadvantaged,  minorities and foreigners. As a man in one lecture I gave in Arizona put it bluntly, “they just aren’t our people.”   The pain does not reach most of us.  Recent  polls show a different view in Europe.  Some 72% of the citizens of our principal ally, Great Britain, want their troops home immediately and 62% of the Germans agree.

Surprisingly,  the vast expenditure of money on the war does not seem, at least yet, to worry Americans either.  As a people, we seem far more ready to spend money on the war than on our own health, housing,  jobs and education.

But, worry about the course the war is taking appears strongest in precisely those places where it is most crucial – the ruling circles of Afghanistan.  Recognition of this was apparently what motivated Afghan President Hamid Karzai at least to talk about a new peace initiative:  he must see that not only his regime but his life is in danger.  He must know that the war is being lost.

So what can America do?

We can begin by being realistic.  We were sold a phony policy in counterinsurgency — one that essentially tried to substitute technique for politics, enthusiasm for wisdom, money for knowledge. As I have shown in my book on insurgency, terrorism and guerrilla war, Violent Politics, there is no record that counterinsurgency ever worked anywhere,  and it is certainly not working now in Afghanistan.  The neoconservatives also sold the Bush administration on the quixotic idea of “regime change.”  Whole cultures and the regimes they embody are not phantoms to be whisked away, overthrown, replaced by foreign mandate. Trying to do so may be quixotic, but we should remember what Cervantes tells us the real windmill did to Don Quixote. [PBI Emphasis Added]

But, can we just “cut and run?”  That question is meant to turn off intelligent analysis.   So the proper answer to it is ‘No, but unless we come to a realistic policy, we are likely to be forced eventually to do something like our disgraceful exit from Vietnam.  Therefore, let us think carefully and move prudently before it is too late.‘

So  what should be included in a realistic policy?

The first thing is to go beyond merely saying that a solution may ultimately and under certain circumstances involve negotiation to actually working to bring it about.  Astute commentators have pointed up the obvious:  we have opposed negotiation at every opportunity and still do so.  We complain that we don’t think the Taliban now want to negotiate.  Were I Mullah Umar, I would not either.

Why not?  Is it just because he is a bad man?  Or a fool?  Or because he is driven by a hatred of freedom and democracy?  Otherwise sober and intelligent people have adduced each of these.   They don’t get us very far.  So let us examine the “negotiating climate.”

We have repeatedly said that we want to bloody the insurgents to make them more amenable to our terms.  So our concentration has been,  and still is,  on killing enough of them to weaken their movement.    Suppose we manage to do that, what do we then offer?

One proposal under discussion is “reintegration,” which the US favors.   Under this rubric, we have said that we are willing to forgive those low-level Taliban footsoldiers who defect.  Even more, we have espoused a new order for them in the “Afghan Peace and Reintegration Plan.”   As Joshua Partlow summarized in The Washington Post,  the defector who renounces violence and promises to support the constitution is then set out on a trajectory that he is bound to regard as humiliating:  first, he must be fingerprinted and given a retinal scan; then he must get his fellow tribesmen to vouch for his sincerity.  Next he must submit to a course in Islam given by an appointee of the government.  Because he is likely to be at least a graduate of a religious school, and may be a man of religion himself, this is no mean psychological hurdle.  But, never fear, if he does, there is a pay-off:  As Jon Boon reported in The Guardian, he will be offered a manual job in such things as carpet-weaving.   In Afghanistan, that is a task for children.   There is not a great deal of incentive in this plan.  One is tempted to ask: did those who designed it want it to fail?

The other proposal, which America opposes, is aimed at more senior insurgents.  “Reconciliation” holds out only the prospect of eventual but limited participation in the existing Karzai government for those judged innocent of any serious crime.  Excluded, of course, are the commanders.  Again think back to Vietnam:  could anyone have seriously thought that the Viet Minh would have accepted a minor role in the Saigon government.  Particularly when they thought they were winning.  And today, are the terms offered in this proposal likely to be even vaguely attractive to the Taliban?  It is hard to imagine.

But, if they are not acceptable, why can’t these proposals at least be discussed?  Under discussion they might be modified in ways that would make them acceptable.  The answer is a wonderful example of “Catch-22.”

The “22nd catch” is that American military command maintains a secret list of insurgents who can be shot on sight.  Because the list is secret no Talib can know if he is on the list.  So, he is apt to suspect that the offer of negotiation is really a trap.   As Steve Coll pointed out in a perceptive article in The New Yorker, even President Karzai is “powerless to offer the Taliban a secure place to negotiate.”   It is very hard to negotiate with anyone when you are trying to kill him.

Moreover, Coll identified a joker in the American strategic hand.  Presumably, Mullah Umar and his comrades will have spotted it too:  “Whether talks succeed or fail,”  Coll points out, “the very act of opening serious negotiations could touch off divisions and confusion within the Taliban leadership.”

Thus, if we are honest with ourselves, we can understand at least part of what makes the Taliban reluctant to deal with us or our Afghan proxy.   We don’t start with a hand outstretched, as President Charles DeGaulle did with his October 1958 proclamation of the “Peace of the Brave,” in a move to start the process of ending the Algerian war.  We start with a hand hidden behind our back that may contain at least a handcuff and perhaps a gun.  It will take time and effort to change these appreciations.  That process can happen only if there is a change in the reality of our policy.

President Obama has said that a change in our policy is not in the cards.  So is  there another way that negotiations might be begun?

This might be the place where Pakistan and/or other neighboring countries, including Iran, could be helpful.  We are told that we should not trust Pakistan because it has its own (not our) policy toward Afghanistan.  Of course it has.  As I have pointed out elsewhere, the Khyber Pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan is about as close to Islamabad as Hartford is to New York.  And the two countries share millions of Pashtuns as their citizens.  To imagine that Pakistan does not and should not have an Afghan policy is criminal naïveté.   But that it could play a useful role is surely evident.

Iran is now our favorite whipping boy.  We are furious with it and it is fearful of us.  I won’t dilate on that dangerous situation here as I have dealt with it in length in my book Understanding Iran.  Let us just say,  it is doubtful that the Iranians would want to do us any favors.

But we should keep in mind two things:  the one is that an end to the war in Afghanistan would be to the national interest of Iran as meetings between Karzai and Ahmadinejad have already made clear.  So apart from their feelings about America, the Iranians might play a useful role in Afghanistan.   The second is a precedent: Iran actually has furthered American interests in Afghanistan in the past.  At a critical point, it helped us to overcome in the Taliban in the Western, mainly Shia Muslim, area around Heart.  Apart from these ventures, Iran also deployed a significant part of its army and police force to try to interdict the drug traffic.  Since it is Afghanistan’s neighbor, we cannot exclude it from Afghan affairs.  And, of course, if we could work out even a minimal accommodation with Iran, it could be a major force for peace in Afghanistan.

So what is really up for negotiation with the Taliban?

Apart from timetables, reparations, further aid, and such technicalities, the core issue is the internal social/political/religious balance of the country — not the longevity or composition of the Karzai government.

It isn’t only that the Karzai government is corrupt, weak and almost universally hated – all of which is true – but that its inner circle and hangers-on have already begun to jump ship.   With their hands deep in our pockets – as a recent Congressional study (“Warlord, Inc.) documented for just one activity, road transport, and as others have charged for years in virtually every other area —  and in the pockets of their poorer citizens, whom they fleece with apparent abandonment,  they are moving hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country and, at the same time, many have put their families abroad.   All this apparently has been documented by, among other things, wiretaps on senior officials.  We saw the same flight of money to foreign bank accounts and people to safe havens during the war in Vietnam.  It was personally smart but governmentally disastrous.  So, the collapse of the Karzai government is already underway.  Saving it is probably beyond our capacity.  Nor, in the opinion of most observers, would the government’s collapse be a major loss.  But it would be beneficial to us and to the Afghans if, as in Vietnam, it could last for a while.  That is, it would be beneficial if it could help to get negotiations underway and if we are smart enough to use the time we are given to get our policy in order.

What would be a tragic and dangerous loss would be for the civil war to recommence or for the rapacious warlords to give up the pretence of legality and revert to raping and pillaging.

How to avoid these two outcomes is what negotiations must be all about.

We don’t do ourselves a favor with wishful thinking.  We were not able to prevent the Viet Minh from taking over all of Vietnam.  Their take over was initially a horrible ordeal.  Many people suffered and many were killed.  I think we might be able to leave Afghanistan in better condition if we act intelligently and soon and if we get others to help us.  And we can take hope from what subsequently happened in Vietnam.  The Afghans are a resilient people and may, themselves, also have learned by their ordeal.

I will stop here with my analysis of the obstacles we face.  In a later letter, I will pick up the issue of how we can help to bring about a situation in which most of what really matters to us remains in intact and with an end to the terrible drain on our morale, our people and our money.

Very sincerely yours,

William Polk


On what the Taliban see as the central issue – our getting out – we must agree.  We can do so in an orderly and phased way if we begin right away and if we get  off the vague and conditional timetable we have announced.

We should drop our attempts to stop negotiations immediately and urge the parties – the Taliban, the major ethnic communities and what remains of the Karzai regime – to meet and begin the process of consultation.  As  steps, halting and frustrating as they will be, begin, we should encourage the holding of a virtually continuous national assembly, a loya jirga, to monitor, encourage and restrain the negotiators.

Our role in this process would be minimal:  we have shown that we do not comprehend Afghan politics – as we did not comprehend Vietnamese politics —  and our active involvement would probably be unacceptable except to the warlords who control the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara areas.  Coping with the adjustment of these areas is much too complex for me to address here, but doing so is not beyond the wit of man.

In the transitional period, there are certainly going to be excesses committed.  We cannot prevent that, but we can make possible the amelioration of the forces and events.


The terrible problem is that there is no half-way solution, as there was not in Vietnam.  We have nothing to offer the Taliban that they can or will accept short of getting out.  So the real issue is how to get out and what conditions to try to leave behind. In Vietnam, we tried to bloody the Viet Minh sufficiently to enable to Southern government to become viable.  It lasted about three years so Nixon could save face.  Maybe that is all we can do in Afghanistan.  I believe, however, that we might be able to do better but only if we can create a viable negotiating climate, not so much aimed at saving the government, but of balancing the ethnic groups.  [PBI Emphasis Added]

And he is believed to have implemented it in Iraq, where instead of destroying whole cities, as we did in Fallujah, he set out to rent Sunni tribesmen to support us.  This seemed clever and did give some breathing space, but it had no lasting effect and has served to intensify the emerging and already brutal civil war, both making it less likely that an “Iraq” can emerge from the carnage and that the presumed objective of that Iraq again being, as it was, a balance against Iran, will not happen.


COIN is not new.   David Petraeus is widely regarded as its author.  But in fact, counterinsurgency is as old as insurgency.  Despite all the hoopla, it is really not a sophisticated or complicated set of ideas.  For example, the essence of the grand plan applied to the district of Marja in southern Afghanistan.

So that much maligned sometime professor, President Woodrow Wilson, thought we should offer them what in any case we cannot refuse: self-determination .

Hamid Gul, the former head of the ISI,  said, “You have got to take away the label of terrorists.  They are freedom fighters fighting for their country and fighting for faith..” Al-Jazeera, May 25, Andrew Wander, “Running out of options in Afghanistan.”


McClatchy Newspapers, May 24, Dion Kirshenbaum, “Gen. McChrystal calls Marjah the ‘bleeding ulcer’ of Afghan effort.”

“…the hard fact [is] that President Barack Obama’s plan to begin pulling American troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011 is colliding with the realities of the war.”

Three months after the assault, “Marines are running into more firefights and it will be months before a permanent police force is ready to take control of the streets from the temporary force that’s brought some stability to Marjah.  The U.S.-backed Marjah governor, Marine officials said, has five top ministers. Eight of 81 certified teachers are on the job, and 350 of an estimated 10,000 students go to school…’There was no security,’ said Haji Mohammed Hassan, a tribal elder whose fear of the Taliban prompted him to leave Marjah two weeks ago for the relative safety of Helmand’s nearby provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.  ‘By day there is government,’ he said.  ‘By night it’s the Taliban.’”


AFP,  May 23, Shaun Tandon, “US sets sights lower – in rank.”

New move is to go after corruption not on the top but at the lower level.

The special inspector general looking into reconstruction in Afghanistan, Arnold Fields, told a recent congressional hearing, “I’m very disappointed…that after we have spent essentially 50 billion dollars, we still have a country that’s almost at the bottom of the list in terms of corruption.”

80% of US money to Afghanistan is bypassing the central government.

95% of Police and 70% of army are paid electronically, “sidelining local chiefs who would previously dole out salaries…Forces have also put blue dye in security forces’ fuel so it is identifiable if someone tries to resell it.  A UN study in January found that corruption was the top concern for Afghans, more even than security, and Afghanistan paid nearly 1/4th of GDP in bribes.


Der Speigel, May 23, Ahmed Rashid, “Before the End Game America’s Fatal Flaws in Afghanistan.”

Recent polls show 72% of Britons want their troops home immediately as do 62% of Germans; from Spain to Sweden at least 50% agree.


AlterNet/IPS News, June 13, Gareth Porter, “McChrystal Faces Massive Failure in Afghanistan in Next Few Months.”

:  Marja is not a “city” but an agricultural area of about 35,000 people spread over 120 miles square in small clusters.  “That means the 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops provide a ratio of one occupying soldier for every two members of the population.

Counterinsurgency doctrine normally calls for one soldier for every 50 people in the target area.


The Washington Post, June 10, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “’Still a long way to go’ for U.S. operation in Marja, Afghanistan.”

McChrystal “told officers here in late May that there is a growing perception that Marja has become ‘a bleeding ulcer.’”

USAID has funding to hire as many as 10,000 Marja residents [WRP: almost one in three!] but only 1,200 enrolled.


June 23, Tom Andrews, “3 Things You Missed in Rolling Stone’s McChrystal Profile.”

The military hope and plan to reverse Obama’s slow withdrawal and argue for a second surge;

“General McChrystal’s Chief of Operations Major General Bill Mayville, described the war in Afghanistan as unwinnable.  ‘It’s not going to look like a win, smell like win or taste like a win.  This going to end in an argument.’”


INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, May 17, Carlotta Gall, “U.S. gains evaporate Taliban go on offensive.”  [PBI:  They have not figured out the web yet….sorry about that.]

Residents estimate that “no more than 200” Taliban control Marja, a district of 260 square kilometers or 100 square miles.

The Guardian/Observer, June 20, Mark Townsend, “British advances in Afghanistan have escalated conflict – UN mission chief.

“Attempts by British and American forces to expand their control over Afghan territory over the past 12 months have been counter-productive and led to a worsening security situation, according to the head of the United Nations  monitoring mission on the Taliban [former UK counter-terrorism chief, Richard Barnett].”


The Washington Post, May 3, Joshua Partlow, “Karzai to seek Obama’s approval for peace deals with insurgents.”

The Afghan Peace and Reintegration Plan,” prepared for the jirga and already circulating in Kabul sets out a process:  “Under the proposal, if a Taliban member wants amnesty, he must renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution.  Then he must submit to fingerprinting and retinal scans, and his neighbors or tribesmen must vouch for his sincerity.  The net step would be courses in literacy and Islam, followed by a manual-labor job.”  [WRP: this would be humiliating for any Pashtu man; also since the Taliban have been indoctrinated all their young years in Islam, and many are actually Mullahs.  Would they listen to someone telling their that all they have learned is wrong?  This is surely more likely to infuriate than to win over any Taliban.]


The Guardian, May 5, Jon Boone,  “Taliban leaders to be offered exile under Afghanistan Peace Plan.”

Those who surrender will be offered training in carpet-weaving and tailoring (!)  [WRP: hardly could the government/the American advisors have picked jobs that were more humiliating.]


Reuters, May 14, Bernd Debusmann, “Obama, Karzai and an Afghan mirage.”

“On the military front in a war more than halfway through its ninth year, attacks on U.S. forces and their NATOP allies totaled 21,000 in 2009, a 75 percent increase over 2008, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)…[and] had set up a ‘widespread paramilitary shadow government…in a majority of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

Phi Beta Iota: Daniel Elsberg, speaking to Henry Kissinger in the 1970's, nailed it:

The danger is, you’ll become like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours” [because of your blind faith in the value of your narrow and often incorrect secret information].

The Chairman of  Saatchi & Saatchi (Japan) is also right:

When things are not going well, until you get the truth out on the table, no matter how ugly, you are not in a position to deal with it.

The US Government is “out of control” and this can be attributed to a combination of an inept unprofessional intelligence community enchanted with process and oblivious to outcome; a corrupt Congress unable to serve the public interest or honor its Article 1 responsibilities; and the death of the policy process, something started by Dick Cheney and finished off by Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod.  Obama may well be  beyond salvation–from where we sit, only an honest DNI and a national Open Source Agency under diplomatic auspices, can get America back on track.

Robert Steele:   The truth at any cost reduces all other costs.

23 Worst Tyrants/Dictators (Yes, there’s more than 23) and Oops, there’s Saudi Arabia..

1993 Whitney-Smith Toward An Epistemology of Peace

2004 Palmer (US) Achieving Universal Democracy by Eliminating All Dictators within the Decade

Graphic: Strategic Analytic Matrix

Journal: Afghanistan-Pakistan Rabbit Hole

Journal: Anthropology 101–Not Being Listened To

Journal: Bing West on Futility of the Grunt War in Afghanistan

Journal: Chinese Military Bases in Pakistan, Elsewhere

Journal: Chuck Spinney Flags “More Troops = More Targets”

Journal: Chuck Spinney Highlights: Iraq Veterans Find Afghan Enemy Even Bolder

Journal: Chuck Spinney Sends on Will & Wont

Journal: CIA’s Poor Tradecraft AND Poor Management

Journal: COIN Meets Reality in Hindu Kush

Journal: Contractors Out of Control, Money Wasted

Journal: Director of National Intelligence Alleges….

Journal: Fighting against ourselves in Afghanistan

Journal: Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones

Journal: Integrity, Afghanistan, & The White House

Journal: Intelligence & Innovation Support to Strategy, Planning, Programming, Budgeting, & Acquisition

Journal: Kilcullen on Troops for Afghanistan

Journal: Lessons of Viet-Nam

Journal: Marcus Aurelius Flags “The Class Too Dumb to Quit”

Journal: MILNET Focus on Afghanistan

Journal: OUT OF CONTROL–The Demise of Responsible Government “Intelligence” I

Journal: Outsourcing Honor, Losing Common Sense

Journal: Pakistan-Afghanistan War

Journal: Pakistan, Terrorism, & Afghanistan

Journal: Pentagon Strategy & Policy Oxymoron Squared?

Journal: Questions on AF & PK, The Larger Question

Journal: Sun Tzu & How NOT To Lose…

Journal: The Demise of US Intelligence Qua Brains

Journal: True Cost of War–Insanity & Murder at Home

Journal: US Begins Regional War on Pashtun

Journal: USG Clears Way in AF for “Thug in a Box”

Journal: Vietnam and Laos and Afghanistan

Journal: Weak Signal on Afghanistan

Journal: Why they hate us (II): How many Muslims has the U.S. killed in the past 30 years?

Journal: Yemen, Guns, Tribes, & Deja Vu

Reference: Fixing Intel–A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan

Reference: General McCaffrey’s Trip Report on AF

Reference: Retired CIA officer–Fix the Agency

Review DVD: Behind Every Terrorist There Is a Bush

Review DVD: The AMERICAN Ruling Class

Review DVD: The Good Soldier

Review DVD: Why We Fight (2006)

Review (Guest): Government of the Shadows–Parapolitics and Criminal Sovereignty (Paperback)

Review (Preliminary): Drugs and Contemporary Warfare

Review (Preliminary): Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond

Review: 9/11 Synthetic Terror–Made in USA, Fourth Edition

Review: Afghanistan–A Russian Soldier’s Story

Review: Afghanistan’s Endless War–State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban

Review: Afghan Guerrilla Warfare–In the Words of the Mujahideen Fighters

Review: American Soldier

Review: An Act of State–The Execution of Martin Luther King, New and Updated Edition

Review: An Atlas of Poverty in America–One Nation, Pulling Apart, 1960-2003

Review: Anthropologists in the Public Sphere–Speaking Out on War, Peace, and American Power

Review: A Peace to End All Peace–The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East

Review: At the Center of the Storm–My Years at the CIA

Review: At War with Ourselves–Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World

Review: Betraying Our Troops–The Destructive Results of Privatizing War

Review: Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA

Review: Bin Laden–The Man Who Declared War on America

Review: Blowback–The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

Review: Breaking the Real Axis of Evil–How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025

Review: Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy

Review: Bush at War

Review: Charlie Wilson’s War–The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History

Review: Charm Offensive–How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World

Review: China and Iran–Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World

Review: Cultures and Globalization–Conflicts and Tensions (The Cultures and Globalization Series) (v. 1)

Review: Dark Alliance–The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion

Review: Daydream Believers–How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power

Review: Deer Hunting with Jesus–Dispatches from America’s Class War

Review: Denial and Deception–An Insider’s View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11

Review: Descent into Chaos–The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia

Review: Devil’s Game–How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (American Empire Project)

Review: Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Toward a Diplomacy for the 21st Century

Review: Dying to Win–The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Hardcover)

Review: Edward Lansdale’s Cold War (Culture, Politics, and the Cold War) (Paperback)

Review: Endless War–Middle-Eastern Islam vs. Western Civilization

Review: Enforcing the Peace–Learning from the Imperial Past

Review: Escaping the Matrix–How We the People can change the world

Review: Failed States–The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (American Empire Project) (Hardcover)

Review: First In–An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan

Review: Fixing Failed States–A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World

Review: Fog Facts –Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin (Nation Books) (Hardcover)

Review: Foreign Follies–America’s New Global Empire

Review: Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire

Review: Ghost Wars–The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Paperback)

Review: Grand Theft Pentagon–Tales of Corruption and Profiteering in the War on Terror

Review: Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction (Paperback)

Review: Horse Soldiers–The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan

Review: House of War (Hardcover)

Review: How The World Really Works

Review: How We Missed the Story–Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and the Hijacking of Afghanistan

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror

Review: Inside CentCom–The Unvarnished Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Review: Jawbreaker–The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander (Hardcover)

Review: JFK and the Unspeakable–Why He Died & Why It Matters

Review: Killing Hope–U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II-Updated Through 2003

Review: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife–Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

Review: Legacy of Ashes–The History of the CIA

Review: Marching Toward Hell–America and Islam After Iraq

Review: Modern irregular warfare–In defense policy and as a military phenomenon

Review: Modern Strategy

Review: Modern Warfare–A French View of Counterinsurgency

Review: National Security Dilemmas–Challenges and Opportunities

Review: New Turkish Republic–Turkey As a Pivotal State in the Muslim World

Review: Obama–The Postmodern Coup – Making of a Manchurian Candidate

Review: Predictably Irrational–The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Review: Policing the New World Disorder–Peace Operations and Public Security

Review: Prelude to Terror–the Rogue CIA, The Legacy of America’s Private Intelligence Network the Compromising of American Intelligence (Hardcover)

Review: Preventive Defense–A New Security Strategy for America

Review: Reconciliation–Islam, Democracy, and the West

Review: Seeds of Terror–How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda

Review: Seven Pillars of Wisdom–A Triumph

Review: State of Denial–Bush at War Part III

Review: State of War–The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (Hardcover)

Review: State of the Unions–How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence

Review: Strategy–Process, Content, Context–An International Perspective

Review: Strategy–The Logic of War and Peace, Revised and Enlarged Edition

Review: Tactics of the Crescent Moon–Militant Muslim Combat Methods (Paperback)

Review: Terrain Analysis of Afghanistan

Review: The Accidental Guerrilla–Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One

Review: The Changing Face of War–Lessons of Combat, from the Marne to Iraq

Review: The Collapse of Complex Societies

Review: The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050

Review: The End of Iraq–How American Incompetence Created a War Without End (Hardcover)

Review: The Five Front War–The Better Way to Fight Global Jihad

Review: The Great Turning–From Empire to Earth Community

Review: The Human Factor–Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture

Review: The Keys to a Successful Presidency

Review: The leadership of civilization building–Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century

Review: The Limits of Power–The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project)

Review: The Looming Tower–Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

Review: The Lucifer Principle–A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (Paperback)

Review: The Main Enemy–The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB

Review: The One Percent Doctrine–Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Hardcover)

Review: The Osama bin Laden I Know–An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader

Review: The Rise of Global Civil Society: Building Communities and Nations from the Bottom Up

Review: The Search for Security–A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century

Review: The Second World–Empires and Influence in the New Global Order

Review: The Sling and the Stone–On War in the 21st Century

Review: The Three Trillion Dollar War–The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict

Review: The True Cost of Conflict/Seven Recent Wars and Their Effects on Society

Review: The Unconquerable World–Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People

Review: The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual

Review: The Utility of Force–The Art of War in the Modern World

Review: The War After Armagedoon

Review: The Way of the World–A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism

Review: Unintended Consequences–The United States at War

Review: Unspeakable Truths–Facing the Challenges of Truth Commissions (Paperback)

Review: War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times

Review: War is a Racket–The Antiwar Classic by America’s Most Decorated Soldier

Review: War on the Middle Class–How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back

Review: Wastrels of Defense–How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security

Review: Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush

Review: What Terrorists Want–Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat (Hardcover)

Review: Winning the Long War: Retaking the Offensive against Radical Islam

Review: World Out of Balance–International Relations and the Challenge of American Primacy

Search: QDR “four forces after next”

Worth a Look: The Golden Hour and Rebalancing the Instruments of National Power

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