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September 03, 2009

Comments

sorry von - didn't see your post when i published

No problem. The more the better.

It's not insignificant when the U.S. breaks its promises.

Which is relevant to the matter publius mentions of anti-occupation resentment: unlike Iraq, Afghanistan was taken by the Northern Alliance with U.S. (initiatory) support. It makes a big difference to the kind of friends on the ground we can potentially have. Killing civilians by mistake is a drag on that, but it doesn't start out by being the main factor in view.

...Or it didn't. Which will always infuriate me about this. We might have had our unlikely as-good-outcome-as-possible, but we went to Iraq. (... And then there's Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and etc.) I've been chafing for years over our promises and over the semi-forgotten U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan... but I keep thinking that, when you take a cake out of the oven, it's late to change the ingredient mix. I am not at all sure I disagree with the Afghanistan pessimists now.

Isn't the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan the reason why the Taliban are de-stabilizing Pakistan (along with our pressure on Pakistan to combat them)? In effect, we've kicked them out and they've moved across the border? I'll admit to not recalling the Af-Pak situation before 2001, but were the Taliban really that destabilizing on their primary supporter (by all accounts)?

First, there is a clear enemy with pernicious goals (the Taliban and its supporters).

so were we in Vietnam, no?

"We're fighting the Taliban and they are not nice people: they offer stagnation, the silence of the burka, and (in the past) safe harbor to terrorists."

The only thing that matters from the perspective of threats to the national security of the United States is the very last bit. The safe haven issue. It's real, yes. The question is whether our new strategy will work to prevent said haven (unclear) and at what cost (also unclear). The rest is, um, liberal gooblediegook. I say this as a liberal type myself...

"Second, that enemy directly destabilizes a nuclear-armed state (Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan). It's the impact of Afghanistan on Pakistan -- indeed, on the region -- that is a direct threat to US security and US interests."

Honestly, I think you have that exactly backwards. Pakistan destabilizes Afghanistan. The Taliban are, at least in part, creatures of the ISI. I agree that Pakistan is scary (to me, they're more scary than Iran and NK put together), but I don't think our presence in Afghanistan helps "stabilize" Pakistan.

One of those extremely rare occasions where I pretty much agree with von. Something that people keep ignoring in the current debate is that the approach is being changed. As I mentioned yesterday, whether the Bush adminstration's policy in Afghanistan (or lack of one) made the new approach too late is something yet to be determined.

As a side point, since I think the other NATO countries have had issues with our approach there in the past and in some areas have had better results, maybe American pride should be shuttled to the side and let the commander of NATO forces come from one of the other countries.

I'll admit to not recalling the Af-Pak situation before 2001, but were the Taliban really that destabilizing on their primary supporter (by all accounts)?

It's fair to say that the ISI's involvement with the Taliban (pre-2001) were part of a Pakistani strategy to avoid being destabilized by Afghanistan. Indeed, that's why the ISI supported the Taliban in its war against the Northern Alliance: to secure the Pakistani tribal regions.

But we are never going to go back to that world: there is no going back to ISI-Taliban cooperation. A primary goal of US policy toward Pakistan for years -- including through Obama -- has been to restrain the ISI, which has nearly indiscriminately backed a whole bunch of terrorist organizations and other ne'erdowells. Hence, the need to defeat the Taliban today.

"We're fighting the Taliban and they are not nice people: they offer stagnation, the silence of the burka, and (in the past) safe harbor to terrorists."

The only thing that matters from the perspective of threats to the national security of the United States is the very last bit. The safe haven issue. It's real, yes. The question is whether our new strategy will work to prevent said haven (unclear) and at what cost (also unclear). The rest is, um, liberal gooblediegook. I say this as a liberal type myself...

I'm not a liberal, but it's not "liberal gooblediegook" to consider who the Taliban are when assessing whether to fight them. To take an extreme example, were the Taliban big fans of liberal democracy, we could be confident that we could continue to protect US interests even if there was a Taliban takeover: We'd just work with the Taliban.

"We are not fighting .... an ill-defined group"

Fact not in evidence. Is it clear that the "Taliban" is a top-down, uniformly led entity, as opposed to a label that various groups (in a country known for its tribalism) can give themselves if they want to fight the occupiers, or the Karzai government, or anyone who gets in the way of local profits?

(Note that the same applies to Al Qaeda. We should beware of characterizing an opponent as some kind of massive organization--this is all too easy to do if we don't know much (and here the "we" is all of us, hampered by the shadowy nature of these entities).

Also, agree with Rob on Pakistan's role.

" fair to say that the ISI's involvement with the Taliban (pre-2001) were part of a Pakistani strategy to avoid being destabilized by Afghanistan. Indeed, that's why the ISI supported the Taliban in its war against the Northern Alliance: to secure the Pakistani tribal regions."

Isn't this backwards? see Rob in CT | September 03, 2009 at 10:52

As I understand it, the Taliban were supported by Pakistan's ISI to overthrow the previous Afghan govt which was seen as an ally of India.
Maybe a bit like the Sorcerer's Apprentice Taliban got out of hand.

The real issue that needs to be resolved is the India Pakistan feud. If this could be done- ideally denuclearizing both of them- the rest of the problem would be solved.

As DCA said

Moreover, Afghanistan is worth fighting for.

This assessment suggests poor thinking. Very little in life is worth fighting for no matter what. Things are worth fighting for up to a point. If you can't even acknowledge that what we can achieve in Afghanistan is limited and thus should only be sought with limited resources, then you can't think rationally about Afghanistan.

(And, let's face it, that's likely to result if we largely withdraw.)

Why do you assume that tactical defeat won't be the result of our staying? Is it because American soldiers are magical elves that can accomplish anything?

Not merely because we promised to help the Afghans rebuild their country and because keeping our word -- maintaining our honor -- is important.

The US does not have honor. We torture people. Officially. And without condemnation. In violation of treaties we signed.

Moreover, the US does not keep its word as a matter of principle. This has been apparent to international observers since....forever. The US can be trusted to keep its word if that means advancing its own interests. You might be naive and ignorant enough to believe that before now, the US kept its word, but foreign leaders are not.

Not merely because a perceived defeat of the US reduces our influence over other rogue states and regimes, who would smell weakness (ahem, Iran; North Korea).

This is absurd. The US has very little influence with NK right now. What little influence we do have stems directly from our military capabilities. No matter what happens in Afghanistan, our capability to destroy the NK state remains. NK's leaders know this.

And not merely because of the risk that al Queda (or others) will have a safe haven to launch attacks against the US if we leave -- a risk that I think Publius too quickly dismisses in his piece.

Why is their having a safe haven a problem for us? You can't just dismiss publius' point without offering some argument or evidence or something. Even in the best of all possible worlds, Afghanistan will be far less governed than Germany, where 9/11 was planned. Hamburg is all the safe haven that AQ needs and there are a lot of Hamburgs in the world, including in the US.

No one can be confident that the Taliban won't again open their arms to terrorists with the goal to strike at us or our allies. (Contrary to myth, lightening can -- and frequently does -- strike twice.)

This construction is absurd: no one can be certain of anything. Can you be absolutely certain that Japan won't attack the US? I mean, they've done it before, clearly they can never be trusted, right?

What the Taliban do in the future depends in part on what we do. If we're successful in picking of factions amenable to negotiation from hard liners and if we can cut a deal, then it is unlikely the Taliban will support AQ in the future. They did so in large part because AQ offered cash, something they are less able to do now but also something which we are much better able to do. And no matter how much cash we pay them, it will be much less than we'd spend effecting your plan to stay in Afghanistan forever.

What is the point of leaving a force in Afghanistan to keep Al Qaeda in Pakistan? The US can hardly invade Pakistan in order to root them out from there. It sounds like your argument is to sit in Afghanistan to keep AQ out, but it's not a game of capture the flag, Al Qaeda will simply organize in Pakistan.

Ugh, it depends on what you mean by destabilizing. I think that the connections between Pakistan (or more specifically, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI) and the Taliban were quite strong before 9-11. This is some documentation of that. I've got a few links about negotiating with the Taliban that I'll post after this comment, but those kinds of negotiations can only take place if the Taliban is pressured and weakened, not if they are strengthened by a US withdrawal.

Rob in CT may take this as evidence of Pakistan being the causal element, but I'm not sure that a US withdrawal will somehow encourage Pakistan to continue to press the Taliban (for some discussion of the problematic coverage in that area, see this article). So it is not a question of our presence stabilizing Pakistan, it is our presence that encourages Pakistan to avoid the previous status quo.

Though I line up with von on this, I'm not arguing this on 'safe haven' grounds, though I think it is understandable that this is often invoked as a reason, largely because it is more understandable than 'we need to send specific signals to both our allies and those on the fence that we consider support of the Taliban very problematic'.

I'd also point to a comment by Mike in publius' post that I thought places the two sides of the equation much more clearly. The final graf was

the overarching startegic question for the U.S. and the West is the following: which is the better strategy for minimizing any threat from the region from a cost-to-efficacy standpoint: attempting over the relatively short run (5-10 years) to establish a stable enough government in Afghanistan that we can largely rely on it to police threats posed from within its borders to other countries, or dispensing with concern over the make-up of any government there and merely asserting authority for the West to police such threats irrespective of Afghan sovereignty by means determined by us (largely drone strikes and commando raids, as well as continuous small-team covert and spy presence) for an undefined period of time into the future?

I think that the former is a much more 'honest' course of action, and the latter will not be sufficient. This might also mean 'a stable government in part of Afghanistan that provides sanction and cover for interdicting the Taliban/AQ in the uncontrolled areas' rather than a full and total pacification of the entire country. I suppose this honesty could be viewed as 'liberal goobledegook' (especially if we were to establish a government in Kabul that then allows us to bomb the hell out of the rest of Afghanistan), but an indefinite future of covert ops and drones controlled out of the public eye seems more problematic to me.

We've had that kind of force in Afghanistan for nearly the past five years. It hasn't worked.

That depends on what our goals are. It has worked in that Afghanistan hasn't been a terrorist haven from which attacks have been launched.

It's fair to say that the ISI's involvement with the Taliban (pre-2001) were part of a Pakistani strategy to avoid being destabilized by Afghanistan. Indeed, that's why the ISI supported the Taliban in its war against the Northern Alliance: to secure the Pakistani tribal regions.

No, it's not fair to say that at all. Pakistan has, for many many years, cultivated Afghanistan as a proxy/ally/redoubt to balance out the size and breadth of India. It was NOT out of concern for securing the tribal regions, it was classic proxy building.

And not merely because of the risk that al Queda (or others) will have a safe haven to launch attacks against the US if we leave -- a risk that I think Publius too quickly dismisses in his piece. No one can be confident that the Taliban won't again open their arms to terrorists with the goal to strike at us or our allies. (Contrary to myth, lightening can -- and frequently does -- strike twice.)

This is not a very good rationale. Multi-decade, multi-trillion dollar occupations to deny a transnational terrorist outfit a safe haven is a collosal squandering of resources.

It is, in fact, what Osama bin Laden hoped to achieve - causing us to drain our resources on such endeavors.

We also know that Obama's strategy can't be worse than the alternatives being offered: they caused this mess

Not sure what this means. Every possible alternative strategy caused this mess? The mess being?

Wow, I guess folks were composing while I was. Here are the links I talked about, but I don't think I can respond to the various points raised, so these links and comments aren't necessarily to those.

This is a 2008 blog post by Sarah Chaynes on negotiating with the Taliban. She writes

Two things have happened since then. One is that the Pakistani military intelligence agency has been diligently reconstituting the Taliban which it first created in 1994. The injection of this newly reconstituted Taliban back into Afghanistan represents something closer to an invasion by proxy than it does an insurgency. And secondly, Afghans, including Pashtuns in the south, have been bitterly disappointed by the behavior of the Karzai government. The word "corruption" does not do justice to the scale of the phenomenon.

The last is a problem, but as I pointed out, Pakistan seems more proactive about battling the Taliban now than a year ago. Also, I think that the Pakistan reaction to the Mumbai terrorist incident is also a signal of a shift.

This CFR report has several opinions about negotiating with the Taliban. This is from about 6 months ago, so the comments 'we can't negotiate now from a position of weakness' is precisely why we need to commit more resources rather than withdraw.

This more recent NYTimes collection of short pieces on negotiating cover the range of opinions, and so, everyone should find something they agree with ;^)

Pakistan seems more proactive about battling the Taliban now than a year ago

No, they are more interested in knocking down their domestic Taliban problem, but they have not abandoned the Afghan proxy force.

"That depends on what our goals are. It has worked in that Afghanistan hasn't been a terrorist haven from which attacks have been launched."

Wait -- you're proposing that we stay maintain a permanent military presence in a hostile nation -- and just to maintain the status quo at that?

Now I know I must be misreading you here...

"Multi-decade, multi-trillion dollar occupations to deny a transnational terrorist outfit a safe haven is a collosal squandering of resources."

And we're right back to "How important are safe havens for carrying out massive* terrorist attacks on American soil?"

*(aka "9/11 level")

Good post, von.

"But we are never going to go back to that world: there is no going back to ISI-Taliban cooperation. "

That is a rather large branch you are crawling out on there. I'd like to be persuaded that this is in fact the case, but I'd need to see some evidence of how and why the breach between the ISI and the Taliban has become permanent and irreparable rather than a temporary concession to US pressure and a reflection of the purely tactical situation at this time. And I'm not convinced that the recent fighting in Swat and elsewhere in Pakistan between the Taliban and the current govt. is sufficient evidence to warrant this conclusion.

Many parts of the world have a past history of fluid and shifting alliances and groups cutting deals with each other over power after having fought openly against each other, a tradition to which Pakistan is no stranger, nor do I think we can take it for granted that either the ISI or the Taliban are fixed and immutable in either their membership or their goals and means.

"A primary goal of US policy toward Pakistan for years -- including through Obama -- has been to restrain the ISI, which has nearly indiscriminately backed a whole bunch of terrorist organizations and other ne'erdowells."

Well there's the crux of the problem right there – our true strategic opponents are in Pakistan and instead of dealing with that problem directly we are in effect opposing them by fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan.

In other words: We have met the enemy and he is us our most powerful regional ally. How to square this with the problem that a future Afghanistan which has a strong stable western-style central govt and which is hostile to jihadist movements would be an independent actor and a potential alliance partner with Iran and India rather than a state proxy of the ISI and its ideological allies in Pakistan.

I posted this comment on a similar thread at John Cole's blog and I'll repeat it here - what we are trying to accomplish in Afghanistan with the "support" of Pakistan is in some respects like trying to help Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT wipe out the Communists in late 1930's China with the very dubious "assistance" of the Japanese govt and Imperial Army. This isn't going to work well if our fundamental strategic goal is working at cross-purposes with the security needs and interests of our major ally in the region, and I sense a deeply troubling lack of clarity in our long term strategic thinking (insofar as any such thing actually exists) in this regard.

When the central point in an argument is absolutely fallacious- that the US must "keep its word" to be taken seriously in the world, eveything which follows is irrevelant. The US is widely known for NOT keeping its word. Our "word" is valueless.
For just a few examples well known outside US borders- the Viet Namese "peace agreement", which promised Viet nationalists- AKA the "communists", freedom of movement in S Viet Nam prior to organizing national electins, AND billions in reconstruction funds, not nearly enough, but something. Our quislings in Saigon knew then- as they knew in '54- that a actual free election would be the end of them. Rather than reconstruction funds, Viet Nam got crippling sanctions. this is actually big out in the real world.
More recently, the US (Bush 1) promised Nicaragua several hundred million in reconstruction if they voted out the FSLN (and a few hundred million more to the Contra's if they didnt) and when the FSLN was voted out- surprise! Congress wouldnt approve the funds. (No such problem would have occurred had the Sandinistas remained in power, the Contra blood money would have passed with "bi partisan" approval.
And, of course, the US "dosn't torture".
Our word as a nation is worthless. Our "allies" in the war in Afghanistan are lunatic warlords every bit as mysogynistic as the Taliban, deal in opiates like the Taliban, murder prisoners like the Taliban & kill with impunity- like the Taliban.
Start with the premise that our word is useless & see what you come up with......

Wait -- you're proposing that we stay maintain a permanent military presence in a hostile nation -- and just to maintain the status quo at that?

I was actually countering a point made by von. Otherwise, if the alternatives are 20 years of multi-trillion dollar nation building or some light garrison, I'd go with the latter.

Of course, there are other alternatives.

In other words: We have met the enemy and he is our most powerful regional ally. How to square this with the problem that a future Afghanistan which has a strong stable western-style central govt and which is hostile to jihadist movements would be an independent actor and a potential alliance partner with Iran and India rather than a state proxy of the ISI and its ideological allies in Pakistan.

Bingo.

Good luck with that.

Everything about the war effort is deluded.

1) a territorial 'safe haven' is only required by insurgencies, not terrorist organisations. The status of Afghanistan has no real bearing on a terrorist organisation's ability to conduct terrorist attacks on the far side of the world.

2) the 'taliban', which is a broad collection of interests and factions, is much closer to the Afghan 'mainstream' than the West is with regard to social practices, women's rights etc. An effort to transform the moral foundations of Afghan culture is insanely ambitious

3) Afghanistan is dirt poor beyond belief - a counter-insurgency based on economic development, which is the vogue these days, is only slightly less insanely ambitious. It is worth noting that practically the only valuable product of the country, the poppy, is abhorrent to the West.

4) The Taliban always have been and remain allies of at least some branches of the Pakistani military-security apparatus. Notions of defeating the Taliban to save Pakistan verge on the nonsensical, unless the strategy is to be extended from defeating the Taliban to pretty direct interference in pakistan's military-political contest.

5) the idea that North Korea will be emboldened by a US withdrawal from Afghanistan is just silly.

What byrnie said, one through five.

No, they are more interested in knocking down their domestic Taliban problem, but they have not abandoned the Afghan proxy force.

Have the Pakistanis completely abandoned the (Afghani) Taliban? No. The ISI is the ISI, after all. Substantively abandoned the Afghani Taliban? Absolutely -- and facing pressure to do much, much more:

history moves quickly in Pakistan, and after months of televised Taliban cruelties, broken promises and suicide attacks, there is a spreading sense — apparent in the news media, among politicians and the public — that many Pakistanis are finally turning against the Taliban.

The shift is still tentative and difficult to quantify. But it seems especially profound among the millions of Pakistanis directly threatened by the Taliban advance from the tribal areas into more settled parts of Pakistan, like the Swat Valley. Their anger at the Taliban now outweighs even their frustration with the military campaign that has crushed their houses and killed their relatives.

“It’s the Taliban that’s responsible for our misery,” said Fakir Muhammed, a refugee from Swat, who, like many who had experienced Taliban rule firsthand, welcomed the military campaign to push the insurgents out.

The growing support for the fight against the Taliban could be an important turning point for Pakistan, whose divisions about its Islamic militancy seemed at times to imperil the state itself.

But it is an opportunity that could just as quickly vanish, analysts and politicians warn, if Pakistan’s political leaders fail to kill or capture senior Taliban leaders, to help an estimated three million who have been displaced, or to create a functioning government in areas long ignored by the state. “This is a profound moment in our history,” said Javed Iqbal, the top bureaucrat in the North-West Frontier Province, the area of fighting. “My greatest fear is whether there is sufficient realization of this among people who make decisions.”

It's unwise to think that Pakistan is always -- and will always -- be in love with supporting the Taliban. Attitudes change.

Of course, if we back off from Afghanistan, we'll almost certainly see the pendulum swing back. Your policy will be self-fullfilling.

When the central point in an argument is absolutely fallacious- that the US must "keep its word" to be taken seriously in the world, eveything which follows is irrevelant. The US is widely known for NOT keeping its word. Our "word" is valueless.

That's my central point? Weird. Maybe we should fix our subspace antenna: our transmissions don't seem to be reaching your planet.

” 1) a territorial 'safe haven' is only required by insurgencies, not terrorist organisations. The status of Afghanistan has no real bearing on a terrorist organisation's ability to conduct terrorist attacks on the far side of the world.”

IMHO it is time for the whole "failed states, safe havens" idea to be junked and to rebuild our counter-terrorism policy from the ground up based on vulnerability analysis rather than threat analysis.

There is a lot not to like in Philip Bobbitt’s work touching on terrorism (Shield of Achilles, Terror and Consent), but I think he hits the nail on the head when he points out that terrorist attacks threaten and undermine the legitimacy of conventional states because they negate a key responsibility of those states, which is to protect the lives and property of their citizens, but that natural disasters can be just as threatening and destabilizing (just look at what Katrina did for Bush’s popularity for example). You can’t pre-empt natural disasters – instead you have to focus on (1) minimizing our vulnerability to them, and (2) preparing to respond rapidly and effectively when they happen to minimize causalities and to comfort and support the victims.

In the long run I think we will be more effective at dealing with terrorism in a similar vein – instead of chasing all over the world trying to re-engineer every potentially failing state lest it become a "safe haven", we need to rebuild our infrastructure so it is more robust and less vulnerable to disruption (whether by human attack or by natural disaster) and put ourselves in better shape to take care of our people.

I know some folks will bring up the old metaphorical story about the fence up on the mountain road vs. the ambulance down in the valley, but that analogy breaks down when you realize that the "fence" needs to be everywhere to be effective, and we have neither the resources nor the wisdom to remake the world like that. So perhaps we would be better off with an effective ambulance than a fence that doesn’t work.

It's unwise to think that Pakistan is always -- and will always -- be in love with supporting the Taliban. Attitudes change.

A few thoughts:

1. The article is about the Pakistani Taliban. Some Pakistanis have grown wary of them, sure, but that doesn't mean that the ISI will stop cultivating a taliban presence in Afghanistan. Not unless there is an alternative proxy, and as of yet, there isn't. Karzai is cozy with India, and Pakistan will not let that stand.

For Pakistan, India is everything. The US is really not all that interesting, other than as a source of goodies. Unless they can find another way to counter India, those attitudes will not change.

Further, in recent polls, a majority of Pakistanis consider the US a bigger threat than the Taliban.

2. Also, in terms of attitudes toward the Taliban, that depends on which segments of Pakistani society you're talking about. Important factions of the ISI, and certainly the Pashtuns along the Durand line, have not and will not sour on them.

Of course, if we back off from Afghanistan, we'll almost certainly see the pendulum swing back. Your policy will be self-fullfilling.

But we will eventually back off. We're not going to stay there forever. Are we? If so, any idea how many hundreds of trillions that will cost?

These questions were asked in the previous thread on this topic, but since that's dead and they're relevant here, I'll just bring them over...

Can you name even one case where the military did not have a simple - achievable - strategic goal of obvious importance, and yet the overall mission was considered a success?

No.

Again, what is the goal (or goals plural) of the American military mission in Afghanistan?

Judging by this thread and the previous one, the goals are an Afghanistan with a culture that is at least some slight sliver of a tiny bit better about women's rights than the Taliban is, and a government that does not openly support the Taliban. There might be a third goal as well; see below. However, these goals are based on that thread and may differ from the general public or the US political class, so this doesn't necessarily mean that we have a simple and strategic goal for the purposes of the first question.

Is it achievable?
Is it being achieved?
How much will it cost to achieve it?

They are achieved at the moment. They will last as long as we're willing to have a large, active military presence with regular combat operations against the locals and as far as I know - any pro-war people can correct me here if they want - no one has any idea how to make them last once we leave.

So that raises the question of whether it is also a goal for Afghanistan to be a free country or a colony. I honestly don't know. If the goal is a colony, then we keep going as we have been. If the goal is a free country, then as far as I can see it's not achievable.

I realize people don't like being accused of imperialism, but if we're fighting to occupy another country indefinitely, I don't know what to call it.

That's my central point? Weird. Maybe we should fix our subspace antenna: our transmissions don't seem to be reaching your planet.

It seems like you're dodging the issue here. Fine, it's not your central point. But it is the second reason you list out of five (surely you would admit that, right?) thus I would assume it's at least somewhat important. Nitpicking mutt's phrasing doesn't address the issue of whether he is right or you.

That's my central point? Weird. Maybe we should fix our subspace antenna: our transmissions don't seem to be reaching your planet.

It may not be your central point, but I don't think you understand how difficult it makes taking you seriously. Which is funny, since this is classic signaling.

Matt Yglesias on the depressing irony of it all:

[I]t's worth recalling why we gave all that assistance to anti-Soviet forces [in Afghanistan]. Not because Soviet control of Afghanistan would have accomplished anything useful for the USSR. And not because a Soviet-free Afghanistan would have accomplished anything useful for the United States. Rather, the genius of our proxy war in Afghanistan was that a relatively small amount of money was playing a role in keeping a large Soviet force stuck indefinitely in Afghanistan at great expense. Insofar as U.S. policy currently points in the direction of keeping a large American force stuck indefinitely in Afghanistan at great expense, it’s not clear how different an American “victory” would be from a Soviet “loss.”

Cyrus puts things clearly.

At this point, NATO can at least keep the Taliban from consolidating power throughout the country. It is possible that greater resources and a change in strategy could allow for more effective control over more of the country and reduce the Taliban's military strength. At this point, there is no option of leaving Afghanistan and knowing the Taliban will not consolidate control.

That possibility might open up in the future, but whether this happens depends on things outside NATO's control. It is therefore not a sensible military objective.

This places us in the position of accepting an imperialist role for the foreseeable future. Imperialism is bad, but other things are worse.

But Pith, what is victory? What are we staying for? You say sensible military objective, but we're not a nation of armies. We have strategic interests above and beyond military objectives.

At this point, there is no option of leaving Afghanistan and knowing the Taliban will not consolidate control.

That depends on how you define "leaving." We toppled the Taliban and sent them scattering with very few boots on the ground in the first place. You're saying that after 9 years of building up an Afghan army/police force, we're worse off? If so, what does that say for the prospects for progress in the future?

"If the alternatives are 20 years of multi-trillion dollar nation building or some light garrison, I'd go with the latter."

Only it's not "we're going to do 20 years of x" -- it's "we're going to do x until we get y".

In one case, y is creating a situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban cannot return to power (aka "defeating" them).

In the other, y is, by definition, indefinite -- "We're going to keep at this, because, if we stop, the enemy might reconstitute."

Granted, I'd prefer the latter option to a complete withdrawal where we let things fall as they may (a la 1990's), but otherwise, isn't it better to have at least some sort of endgame?

And yes, I realize a key part of the argument is the assertion that "But we don't have an endgame" -- which, while our current strategy certain lacks for specifics, isn't completely accurate, at least not compared to what was happening in the past five years, to get back to von's point.

Only it's not "we're going to do 20 years of x" -- it's "we're going to do x until we get y".

In one case, y is creating a situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban cannot return to power (aka "defeating" them).

In the other, y is, by definition, indefinite -- "We're going to keep at this, because, if we stop, the enemy might reconstitute."

Either way, it will take 20 years (or more for the indefinite). It's almost half way there already.

Conor Foley has an interesting post over at Crooked Timber. His argument is that the problem is that we failed to use the liberal-interventionist toolkit from Bosnia, East Timor, etc. Instead, we bought warlords and have tried to target aid in Taliban-controlled areas. It would be better to concentrate on building a better central state where the central government's writ still runs.

In relation to Point, I just don't think countries have "endgames." I expect we're going to see Western forces in Afghanistan and a lot of other places for our lifetimes.

And when I finish my post, I find Cyrus and Pithlord making the point I joked Eric was making, only in earnest.

And here I am getting swamped, once again, by the real world, so I have to drop out as soon as things get interesting.

Damn it all to hell!

(to himself) "OK, just one more and I'm done for the day..."

"In relation to Point, I just don't think countries have "endgames." I expect we're going to see Western forces in Afghanistan and a lot of other places for our lifetimes."

But conflicts do -- or hopefully, they do. I would have to think that an organization that murdered nearly 3000 Americans and the regime that harbored them -- no, at the very least, they should have an endgame...

(pause) I really do need a break from this...

In relation to Point, I just don't think countries have "endgames."

They do sometimes, but it is rare.

However, armed conflicts, and US involvement therewith, do have endgames. All the time.

For example, Vietnam the country might not have an endgame, but US involvement in Vietnam sure did - even if it was much delayed, and considerably more expensive than it should have ever been.

Which sounds eerily familiar.

It would be better to concentrate on building a better central state where the central government's writ still runs.

But that ain't much territory, and it goes counter to Afghan traditions and culture. So I suppose we'll be remaking that as well. Piece of cake!

Speaking of which

It may not be your central point, but I don't think you understand how difficult it makes taking you seriously. Which is funny, since this is classic signaling.

Which would make it signaling about signaling, I suppose.

I understand that there is a very strong desire among folks who want to retreat to view retreat as essentially cost free, but it's not. Walking away from Afghanistan sends a signal to the Taliban, to Pakistan, to Iran, and to North Korea that we can be out-waited and beaten. That reduces our leverage in negotiations.

Whether you take the idea seriously or not is kinda immaterial: it exists independent of how you happen to regard it.

Eric,

I've tried to be honest about the costs of what I'm proposing. Would you acknowledge there are any down-sides to giving the Taliban a military victory?

His argument is that the problem is that we failed to use the liberal-interventionist toolkit from Bosnia, East Timor, etc. Instead, we bought warlords and have tried to target aid in Taliban-controlled areas. It would be better to concentrate on building a better central state where the central government's writ still runs.

I think that's terribly misguided. A great many Afghanis, perhaps most, spit when the mention the word 'Kabul'. Not everybody in the world wants to be governed by a powerful central state, especially when that central state has only ever been bad news for them. This is something that makes Afghanistan fascinating, but also an almost uniquely poor setting for the conventional counter-insurgency/nation-building paradigm.


Eric: Either way, it will take 20 years (or more for the indefinite). It's almost half way there already.

Yup, but the political classes and military brass must also know that public opinion won't tolerate an effort for anything near that long, and so to my mind it would be unconscionable to pursue any strategy that wasn't based on 'victory' in a very short timeframe. I personally don't think that's possible, I'm just saying that Obama better at least think so, otherwise it's especially ridiculous to pursue this course when he knows the clock is going to run out on him.

The article is about the Pakistani Taliban. Some Pakistanis have grown wary of them, sure, but that doesn't mean that the ISI will stop cultivating a taliban presence in Afghanistan.

Eric, I don't understand why you think one can cleanly distinguish between the "Pakistani" Taliban and the "Afghani" Taliban. The Taliban do not recognize the border in the tribal regions. Although there are incidents of Taliban groups fighting, there are no widespread disputes or distinction between "Pakistani" and "Afghani" because there is very little distinction. It's better to talk about the Taliban, which has Afghani and Pakistani elements.

The ISI understands this: that's one reason why they funded the Taliban in Afghanistan -- one of its side effects was distracting and placating the Taliban in Pakistan.

As for India: it's of course a component of the discussion, but it's a mistake to proceed as though we can address the Taliban exclusively (or even largely) by resolving the Pakistani-Indian dispute.

Further, in recent polls, a majority of Pakistanis consider the US a bigger threat than the Taliban.

So what?

2. Also, in terms of attitudes toward the Taliban, that depends on which segments of Pakistani society you're talking about. Important factions of the ISI, and certainly the Pashtuns along the Durand line, have not and will not sour on them.

There will be some die hards, but the number of die hards -- and what they can do -- is directly affected by our policy.

But we will eventually back off. We're not going to stay there forever. Are we? If so, any idea how many hundreds of trillions that will cost?

Of course we're not going to stay there forever. This debate is about how and when we withdraw: Now, in defeat, or sometime in the relatively near future, after we've tried to improve the situation so that Afghanistan is further along.

But conflicts do -- or hopefully, they do. I would have to think that an organization that murdered nearly 3000 Americans and the regime that harbored them -- no, at the very least, they should have an endgame...

That would be nice, sure, but wars on non-state organizations are almost as difficult as wars on abstract nouns like "terrorism" or "drugs" or "poverty." Founders die and lieutenants take over and it's the same organization. There's a base of goodwill for most organizations many times larger than its diehard members. Territory is conquered and held or it isn't and you can see this if you look at a map, but ideological terrain is far more fluid.

The KKK murdered far more than 3,000 Americans, and they're still around, albeit defanged. The exact same methods of defanging the Taliban aren't available because it's in a different country and has different goals, but I would suggest we would do better to emulate those methods than staying our current course.

I understand that there is a very strong desire among folks who want to retreat to view retreat as essentially cost free,

If this isn't a strawman, then I'm sure you can name names.

I've tried to be honest about the costs of what I'm proposing. Would you acknowledge there are any down-sides to giving the Taliban a military victory?

That's easy: yes!

But, withdrawing our forces (or most) does not necessarily mean a Taliban victory. As I said, we beat them initially with fewer troops than we have now, and we've spent 8 years building up an Afghan army to help in our absence. And air support remains an option.

But even if the Taliban achieved a military victory, the downsides are manageable, and the costs far less than the costs of decades upon decades of a multi-multi-trillion dollar occupation that, even then, has only dubious prospects for success.

Whatever that is.

If al-Qaeda is foolish enough to actually set up training camps, we will turn them to dust, along with any individual at said camp. This isn't the 1990s. The US isn't goint to hesitate.

Walking away from Afghanistan sends a signal to the Taliban, to Pakistan, to Iran, and to North Korea that we can be out-waited and beaten.

Right, cause that's never happened to the U.S. in an armed conflict before. We are undefeated.

It's better to talk about the Taliban, which has Afghani and Pakistani elements.

Do you think we should invade Pakistan too?

Of course we're not going to stay there forever. This debate is about how and when we withdraw: Now, in defeat, or sometime in the relatively near future, after we've tried to improve the situation so that Afghanistan is further along.

I suppose I should be grateful that you're moving the goalposts down to merely trying to improve the situation. I thought the goal was that we'd stay until Afghanistan was a liberal democracy; apparently, though, we're just staying until it's a liberal democracy or X years (but we can't say how many, timetables help terrorists) has passed, whichever comes first. Demonstrating our willpower is enough, I guess.

"Conor Foley has an interesting post over at Crooked Timber. His argument is that the problem is that we failed to use the liberal-interventionist toolkit from Bosnia, East Timor, etc. Instead, we bought warlords and have tried to target aid in Taliban-controlled areas."

This argument is fleshed out in much greater detail in Ahmed Rashid's 'Descent into Chaos' - that it isn't so much that nation building failed in Afghanistan as we didn't even try. In fact officials with the Pentagon and CIA repeatedly undercut and sabotaged efforts to build up the infrastructure and authority of the central govt in Kabul because it was quicker and easier to cut deals with local warlords, because they were concerned with fighting turf battles vs. the US Dept of State and aid agencies, and because all manner of resources were diverted to the Iraq war instead. And it wasn't just the US that made these mistakes - our partners in NATO come in for a good deal of criticism as well.

Perhaps we can do a better job in the future, but the very depressing impression I came away with is that we pissed away unique opportunities to get the job done circa 2002-2005 pissed which will not be available again any time soon, nor can the climate of that time be recreated no matter how much we wish for it or invest in trying to set the clock back. Too much path-dependence for that.

The KKK murdered far more than 3,000 Americans, and they're still around, albeit defanged.

Yeah, but they survived so long cause we cut and run.

Eric, I don't understand why you think one can cleanly distinguish between the "Pakistani" Taliban and the "Afghani" Taliban. The Taliban do not recognize the border in the tribal regions. Although there are incidents of Taliban groups fighting, there are no widespread disputes or distinction between "Pakistani" and "Afghani" because there is very little distinction. It's better to talk about the Taliban, which has Afghani and Pakistani elements.

But there are actually two concentrations - with different aims, and on the receiving end of different aid (the ISI funnels aid to the Afghan side). Granted, there is certainly some crossover, but the Pakistani Taliban are interested in greater power and territory in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban is focused on Afghanistan. These general factions are under different leadership, and the Afghan Taliban includes certain factions that share little in common with the Pashtuns along the Durand Line.

There are key differences, and they should be focused on. Failure to do so is a dangerous kind of myopia.

but it's a mistake to proceed as though we can address the Taliban exclusively (or even largely) by resolving the Pakistani-Indian dispute.

It sure is, which is why I made no such suggestion.

So what?

So, they're not really that disenchanted with the Taliban in much of the country, and a majority considers our meddling more dangerous.

There will be some die hards, but the number of die hards -- and what they can do -- is directly affected by our policy.

Huh? The greater ISI von, not "some die hards." And what we can do is directly affected by their policy.

This debate is about how and when we withdraw: Now, in defeat, or sometime in the relatively near future, after we've tried to improve the situation so that Afghanistan is further along.

Relatively near future? After we've tried? Is that a plan?

Walking away from Afghanistan sends a signal to the Taliban, to Pakistan, to Iran, and to North Korea that we can be out-waited and beaten. That reduces our leverage in negotiations.

Jesus von, the US can be outwaited and beaten like any other power in the history of the world can be waited out and beaten. Every nation has limits. Every single one, and that is not news to anyone.

Every nation will make cost/benefit analsyes within various contexts, and make decisions based on those calculations (at least, if they want to stay relevant in the long run).

That's tautological. Do you really think Iran doesn't know that the US can be waited out, but will figure it out if and when we leave Afghanistan (in the near future, as you said)?

It's disingenuous to treat "political will" to stay as an external factor. That's exactly what we're arguing about. Eric and Publius want to diminish the amount of political will to stay and von wants to increase it. You can't pretend you're an outside observer talking about the fall of the Han Dynasty.

"Walking away from Afghanistan sends a signal to the Taliban, to Pakistan, to Iran, and to North Korea that we can be out-waited and beaten. That reduces our leverage in negotiations. "

The message it sends is probably not a bad one. If you are a relatively unthreatening country without any desire to have the US poke its nose in and kill lots of your people, then don't let terrorists run their operation from your country.

If you do, we won't even bother to "rebuild", we will just come in, blow up all the bad guys we can find and leave.

And, oh BTW, Iran and North Korea, you don't fit in the relatively unthreatening definition so don't take heart from this.

I am ok with sending that message.

"You can't pretend you're an outside observer talking about the fall of the Han Dynasty."

If the Western Han hadn't cut-and-run against Wang Mang, they would still be in power today. After that, the Eastern Han period was nothing but a slippery slope leading to ruin, set up by that one failure of political will. After that, the Xiongnu and other barbarians knew that the Han had no honor, that their words meant nothing, that they could be out-waited and beaten, they had no leverage in negotiations, etc.

See how dangerous it is, to give any ground at all?

It's disingenuous to treat "political will" to stay as an external factor

It's disingenuous to treat "political will" to stay as entirely unrelated to a cost/benefit analysis. Political will is waning for good reason: the costs vastly outweigh the benefits. And for that cost/benefit reason, I don't want to increase political will to stay. I'm no masochist.

But either way, Iran knows that political will has limits, as imposed by the ever-present cost/benefit analysis. As political will has had limits in every nation in the history of the world for the same reasons.

Like the US in Vietnam. Beirut too.

Nothing new. Really.

It's disingenuous to treat "political will" to stay as an external factor. That's exactly what we're arguing about. Eric and Publius want to diminish the amount of political will to stay and von wants to increase it.

If you're addressing me here, I think we're talking about different things. I was referring, although I guess I was being too oblique, to the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics, coined by Matt Yglesias.

A lot of people [Matt is quoting a Cato editorial here] seem to think that... roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower. What's more, this theory can't be empirically demonstrated to be wrong. Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will. Thus we see that problems in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't reasons to avoid new military ventures, but reasons why we must embark upon them

von wants to increase domestic political willpower to stay in Afghanistan, as you say. But he also thinks demonstrating our resolve is a major goal itself. Among other reasons this idea is ridiculous, it is unfalsifiable.

In my experience appeals to "political willpower" are a tacit admission that the argument has been lost on other grounds. YMMV.

Cyrus,

I think we are misunderstanding each other. I'm not arguing that it is ever a good idea to engage in military action to "project resolve." I'm arguing that it is not a good argument to say that a military intervention that is otherwise justified is a bad idea because there isn't the political will for it back home in the context of a polical debate back home.

To the extent signalling is important, it isn't signalling toughness, but signalling reliability.

I'm arguing that it is not a good argument to say that a military intervention that is otherwise justified is a bad idea because there isn't the political will for it back home in the context of a polical debate back home.

Oh, sure, I can agree with that. I guess I don't see who your 3 p.m. comment was addressed to at all, then.

"I understand that there is a very strong desire among folks who want to retreat to view retreat as essentially cost free, but it's not. Walking away from Afghanistan sends a signal to the Taliban, to Pakistan, to Iran, and to North Korea that we can be out-waited and beaten. That reduces our leverage in negotiations."

Pardon me- the Afghans have paid an incredible price for this, a price we can hardly imagine. And they will continue to pay the price, whether we stick around ad play with our war machines & warlords, or leave them, in the lurch, if history is any indication. Thats been our pattern in these criminal blood baths so far.
yeah, N Korea might......what? Up the rhetoric? If their nuts decide to start a artillery barrage against Seoul, it will be whether we are busy killing Afghans or not. The Iranians offer zero indication of being suicidal. To base your argument- PARTLY- on we must occupy Afghanistan or these boogiemen will get us- thats right up there with saying our word is at stake.

"In fact officials with the Pentagon and CIA repeatedly undercut and sabotaged efforts to build up the infrastructure and authority of the central govt in Kabul because it was quicker and easier to cut deals with local warlords...."

Our OTHER pattern is to buy the local thugs .We, de facto owners of the place in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban gvt being dispersed, supported the warlords whose violent misrule made the Taliban a desperate option for Afghans in the first pace. From that very first Loya Jirga, that got so much press here, the US military was directed to arm & support various warlords, much to Karzai's undoing. He simply had to deal with what were US "assets". We back quislings. Thats what we do. Quislings have a short shelf life , and since they re fundimentaly betrayers of their own people, aren't the sort of people you "build democratic institutions" with.
At least on my planet.

The "stay the course" argument sounds like sadistic kids with an ant colony and a magnifying glass......

Obama should have had a strategy in place straight away, but he didn't. All he had were desired actions and personnel increases, and then he changed U.S. Commanders and tasked the new commander to come up with a new strategy, which slowed the process even further. Now that there's new leadership and a new plan, I think it should be given a fair chance. Too bad his own base is getting cold feet.

The Taliban is an ideological cancer and a destabilizing factor in both countries. What's more, it's leadership has openly stated that they would give al Qaeda safe haven. The Pakistan military is having its troubles with the Taliban, most recently in the Swat Valley, and I don't see how we're helping Pakistan by enlarging the Taliban's area of operations due to our withdrawing from Afghanistan.

The "stay the course" argument sounds like sadistic kids with an ant colony and a magnifying glass......

In view of this statement, Charles Bird's argument, is that he didn't like the "magnifying glass" the new kid brought to the massacre.

I admire the balanced debate on the main blog here on this question. ("Balance" isn't isn't always a pernicious equating of sides with ludicrously unequal merit. When there is legitimate difference of opinion, it is essential.) I'm not sure if it's fair to say it was improbable, but I'm finding ObsWi to be one of the most vital loci for debate on the Afghanistan question -- I look forward more to the debate here both on the blog and in the comments than at almost all of the more foreign-policy oriented blogs and publications. My hat is off to the bloggers and commenters (thus far).

In view of this statement, Charles Bird's argument, is that he didn't like the "magnifying glass" the new kid brought to the massacre.

SOD, how can implementing a new strategy be construed as "stay the course"?

it's leadership has openly stated that they would give al Qaeda safe haven.

Cite please? I've seen this assertion made but I've never seen it sourced.

Obama should have had a strategy in place straight away, but he didn't.

That's not true at all, Afghanistan was one of the major issues he and his foreign policy advisors looked at before his election. He certainly has a grand strategy for American foreign policy in mind, and how Afghanistan fits into that, but you can hardly make sweeping military decisions before you've consulted the military, as president.

SOD, how can implementing a new strategy be construed as "stay the course"?

The new strategy will be a variation on, staying and killing, with no clear goals.

I don't see how we're helping Pakistan by enlarging the Taliban's area of operations due to our withdrawing from Afghanistan.

But Pakistan wants the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, so if that happens, we help them!

Further, the Taliban were in power for quite a while in Afghanistan, and it did not represent a problem for Pakistan. They were quite happy. They continued to provide them with generous aid and support.

The problems with the Pakistani Taliban arose after we invaded and created a tension within Pakistani society as they tried to straddle the opposing policies of helping the US topple their proxy and ally while surreptitiously funding their proxy and ally.

This - combined with the Pakistani government's inability or unwillingness, or both, to halt US raids and airstrikes in Pakistani tribal territory - radicalized the Pakistani Taliban, which increasingly turned against the government and began taking offensive and belligerent actions.

We're not helping to stabilize the situation. Hundreds of thousands of foreign troops with narrow, self-referencing interests that cut against regional interests rarely do.

It's worth remembering that Pakistan is itself on the verge of finally turning against the Taliban. Withdrawing from Afghanistan may well imperil this process, and give Pakistan a powerful incentive to quiet its border and tribal regions by cutting deals with the Taliban (as Pakistan did prior to 9-11).

What does this mean? They didn't cut deals to quiet their border region. They cut deals because they wanted an anti-Indian proxy force in charge in Afghanistan.

This is the second time you've stated this, and it has not gotten any truer since the first.

Also, that link doesn't say what you say it does.

It is from June. It is about a slight shift in certain segments of the Pakistani population toward the indigenous strain of the Taliban. It does not say that Pakistan's security establishment is turning against the Afghan Taliban.

This is just wishful thinking and self-delusion on the part of US policymakers.

Pakistan will NOT abandon its effort to cultivate a proxy, ally and strategic redoubt in Afghanistan. Countering India is everything. Pleasing the US is secondary at best. Eventually, the US will leave. India won't. Pakistan won't.

Don't fool yourself.

The new strategy will be a variation on, staying and killing, with no clear goals.

Not true, sod. The focus of the McChrsystal plan is on protecting the populace. Herschel Smith has a good summary here, not without criticism.

Cite please? I've seen this assertion made but I've never seen it sourced.

I'm looking, Eric. I read it a month or two ago. A Taliban leader in Pakistan said it. Right now, they are giving al Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan.

Under attack from unmanned U.S. aircraft, Al Qaeda militants in Waziristan needed a tribal ally who would not only provide safe haven, but would also pressure Pakistan's security establishment with suicide bombings and ambushes so that support for cooperation with the U.S. would eventually erode, said Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul.

But Pakistan wants the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, so if that happens, we help them!

The Pakistanis have been trying to have it both ways, and it's failing them, as the Swat Valley takeover made clear. The government has struck deals with "good" Taliban, only to find that they were chumped. They're Pashtuns, and Pashtunistan straddles the border. The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are the same, and the government has finally decided to go on the offensive against them, not just in Swat but in Waziristan.

On arguing over the size of the magnifying glass and our new "population centric" tactics in Afghanistan-

"That's nothing new; here's George Orwell inHomage to Catalonia, describing (without knowing) Fred Hiatt in 1938:
The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours.
Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him."

https://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/09/03/afghanistan/index.html

"SOD, how can implementing a new strategy be construed as "stay the course"?"
And our "new strategy" isn't new, either.....The French term for it ended up as "Dien Bien Phu." Literally.
"This new strategy, named Clear, Hold, Build by the Americans, is actually the resurrection of a famous old colonialist strategy evolved by Hubert Lyautey (1854-1934) who eventually became a Marshall in the French army and ended his days as a virulent fascist."
https://www.counterpunch.org/spinney07142009.html

The focus of the McChrsytal plan is on protecting the populace.

They've probably killed 40 Afghani civilians today. If people in your country were being killed by bombs dropped by foreign forces, how enthusiastic would you feel towards them?

How does the US systematically fight the Taliban without killing a lot of innocent civilians as a side-effect? All you Afghan war enthusiastics on here answer me that one - how can it be done? Unless the US can solve that problem, all their strategic plans aren't going to come to anything.

Or "guilty" civilians. Such as those who go places "linked" to the Taliban, or welcome an uncle in from the mountains, or feed family & tribal members resisting foreign occupation, but not only by our soldiers most of whom are very decent people, but an greater number of unaccountable mercenaries on our payroll, the bulk of whom are NOT very nice people.

Allowing the notion there are "innocent" civilians plays into the hands of the magnifying glass brigade, who can use the term to justify killing/maiming the "guilty" ones.
A long time ago, on a long nite on CQ, I leafed thru an official US Army dictionary. They have ther own dictionary because words mean things. This is the definition of "military target"-
"any person, place, or thing which gives or tends to give aid or comfort to the enemy".
This makes every person not an active collaborator with foriegn occupation or our quislings a "military target"- as neutrality = aid & comfort to the enemy.

That's because we've already seen the skeptic's alternative plan in action

Um, no. Some serious percentage of the "skeptics" have this plan:

Get. The. Hell. Out. of. Afghanistan.
Now.

Completely.

If people in your country were being killed by bombs dropped by foreign forces, how enthusiastic would you feel towards them?

Magistra,
The McChrystal plan was only just drafted, and I know that part of the plan is to cut way back on air strikes. So far this year, just over a thousand civilians have been killed, about a third of which was by NATO and Afghan forces, which is too many. This also means that two-thirds were killed by Taliban or al Qaeda forces.

How does the US systematically fight the Taliban without killing a lot of innocent civilians as a side-effect?

U.S. forces have already tightened their rules of engagement. If they're taking fire from a house, for example, they can't fire back unless they're certain that civilians aren't in there. For too long, there's been more a Special Forces mindset in Afghanistan, and it's proven counterproductive.

well, that plan should drive up US casualties, and, coupling that with the notion of strongpoints, which gives the Nationalists - to cover all the various outfits we call "Taliban", but whose prime motivation is to drive out foriegn soldiers-the decision on where to attack, and when.
This will- trust me here- create a spiral of US troops shooting first more & more often, no matter WHAT acronym we are currently fighting under. A plan on paper, sold to pundits, does not mean a thing. We've killed far too many, the only- sole- question is how many more we kill before we leave. all them guilty types, plus whoever is within shrapnel range.
Nothing worse than being an occupation soldier in a country that dont want you there. Romans wrote about it 2k years ago. the hostility of the occupied people creates hostility in the occupying forces. ive seen it, Ive lived it. You never win a hostile occupation.
There simply isnt any instances of outside forces being sucessful in quelling an insurgency on behalf of an unpopular government.
people bring up Malaya, but there, the foe were Chinese- whom the Malays didnt like much. Not so in Afghanistan, the Taliban is not an outside, alien force. We are.
We could "win" by killing everybody. . But we tried THAT before, too, & the pesky wogs just wont cooperate. they hide & stuff. Wont stand out in the open & fight like real men.........
then you got the problem of protecting both collaborators & outside socio/political workers- you know, the "hearts and minds" folks.
Charlie, all those dead Afghans- of whatever tribe- have large families. Those folks believe in blood debt. Id gladly drop off Bush, Cheney et al if I thought it would help, but its our best & brightest who will pay the price. Not chickenhawks & war profiteers. And at the end of it all, the Kabul gvt will make arrangements w/ thier own nationalists, and we wont have squat to say about it. Just as its coming to pass in Iraq.
Our entire trillion dollar high tech defense system was beat by some guys with box cutters. We wreaked havoc on vast numbers of wretched peasants in response. We won. End it.


i see we managed to neutralize guilty Taliban supporters- maybe 90! dealing in stolen gasoline.
Another victory!

The McChrystal plan was only just drafted, and I know that part of the plan is to cut way back on air strikes.

Yes, this was supposed to happen when Petraues took over CENTCOM too. Didn't then. Hasn't yet. I have doubts that it ever will.

The Pakistanis have been trying to have it both ways, and it's failing them, as the Swat Valley takeover made clear. The government has struck deals with "good" Taliban, only to find that they were chumped. They're Pashtuns, and Pashtunistan straddles the border. The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are the same, and the government has finally decided to go on the offensive against them, not just in Swat but in Waziristan.

No, they are not the same. Again, to repeat, they have different goals. Talibs in Afghanistan do not care about grabbing turf in Pakistan. They want Kabul. They are different factions in terms of goals and outlook, with some crossover. Again, the Afghan Taliban were in power for years, and it didn't create any problems in Pakistan with the Pakistani Taliban. Please explain how this is possible if they are the same?

In fact, the problems with the Pakistani Taliban are a recent phenomenon, the result of the Pakistani government's cooperation with the US effort in Afghanistan and US (and now Pakistani) airstrikes and military action on the Pakistani side of the border.

The Pakistani government is on the offensive to try to beat back the opposition stoked, but that is NOT the same as the Pakistani government accepting an India-friendly Karzai regime in power in Afghanistan (read: abandoning the Afghan Taliban).

This level of delusion is on par with Bush administration attempts to convince themselves that Iraqi Shiite parties formed in Iran, by Iranian government forces (SCIRI, now ISCI, and Dawa) are actually hostile to Iran, and more friendly to us.

I know it's what you want to believe, but reality (like the Pakistani government) has another agenda.

ALSO:

Remember, not all Afghan Taliban are Pashtun. Not all are from the border region with Pakistan. There are Tajik factions and other distinct ethnic/regional factions that are cobbled together under the "Taliban" umbrella term.

So, unless you can explain to me how a Tajik faction from the north is indistinguishable in goals, outlook and culture from Pakistani Pashtuns, your analysis is wanting.

Finally, Charles, in the article you cited, they kept referring to "Pakistani Taliban." Why would they do that if they are one and the same? Curious, that.

that plan should drive up US casualties, and, coupling that with the notion of strongpoints, which gives the Nationalists - to cover all the various outfits we call "Taliban", but whose prime motivation is to drive out foriegn soldiers-the decision on where to attack, and when.
This will- trust me here- create a spiral of US troops shooting first more & more often, no matter WHAT acronym we are currently fighting under

In Iraq, we took higher casualties when we started a COIN strategy, then casualties plummeted, and our soldiers refrained from a shoot-first mindset throughout. I don't see why the same can't happen in Afghanistan.

Nothing worse than being an occupation soldier in a country that dont want you there.

True. Only 6% of the Afghan people support the Taliban, and the people are still mostly pro-American (cite). Our problem is that we haven't adapted quickly enough to a resurgent Taliban, and we've made a series of stupid mistakes, like this one. Part of [i]that[/i] problem is the Germans' stupid-ass rules of engagement, which discourages ground combat, and it was these Germans who executed the air strike on the tankers.

mutt, when discussing the war in Afghanistan with Charles Bird, bear in mind that with regard to the war in Iraq, Charles would routinely, every six months or so, declare that with the new strategy announced by the Bush administration, things were definitely going better now and victory was just around the corner. He was always, obviously, completely wrong, but this never bothered him, because he was always sure that this time he was right.

It's charmingly bipartisan of him to have the same atttiude towards the war in Afghanistan, but judging by his track record, three things are sure: (a) Whatever Charles Bird thinks about how the war is going is completely wrong (b) Whatever Charles Bird says now about the war he will likely say something different in six months (c) In six months, he will still be wrong.

I have doubts that it ever will.

Consider the timing of when General McKiernan was fired, Eric. It was right after an airstrike that killed a bunch of civilians. In the latest airstrike on the tankers, it was idiot Germans with idiot rules of engagement who authorized the strikes.

The Taliban are predominantly Pashtun, Eric, with the same Islamic supremacist ideology on either side of the border. They may have different territorial objectives, depending on where they live, but they're all of a piece, and they're driving out traditional Pashtun tribal leaders to grow and cement their hold.

when discussing the war in Afghanistan with Charles Bird, bear in mind that with regard to the war in Iraq, Charles would routinely, every six months or so, declare that with the new strategy announced by the Bush administration, things were definitely going better now and victory was just around the corner.

Jes, you were lying when you said it then, and you are lying now. You are a bald-faced liar.

Jes, you were lying when you said it then, and you are lying now.

*raises eyebrow*

You really want me to go find all of your old posts on Iraq on this blog, link to them, and point out that your calling me a liar won't change one word of the posts you used to write about Iraq?

Im sure the discussion in the streets of Afghanistan is how the recent neutralization of suspected Taliban sympathizers was a result of German standing orders, not US occupation. I can hear them now.
The Germans & NATO are there on their own, nuttin to do w/ the US, move along.
Damned Huns.

Just like the detachments in Iraq from Tonga, El Salvador, Poland and the rest of the "coalition of the paid" would be there absent the US.
Yup.
"You really want me to go find all of your old posts on Iraq on this blog, "....
I do! I do! Im playing catchup here........

The Taliban are predominantly Pashtun, Eric, with the same Islamic supremacist ideology on either side of the border.

Charles, other than not responding to any of my arguments, the parts of this statement that are true are more or less irrelevant.

One of the supposed insights of counterinsurgency doctrine is a process called disaggregation: whereby the counterinsurgent pays attention to the actual makeup of insurgent groups and local actors, and differentiates between them. By looking at the actual groups and their differences, better strategies can be formed to meet objectives.

You and Von would have us do the opposite, lumping Tajik insurgents in Afghanistan that are turning against the Karzai government in search of a share of the power with Pakistani tribal elements that are reacting to Pakistani government policy.

Kind of like an undifferentiated "Islamofascism" that lumps in Iran and al-Qaeda, Hezzbollah and Chechyan rebels.

Despite your supposed embrace of the counterinsurgency approach enunciated by McChrystal, you don't seem to really grasp it.

Consider the timing of when General McKiernan was fired, Eric. It was right after an airstrike that killed a bunch of civilians. In the latest airstrike on the tankers, it was idiot Germans with idiot rules of engagement who authorized the strikes.

Either the airstrikes will abate, or they won't. Thus far, despite Petraues' supposed desire to scale them back, they haven't - even without the latest incident counted. I doubt this will change.

Chas Bird posts:
"In Iraq, we took higher casualties when we started a COIN strategy, then casualties plummeted, and our soldiers refrained from a shoot-first mindset throughout. I don't see why the same can't happen in Afghanistan."

Because the actual facts on the ground are very different. The FORIEGN fighters in Iraq wore out their welcome, to say the very least. Most of our "success" was predicated on paying what became known as the Sons of Iraq not to shoot at us- something that should have been done years earlier, but was not allowed by ideologues- "no negotiating with terrorists"- remember?
Junior officers on the ground BEGGED to be able to do that obvious thing, but we are talking about actual strategy vs the Cheney/ Limbaugh administration. It took years.
Then there is the fact that after generations of being kept down & out of power, the Shia majority in Iraq started calling shots. And using US soldiers to shore up their power vs Sunni elements- now on the payroll, and truly crazed foreign jihadis who cared no more about Iraqi lives than we do. (By "we", I mean the USG. )
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, NONE of those circumstances apply.
Nor does the geography in any way equate.
Gography, like logistics, means more than acronyms & think tank "studies".
As I understand it- and I make no claims to expertise, Im a student, thats why Im here- any number of Pashtun Talibs would prefer a Pashtun- Karzai- president than someone from some other tribe AND the military & Intel branches are dominated by Haziris, no small thing. Right there is serious friction.
I dont see many parallels in real blood & bullets terms between the two countries. In fact, I see none, unless we put the Taliban on the payroll. Why not? We got the warlords who destroyed the country on the payroll.
We are reduced to stopgap tactics. The strategic goal has yet to be defined in real world terms.
The kid I did funeral escort for the other day (Im in a group called the Patriot Guard Riders) Paid for his life for this. As have countless- countless! Afghans.
We have killed enough. More than enough. Time to put away the magnifying glass & go home.


mutt: "You really want me to go find all of your old posts on Iraq on this blog, "....
I do! I do! Im playing catchup here........

Charles Bird, 2005:

June 28, 2005: Iraq and the Occasional Communicator:

The fact is that there are noticeable signs of progress, and the fact is that there are groups of terrorists and Baathists who are still wreaking havoc. What Bush needs to do is fight the daily news wave of casualty reports and suicide bombings, and regularly spell out the larger picture. He doesn't have to sugarcoat the present situation like Cheney did not too long ago. What he needs to do is tell the American people where we've been, the progress that's been made, where we are and where we're going to be. He needs to give the world a vision of a free, peaceful, non-theocratic and democratic Iraq.

November 18, 2005: Murtha's Loser-Defeatist Policy:

We have NOT done all we can. Murtha stated that "The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction." No we haven't, and we should not change toward Murtha's direction. We have thousands upon thousands of Iraqi troops to train, and our soldiers need to be there for that purpose. There are groups of Sunni paramilitary squads that need to be routed until the Iraqi troops are able to do it themselves. There is infrastructure that needs construction and reconstruction. Most importantly, the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Iraq is in Iraq, and irreconcilable terrorists need to either leave or die.

November 26, 2005: Iraq and Vietnam: Similarities and Differences:

The terrorists and paramilitarists have already lost this important front. Bombing police stations and employment queues did not dissuade enough Iraqis from signing up, and it is estimated that there will be 270,000 trained Iraqi forces by next August. Because of this, defeat of the terrorists and paramilitarists will be inevitable, if we have the gumption. Whereas Laird faced strong resistance from his Vietnamization policy, Bush does not.

mutt: "You really want me to go find all of your old posts on Iraq on this blog, "....
I do! I do! Im playing catchup here........

Charles Bird, 2006 and 2007

February 23, 2006: Did I Say Restraint? Oy:

Finally, this article has been around for a few days, but it shows how the U.S. military has been successfully adapting its operations in Iraq. For those who take the loser-defeatist position that U.S. troops have done all they can, well, they're dead wrong. No matter how cutting and running is reframed, the policy still remains defeatist.

February 25, 2006: CNN Misleading:

The good news--and the most important news--is that the number of Level 2 battalions has nearly tripled since last May, from 18 to 53. That means there are 40,000± Iraqi troops capable enough to competently fight and defeat terrorists and militant Sunni rejectionists, with the U.S. there to provide a little logistical support. But apparently to CNN, important information such as this is not important to them. Level 2 progress doesn't get mentioned until the 9th paragraph, fourth to last from the end. And we wonder why so Americans believe not just that we're losing, but that we've already lost.

January 26, 2007: The most important thing right now:

But despite my skepticism of the president, I do support Bush on the Petraeus plan to turn Iraq around, but under one condition: that al-Maliki be reasonably committed to it. I say this not because I have faith in Bush, but because I believe Petraeus is the best man for the job, and the general has literally written the book on counterinsurgency ops.

June 02, 2007: Tough month

There is no getting around the facts. In the month of May, civilian casualties went up, extra-judicial killings (EJKs) went up, and U.S. military casualties went up. The number of suicide bombings went down.

Either the airstrikes will abate, or they won't. Thus far, despite Petraues' supposed desire to scale them back, they haven't - even without the latest incident counted. I doubt this will change.

There have been a slew of recent stories about tightented up rules of engagement reducing airstrikes. Here are two
link
link

It's nice to see the numbers, thus far, are down from last year's peak. But the numbers thus far still project to be a vast increase over 2006. Is that enough? We'll see.

You're cherry-picking, Jes, and you're still a bald-faced liar. For one thing, I've said only one time that we've turned the corner, in April 2004, right before the four contractors were killed in Fallujah. When things were getting better, I said so, tempered with qualifying statements, and when things weren't going so well, I said so.

Eric, I think we're talking past each other. Tajik Taliban? Not quite. They've certainly allied with the Taliban. The Tajiks in Herat would be dealt with differently than Taliban in Helmand. I don't see the problem with saying that the Taliban are predominantly Pashtun and that different tactics are necessary depending on the local environment, or with saying that there's little difference between a Pashtun Talibaner on the Afghan side versus a Pashtun Talibaner on the Pakistani side.

Because the actual facts on the ground are very different.

mutt, only 6% of the Afghan people support the Taliban. You don't think that the people might be getting tired of them? They've already lived under their rule once, and it wasn't pretty. In terms of civilian casualties, the Taliban and al Qaeda are killing more of them 2-to-1. Where's the outrage about that?

Afghanistan is a different country with a different people and different geography, so different tactics would be necessary. But there's still an insurgency taking place, and to me, the best way to counter an insurgency is with a proper counterinsurgency strategy. I think we should give our president a chance to implement one.

Tajik Taliban? Not quite. They've certainly allied with the Taliban.

Yes, but they fall under the umbrella term, which is itself imprecise. Which is my point. Your link only supports my position.

there's little difference between a Pashtun Talibaner on the Afghan side versus a Pashtun Talibaner on the Pakistani side.

I won't repeat the many reasons why this formulation is overly simplistic and erroneous, but it is a familiar mistake that we are supposed to be breaking out of. If COIN is truly being implemented.

mutt, only 6% of the Afghan people support the Taliban.

That polling data is of dubious accuracy. To what extent did they gather information in the Pashtun belt? And if it's only 6%, does that really translate into the exceedingly difficult time we've had defeating them?

Again, wishful thinking.

Tajik Taliban? Not quite. They've certainly allied with the Taliban.

Yes, but they fall under the umbrella term, which is itself imprecise. Which is my point. Your link only supports my position.

there's little difference between a Pashtun Talibaner on the Afghan side versus a Pashtun Talibaner on the Pakistani side.

I won't repeat the many reasons why this formulation is overly simplistic and erroneous, but it is a familiar mistake that we are supposed to be breaking out of. If COIN is truly being implemented.

mutt, only 6% of the Afghan people support the Taliban.

That polling data is of dubious accuracy. To what extent did they gather information in the Pashtun belt? And if it's only 6%, does that really translate into the exceedingly difficult time we've had defeating them?

Again, wishful thinking.

Eric, I wonder if you might give your take on this blog post at Marc Ambinder's blog, by someone named D B Grady that gives a contra position.

Which part? The author is not arguing that the Taliban are unpopular in the Pashtun belt.

Check out nir rosen:

https://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/23612315/how_we_lost_the_war_we_won

Or here for a more recent assessment:

https://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/1/nir_rosen_on_the_growing_afghanistan

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