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March 13, 2009

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More importantly, if Pakistan can't control these same forces and issues within its own borders when they clearly have a much better understanding of the culture and language then we can ever hope to gain, and have significantly more men and combat power available for the task, and significantly more riding on the outcome, how can we hope to do it from abroad?

You would think that when a nuclear power has autonomous zones within its own border because it cannot impose its will, it might be a warning sign that this is not something we can jump in and solve.

But we think that we can get the Afghan Army to the point that it can do what Pakistan can't.

It seems really unlikely to me.

And you still don't want to think about the issue of the US military torturing prisoners, and Obama condoning it, because that raises questions you don't want to answer about whether Gates is any kind of good to the US as Defense Secretary.

Well, it's Friday night and I managed to mellow out between now and my last comment: so I'll take the privilege of not being in a cage at Guantanamo Bay, waiting for the next torture session under Obama's regime, and just... try not to think about how we all hoped Obama really meant it when he said he wanted change.

Spencer Ackerman has some good links here. And Ambinder says a review of Afghanistan policy is nearly complete.

"You would think that when a nuclear power has autonomous zones within its own border because it cannot impose its will, it might be a warning sign that this is not something we can jump in and solve."

Pakistan's nukes don't seem relevant; what, they're going to threaten to nuke Waziristan?

Neither does Pakistan seem to have conducted any sort of COIN; their notion of ops so far seems to be to haul in artillery, pound the hell out of villages with insurgents, then call it a victory and a day, and withdraw.

Needless to say, this isn't terribly effective, especially when it also usually involves getting a bunch of their convoys ambushed, and their raw recruits sliced and diced.

I'm not saying Pakistan performing COIN is the right way to go, but I am saying that they certainly can't be reasonably said to have tried it yet, for the most part. So far as I can tell.

jrudkis,
I tend to think that Pakistan has not been able to control those forces because it has been advantageous to maintain/tolerate them for leverage, which include military aid from the US, as well as claiming that they are forced into the positions they are in because they are having to deal with these forces. You've had demonstrations by lawyers and judges, and the presence of fundamentalism has often been invoked as a rationale for why they shouldn't be against the government.

Pakistan's nukes don't seem relevant; what, they're going to threaten to nuke Waziristan?

I am not suggesting that they use the nukes, just that Pakistan is a technologically advanced nation. Though I understand that is not clear in what I wrote.

I'm not saying Pakistan performing COIN is the right way to go, but I am saying that they certainly can't be reasonably said to have tried it yet, for the most part. So far as I can tell.

Since it is Pakistan operating on its own, I agree that Pakistan is not performing COIN in the way the US means to implement it, because we operate through the host nation. However, Pakistan is effectively performing COIN in a way that mirrors what we hope to do in Afghanistan in that Pakistan is the indigenous force: it is Pakistanis that are doing the fighting and work. A primary tenet of COIN for the US is that the host nation doing something poorly is better than US forces doing something well. Another is that sometimes doing nothing is the best option. So what we are seeing in Pakistan is probably best case scenario for COIN in Afghanistan.

Pakistan may be more heavy handed in its application of force than we would want to use, but it also seems that Pakistan does not always respond with force, have negotiated with tribes, and are engaged in finding ways to solve the problem without simply killing the population.

And I think Pakistan is focused on the political solution rather than a kinetic/military one, because there is a threat to Pakistan that operations could cause significant civil unrest. They just have not found a solution.

"And I think Pakistan is focused on the political solution rather than a kinetic/military one, because there is a threat to Pakistan that operations could cause significant civil unrest. They just have not found a solution."

From what I read, they're going for the worst of both worlds: military ops that cause great unrest, without being successful, and political solutions that simply give the fundamentalists what they want.

I hope I'm misled by what I read.

LJ,

You may be right that the Pakistani Government could solve this but are using it for other purposes. That seems very dangerous to me: I would rather battle lawyers and judges than the Taliban any day.

Maybe Hilzoy will pop in and give us some insight, since she seems to have a lot of Pakistani experience.

jrudkis,
I don't want to suggest that it will be easy, and I do agree that they have been playing with fire. The military seems compromised, they've lost a lot of domestic support to deal with various issues because they have rung the bell too many times, and the number of sympathetic observers/participants is probably a very short list. Being the liberal that I am, I'd say that in some ways, what has happened in Pakistan mirrors what happened in the US post 9-11, with the Bush administration holding out the threat of extremism to invoke a lot of measures that seemed to people like me, more an attempt to institutionalize power than to deal with the threat. (I realize that this is a pointed comparison, and I want to say that it is not directed against you, it just illustrates a political dynamic that can arise in situations like this)

The main thing going in Pakistan right now is the Sharif/Zardari escalating confrontation. Zardari is increasingly unpopular, and increasingly compared to Musharraf. It seems to be both personality-based, and based on Zardari being perceived as overly a U.S. tool, who has refused to restore to office the Justices that Musharraf removed, among other issues.

More on that here Gary:

http://americanfootprints.com/drupal/node/4339

That sounds right.

Wish I could remember where are the various articles I've read in recent days on the situation, but I don't feel like looking though my rather long history records at the moment.

Matt Yglesias had a decent post here, though.

I'm disappointed that Jes doesn't care whether US troops are removed from Iraq or not.

I do not think that Pakistan can deal with this problem at present. However, I think that the reason is not the intractibility of the problem -- though it is incredibly difficult -- but the fact that there is no unified thing called "Pakistan", or more specifically "the Pakistani government", that can just adopt a set of priorities and act on them.

Pakistan has the following horrible problems (dealing here just with the ones that are most directly relevant to the present question, and not equally serious ones like horrendous poverty): (a) a more or less total lack of civilian leaders who are willing to put the good of the country above their own interests; (b) a more or less total lack of unity among those civilian leaders it has; (c) a military that has consistently intervened when it thinks it has to, and might again, though my sense is that they're not at all eager to do so just now, having been burned by the Musharraf experience, but that they always, always, retain this possibility as a useful threat; (d) truly mind-boggling levels of corruption, which would hugely impede the government's ability to do anything it set its mind to, supposing it could set its mind to anything; (e) an interlocking set of threats, including not just India/Jammu and Kashmir and the Pak. Taliban, but also, e.g., the rebellion in Baluchistan; (f) people who are attached to the non-resolution of these conflicts for reasons of their own (e.g., the military has a vested interest in Kashmir not being resolved), etc., etc., etc.

That being the case, I think it's wrong to think of "Pakistan" as adopting a course of action and failing to achieve its objectives. It's better to think: the Pakistani government is composed of zillions of people with their own agendas, over which any given government has only minimal control; and when "the government" adopts some course of action, that means that someone capable of speaking in the name of the government is trying to attach the government's name to that course of action, but not that "the government" as a whole -- including the military, the intel services, etc. -- is working towards it, or even not taking very serious action to thwart it.

One implication of this is: the problem of the Pakistani Taliban, and the problem of AQ's safe havens in Pakistan, might be soluble by a unified government. At any rate, we have no evidence to the contrary. Thus, I think the argument "they haven't solved it; how could we?" does not work, as it stands.

But I don't think it follows from this that we should conclude that we can solve this problem. If we are not willing to e.g. occupy Pakistan, which would be a mistake even more mind-numbing than we've made to date, we have to work through that very same fractured, corrupt government. Any problems it has dealing with this problem just are problems for us dealing with this problem.

...wipe out the poppy crop...

Just to pick on this one little piece... What do you propose to replace this with? Here is a crop which is readily exportable and generates hard cash income in rural portions of the country. From what I have read, alternate crops (eg, food for domestic consumption) are harder to grow and much less profitable.

Note that I am not saying anything good about the illicit drug trade. Only that if one or more developed countries, unable to solve their problem with domestic demand for the product, are going to "solve" the problem at the supply end in an undeveloped country, there would seem to be some obligation to have a serious plan for controlling the damage to the local economy.

Michael: I'm actually not suggesting that should be an essential goal at this stage. I was merely reciting the goals laid out in the CNAS paper.

Hilzoy,

Thanks for the explanation and perspective. I can see why there is not a direct correlation between what Pakistan has been doing and what we would want to do.

However, it still seems to me that Afghanistan has many of the same or similar problems without the benefit of Pakistan's economy, technology, educated population, and governmental organizations. While Pakistan's organizations work at cross purposes, they at least exist.

So I suppose it is a strained argument, but still potentially instructive as to the likelihood of success in the region.

Surge in Iraq* by Bush – hopeless, ineffective, and totally unable to give it any credit even after the fact…

Surge in Afghanistan by Obama – hey, that might just work!

Snark aside Eric, I’d be interested to know what factors unique to Afghanistan make you optimistic that more troops might help there when you refuse to credit the Iraq surge with helping (much) at all.

My hope is that those troops are meant to tilt the battlefield in our favor temporarily, and add extra protection to the Afghan population, as part of a last ditch effort to create an advantageous position from which to negotiate with those Taliban factions that can be brought into the fold - and convince those factions that gravitate to the strongest power.

Seems to me that is pretty much what the surge in Iraq accomplished…

I don’t know if it will work as a strategy or not. I think it will, but I just don’t know. I think it is necessary, but I don’t know I agree with Obama on this (or Bush before him). What I do know is that our Army is broken. Badly broken. We now have soldiers who have done seven combat tours. Seven! That is incomprehensible to me. I’ve only held 2 civilian jobs for that long and there were no bullets flying (most days anyway).

So I think that if you support a surge anywhere you should also support a draft (I do not) or at least doubling the salary and benefits of those willing to take this sh!t on.

What we have instead is Hey! – maybe wounded soldiers should pay for their healthcare…

*I was against it. I think it worked out and I was wrong, as I am so often.

What I do know is that our Army is broken. Badly broken.

See lowered standards and involuntary extensions. It’s a frackin’ mess and if I was in now I would be looking to get out anyway I could. Not deserting, no Canada for me. I would just want out at the first opportunity. Set aside an entire afternoon and read that blog I linked…

What I do know is that our Army is broken. Badly broken.

The Army is in bad shape and needs a rest, but I don't think broken is exactly right. In part, it appears that the economy is "healing" some of the organizational, recruiting, and retention issues.

And while the price has been high, the tactical and under-fire experience for our current leaders has made the Army better in a way that a peacetime army can't reach. It just needs some time to heal and digest those lessons.

Additionally, the Army has equipment now that has existed for 20 years (or at least the technology did) but was never invested in: the war as a catalyst for investing in communications, anti-fratricide, armor, etc. has put the Army in a better position going forward, even though much of the heavy combat equipment has now been used to the point of replacement.

But I am all in favor of an across the board raise for soldiers. I think a 5 or 10 thousand dollar bump across the board would do wonders for retention, obviate a reason to consider a draft, and put soldiers in a financial position so they don't feel like chumps after all the hardship.

"Surge in Iraq* by Bush – hopeless, ineffective, and totally unable to give it any credit even after the fact…"

Who are you referring to with that latter, Steve?

"Seems to me that is pretty much what the surge in Iraq accomplished…"

Except the negotiating with the Sunnis took place before the surge.

Uh oh ...
"Pakistani opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has been placed under house arrest, officials have said."

To be clear: Sharif is no rose. But neither is anyone else, and there has been altogether too much imprisoning of political opponents (or worse) in Pakistan's history.

So I think that if you support a surge anywhere you should also support a draft (I do not) or at least doubling the salary and benefits of those willing to take this sh!t on.

I agree with some of this. For one, I have consistently written in favor of increased benefits, pay and health coverage for soldiers/vets. Fewer tax cuts for gazillionaires, and better benefits for vets.

Second, I don't fully support the surge of troops to Afghanistan. My hope is that it's a last ditch effort and not the part of a larger trend. And I can see a stronger argument for it than in Iraq.

Seems to me that is pretty much what the surge in Iraq accomplished…

I think I see where you're coming from, but there are a few problems: As Gary noted, the Awakenings policy was being pursued before the surge of troops. The surge of troops didn't do much to tilt the battlefield and convince Sunni militants - they were already convinced. Further, the successes thus far (tenuous and limited as they have been) have been attributable to the Awakenings, Sadr cease fire and effects of past sectarian cleansing/the erection of barriers in Baghdad - not the surged troops.

In Afghanistan, there are a few differences: One, the amount of troops added is actually a significant increase. It's over a 50% increase in our presence. The surge in Iraq was much smaller. And if the Afghan increase is for the sole purpose of creating an environment for negotiations ahead of departure, then that's a scaled-back and perhaps attainable goal.

The surge in Iraq was not that. The surge in Iraq was sold as a means of fostering political reconciliation. The surge wasn't sold as the pursuit of an Awakenings strategy because we didn't really need more troops for that.

But the Awakenings strategy made sense - and although I was skeptical at first, and am still concerned that it could blow up in our faces - there was a logic to trying it.

I had been calling for a similar approach for quite a while before the surge. It's classic disaggregation under COIN doctrine (recognizing the different underlying objectives of militant groups, and addressing each separately and, hopefully, thereby satisfying the needs of some amenable factions and removing them from violent opposition).

So part of the issue might be semantic: I opposed the surge of troops in Iraq and don't think it did much, but I supported the Awakenings strategy and think there has been some success out of it.

As I wrote a couple weeks back of disaggregation in Iraq:

Disaggregation offered the only viable means available to us for stabilizing the situation in Iraq (not the surge of troops, as is commonly misinterpreted). We weren't going to be able to keep fighting all militant groups, nor would the Iraqi government be able to persist for long without a broader support in the population at large. By working with various Iraqi Islamist and/or insurgent groups, the US has helped create an imperfect and tenuous momentum in the direction of stability.

In Iraq we had willing Sunni groups that we could disaggregate from the insurgencies and address their needs (the fear is that we haven't addressed their needs long term, and neither has Maliki, and so we have just suspended some of the violence).

In Afghanistan, we don't have such willingness to the same extent. By drastically increasing our troop levels, we might be able to increase population protection to woo those groups that favor the Taliban out of fear of a more everpresent Taliban. And we might be able to strike at other Taliban factions in order to change the calculus of fighting us.

After that, hopefully we'll have some groups looking to be disaggregated. But it's a long shot, and it is crucial that we stick to one overriding goal with respect to both our Iraq and Afghanistan strategies: getting out in a swift and orderly fashion.

jrudkis: The Army is in bad shape and needs a rest, but I don't think broken is exactly right. In part, it appears that the economy is "healing" some of the organizational, recruiting, and retention issues.

True – but standards are lower. Do you want to deal with gang-bangers, overweight unfit soldiers, etc. in your squad/platoon/company?

And while the price has been high, the tactical and under-fire experience for our current leaders has made the Army better in a way that a peacetime army can't reach.

This I agree with totally – but the cost – God the cost…

But I am all in favor of an across the board raise for soldiers. I think a 5 or 10 thousand dollar bump across the board would do wonders for retention, obviate a reason to consider a draft, and put soldiers in a financial position so they don't feel like chumps after all the hardship.

Agreed 100%.


Gary: Who are you referring to with that latter, Steve?

Eric – just busting on him because he never seems to want to credit the surge in Iraq at all yet now seems (?) to support this new surge in Afghanistan…


Eric: For one, I have consistently written in favor of increased benefits, pay and health coverage for soldiers/vets. Fewer tax cuts for gazillionaires, and better benefits for vets.

To your credit IMO you have. Agreed.

As Gary noted, the Awakenings policy was being pursued before the surge of troops. The surge of troops didn't do much to tilt the battlefield and convince Sunni militants - they were already convinced. Further, the successes thus far (tenuous and limited as they have been) have been attributable to the Awakenings, Sadr cease fire and effects of past sectarian cleansing/the erection of barriers in Baghdad - not the surged troops.

Well, this is where we disagree. So, we’ll still disagree… ;)

In Afghanistan, there are a few differences: One, the amount of troops added is actually a significant increase. It's over a 50% increase in our presence. The surge in Iraq was much smaller. And if the Afghan increase is for the sole purpose of creating an environment for negotiations ahead of departure, then that's a scaled-back and perhaps attainable goal.

OK – I think this is a valid point. Thank you for making it as I had not considered it.

For the record, and as a bit of a modification of my prior position, I should credit the increase in troops in Iraq with facilitating some of the moves already under way vis-a-vis the Awakenings - and perhaps even the targeting of the Sadrists.

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