Call off the drones

Bird Dog's picture

In a piece a couple of Sundays ago by a Pakistani BBC correspondent on how the Pakistanis are caving to the Taliban, these paragraphs popped out:

In Swat, I heard the same story again and again: Before the peace deal, soldiers would stop people at checkpoints and say, "Don't go that way, the Taliban are slitting someone's throat." But they wouldn't intercede to stop the throat-slitting.

The problem, as many see it, is that there's no alternative. Yes, the Taliban routinely place near the bottom of opinion polls, and in elections they garner less than 10 percent of the vote. But we seem to be an exhausted society, incapable of rising to this challenge.

When we look overseas for support, we are confronted by the Americans demanding that we oppose the Taliban even as U.S. drones continue to kill impoverished civilians in the remote-controlled hunt for Taliban officials and the latest al-Qaeda No. 3. There is not a single Pakistani who supports these attacks or the way they are being conducted. They have made being pro-American radioactive. And they have also made opposing the Taliban that much more difficult.

Australian military advisor David Kilcullen has a similar take on drones.
Kilcullen's objection to the U.S. strategy isn't moral (he doesn't mind killing "bad guys") or legal (most legal scholars consider "targeted killing" acceptable under the law of war because Al Qaeda and the Taliban are at war with the United States). Kilcullen's objection is practical. He says the strikes are creating more enemies than they eliminate.

"I realize that they do damage to the Al Qaeda leadership," he told the House Armed Services Committee. But that, he said, was not enough to justify the program. "Since 2006, we've killed 14 senior Al Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period, we've killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular. They are deeply aggravating to the population. And they've given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around the extremists and leads to spikes of extremism. ... The current path that we are on is leading us to loss of Pakistani government control over its own population."

Another problem, Kilcullen says, is that "using robots from the air ... looks both cowardly and weak."

In the Pashtun tribal culture of honor and revenge, face-to-face combat is seen as brave; shooting people with missiles from 20,000 feet is not. And besides, Kilcullen says, "There are other ways to do it."

While a Taliban tactician said the drone attacks were "effective", which was what Max Boot keyed on, the Pashtun also said this:
He acknowledged that the Americans would have far superior forces and power this year, but was confident that the Taliban could turn this advantage on its head. "The Americans cannot take control of the villages," he said. "In order to expel us they will have to resort to aerial bombing, and then they will have more civilian casualties."

Translation: The drone attacks work militarily but they fail politically. Since we cannot win this War Against Militant Islamism by military means alone, the drone attacks help us win the skirmishes but help us lose the larger conflict. Kilcullen didn't specify what those "other ways" are for taking out militant Islamists, but utilize them we should. The Taliban and al Qaeda and related groups know how to exploit the media, and the drone attacks have become propaganda opportunities. The latest from the New York Times is an example:
Chanting "Death to America" and hurling rocks, hundreds gathered Thursday in western Afghanistan to protest American airstrikes that Afghan officials and villagers said had killed many civilians, threatening to stiffen Afghan opposition to the war just as the Obama administration is sending 20,000 more troops.

The PR toothpaste is out of the media tube. It won't matter if we find out later that no civilians died at the hands of the Americans, the damage is done. The Afghan government is undermined and the American presence is made more difficult. Does this mean that I support the complete elimination of drones? No. Close air support with ground troops remains essential to combating this insurgency*, but just as important--and perhaps more so--are good information operations. We turned the corner on IO in Iraq, but it is clear that we are lagging in Afghanistan.

And speaking of insurgencies, Malcolm Gladwell has a fascinating piece on basketball and warfare. Specifically, he tells the tale of how an inferior girls basketball team was able to defeat their opponents. This excerpt caught my eye:

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. "I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it," he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, "even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t."

I'm sure there's a few lessons in there about insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.

* As noted in the NYT article, the civilian deaths occurred at the hands of Special Forces, and they had called in close air support. However, Special Forces doesn't do COIN, which to me is a problem. Herschel Smith has posts here and here about how Special Forces ops have been counterproductive to our effort.


"I think the vice president misrepresented what the vice president wanted to say."

--Robert Gibbs

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Who is the David and who the Goliath in Afpak, IYO? -nt-

mmghosh's picture


freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

In terms of firepower,

Bird Dog's picture

the Davids are the Taliban and affiliated groups. They're a collection of guys with beards and gunes. The Pakistani army and Afghan-NATO forces are the Goliaths. In terms of non-conventional tactics, the edge goes to the Taliban.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

So why, exactly, is the US fighting this war? - nt-

mmghosh's picture


freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency


Zelig's picture

Secondarily, there's also group psychology at work. When craven cowards find themselves rubbing shoulders together, there is this psychotic group need that often asserts itself; the need to dominate and control others.

Me: We! -- Ali

Sure, there's LOTS of oil in Aghanistan

Bird Dog's picture

To answer Manish's question, it became a war when the Taliban instigated an insurgency. Prior to that, we were trying to help the Afghans create a stable representative republic. It is in our nation's interests to not have the Taliban return to power. They had their chance.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

the role of natural resources


There's a story here about the role of natural resources in Afghanistan:

We will never know what a Soviet-dominated development of Afghanistan would have looked like, because they were never able to quell the insurgency there. Three years after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the Soviet Union collapsed, bringing the possibility of the West developing the oil and natural gas deposits of the former Soviet republics ringing the Caspian Sea, even as Afghanistan slid into a brutal civil war.

The Western interest in Caspian energy would prove fateful for Afghanistan, as any consideration of developing its indigenous assets evaporated after September 1996, when the Taliban captured Kabul.

Afghanistan was now to be turned into a transit corridor, with the proposed $3.5 billion, 1,050-mile Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (initially "TAP," now "TAPI" with the inclusion of Pakistan and India). TAPI was under development even before the Taliban captured Kabul, as in 1995 Turkmenistan and Pakistan initialed a memorandum of understanding.

TAPI, with a carrying capacity of 33 billion cubic meters of Turkmen natural gas a year, would run from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad gas field across Afghanistan and Pakistan and terminate at the northwestern Indian town of Fazilka.

Of course, TAPI would require the assent of the Taliban, and in 1997 the Central Asia Gas Pipeline Ltd. consortium, led by U.S. company Unocal, flew a Taliban delegation to Unocal headquarters in Houston, where the Taliban signed off on the project.

But then the Taliban made the fatal mistake of offering sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, and in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the country was invaded and the Taliban were driven from power.

With the overthrow of the Taliban, new possibilities seemed to open up, but these were quickly dashed, as the Bush administration continued to pursue a military option largely to the exclusion of everything else.

In a grotesque demonstration of the administration's post-Taliban priorities for Afghanistan, in 2002 the U.S. Geological Survey requested $70 million from the U.S. Department of State to reassess Afghanistan's water and mineral resources, oil, gas, coal, earthquake hazards, infrastructure development and training. The State Department offered less than 10 percent of the requested funding, and what was given was solely for oil and gas.

Thirteen years after it was first proposed, TAPI is still under discussion. As for the USGS, its personnel have been diverted to the search for Taliban and al-Qaida guerrillas in Afghanistan's more than 10,000 caves.

War in Afghanistan, by the way, didn't start with Taleban resistance to the NATO invasion. There has been almost continuous conflict there now for some 30 years.

You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it. - Ho Chi Minh


Bird Dog's picture

Unocal bailed out of the gas deal in 1998, and they never returned.

The irony here is that the U.S. was initially criticized for supporting the Taliban in order to get a gas deal done, then we were criticized for taking out the Taliban in order to get a gas deal done.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

never returning?


I don't see the irony. The US wants a stable Afghanistan as an energy corridor - with or without the Taleban. As I understand the Taleban were not so keen on the deal, and that is why Unocal pulled out. As for never returning, are you so sure? I don't doubt that the US hoped their replacements would be more amenable. Indeed, Karzai, the president is supposedly connected with Unocal, though he denies it.

Global security says this:

Several sources, most notably the documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11, have reported that Karzai once worked as a consultant for the oil company Unocal. Spokesmen for both Unocal and Karzai have denied any such relationship. The claim appears to have originated in the December 9, 2001 issue of the French newspaper Le Monde. Some have suggested that Karzai was confused with U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.

The emboldened sentence is particularly rich, isn't it? I don't know if this is too communistic for you, but sourcewatch has this to say about Khalilzad:

Zalmay Khalilzad served as an advisor to the giant oil company Unocal during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. While working for the Cambridge Energy Research Associates in the mid 1990s, Khalilzad conducted risk analyses for Unocal for a proposed 890-mile, $2-billion, 1.9-billion-cubic-feet-per-day natural gas pipeline project which would have extended from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. In 1997, Khalilzad "joined Unocal officials at a reception for an invited Taliban delegation to Texas."

You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it. - Ho Chi Minh

Reading comprehension

Bird Dog's picture

There is a difference between "never returning" and "have never returned". Unocal left the deal in '98 and have never returned, which is a basic fact.

I don't doubt that U.S. energy companies were interested in a gas pipeline that ran from the Caspian Sea to India, but none are involved in the latest deal, and it makes ridiculous Zelig's lame thesis that the "primary reason" for our going into Afghanistan was because of OIL, or petroleum products, or something. How exactly has America (or American oil companies) become enriched by invading Afghanistan and maintaining a presence? There is no evidence. Wouldn't it make sense that, if the U.S. government really were interested in exploiting Afghanistan's natural resources and taking advantage of Afghanistan's location as a pipeline route, that something--anything--would've actually gotten done after almost eight years? Your own link shows that we haven't seriously pursued any such thing.

Your own link did show a nation that was interested in profiting financially from its occupation of another country, and that nation was the Soviet Union. Zelig's thesis may have actually had some validity had he said that the primary reason for the Soviet invasion was for oil, but I guess it's hard to see that when you're wearing pinko-colored glasses.

The more obvious reason for our being in Afghanistan was because the Taliban harbored a group that murdered 3,000 men, women and children on American soil (and the other primary reason is to prevent such a regime from ever returning to power), but that would be just too much common sense for the conspiracy nuts out there.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

I just quoted


I just quoted that the American ambassador to Afghanistan worked with Unocal exactly on the issue of the Afghanistan pipeline, and as soon as he arrived there, he secured the permission of the Afghan government to build a pipeline. If Unocal is not there now constructing a pipeline, I think this tells us more about the stability of the nation than the intentions of the company or the US strategic goals.

Let me repeat this again. There won't be any work on any pipeline as long as there is anything like the current level of violence and instability in Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union didn't need Afghanistan as an energy corridor. The Caspian basin which holds the large amount of petro resource reserves is closer to Russia than is Afghanistan.

As for the primary reason, that is a good question. It doesn't really make sense to me to pick out one and hold it above the others. At some level, the anti-American militancy, the heroin, and the oil are all linked. Seeing the links only requires you to dig a little deeper. Deeper than the ludicrously superficial 'debunkings' at slate and the bbc that you found so persuasive.

The 9/11 connection is the easy answer, but it's too easy. The Arab-Afghans were not there in Afghanistan at the invitation of the Taleban, which didn't even exist when they started coming, but rather through the machinations of Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and America. The US promoted Islamism as a foil to communism. I've never heard it said anywhere that the Taleban had any part in the 9/11 attacks. This sudden revulsion for the Taleban is suspicious to me, especially as the other nations I named all continue to enjoy good relations with the US.

You think Afghanistan was invaded as a part of the war on terror. A defensible hypothesis but what does the evidence tell you? If you look, you'll see that instead of diminishing, terror attacks have increased since the invasion. Not only in Afghanistan, but around the Muslim world. This should lead you question your hypothesis.

You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it. - Ho Chi Minh

Superficial debunkings?

Bird Dog's picture

What the Slate piece showed was the superficiality of the "it's all about oil" conspiracy theorists.

As with virtually all conspiracy theories, the obvious answers are the best answers. The U.S. removed the Taliban because the clerics gave safe harbor to a group that was responsible for murdering thousands of Americans in cold blood, and the Taliban stonewalled when we demanded that al Qaeda be turned over. Any other reasons were secondary.

You're parsing when you say that the Taliban didn't "invite" al Qaeda. They allowed this terrorist group to go there and train there, and they gave them safe harbor. I don't see any suddenness in the revulsion of the Taliban. They've been revolting since the 1990s.

As for the numbers of terrorist attacks since 9/11, so what? To me, this is evidence that there are committed religious extremists who continue to fight their holy war, and it's evidence that some of our efforts have worked and others have not. If oil was an issue, where's the money? We're going to have a $1.85 trillion budget deficit this year, and I don't see any oil money coming from Iraq or Afghanistan that will soften that blow.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

The Great Game


What is this Taleban stonewalling? I remember asking before about this and it appears that the Taleban asked the US to turn over the evidence it had against al Qaeda. None was forth coming and the negotiations between the two nations stalled. The case against al Qaeda still hasn't been made. You claimed last time that the tortured confessions of Khalid Shiekh Mohammad established the role of al Qaeda in 9/11, but he wasn't captured until 2003, well after the invasion of Afghanistan. I believe that the US was determined to go to war to remove the Taleban, but the story of their role in the 9/11 may be obvious, but it simply doesn't withstand scrutiny.

I think you should go back and look at how the Afghan Arabs got there. They weren't invited by the Taleban and if anyone hosted them, it was Pakistan, who trained them for terror actions, largely in Kashmir. After America invaded, plane loads of these fighters took off for the safety of Pakistan, as bin Laden similarly fled from Tora Bora - to Pakistan.

I still think oil is important. The US is the only nation on earth that can print green pieces of paper and exchange them for oil. Other nations don't have this luxury. They have to work, and produce something of value if they want oil. It's a system that serves the US very well and is worth fighting to preserve. Part of this fight is need to control central asia - a continuation of 'The Great Game.' I see Afghanistan in this context. That probably sounds hopelessly conspiratorial to you, but, unlike your take, it has the merit of grounding this conflict in economic terms.

You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it. - Ho Chi Minh

Yes, they stonewalled

Bird Dog's picture

And the administration was expecting that the Taliban would stonewall. The Taliban's asking for evidence and their offer to turn al Qaeda leaders over to a neutral country was a sham. It was a stonewall. Because they refused to cooperate after a blatant act of war--which was their choice--they lost their regime. The 9/11 Report well established that we knew al Qaeda did it in very short order, and we had plenty of intelligence on hand at the time of the attacks.

The confessions of KSM didn't "establish" that al Qaeda did it. His confessions were confirmation of what we already knew within days after the attacks.

Third, I think you're understating al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Their fleeing to Pakistan has to mean that they fled from somewhere else, namely Afghanistan, which is where bin Laden headquartered his operation.

Fourth, I think you're overstating your thesis that the Taliban didn't "invite" al Qaeda to Afghanistan. I don't see how an invitation is relevant. Al Qaeda operatives went to Afghanistan and the Taliban gave them safe haven. In December 2001, if they wanted to live to fight another day, Pakistan was the best available option.

Finally, I don't disagree with you that oil is important, but I do disagree that a gas pipeline deal was the reason for invading, or that building a 1,600-mile gas pipeline was co-equal casus belli with the 9/11 attacks. I can't think of a single example of where we've gone to war in order to secure a business deal.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

I wasn't aware


I wasn't aware that it was established that bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. I've pointed out before that the FBI makes no such allegation against him, though they finger him as the mastermind of terror attacks against the US embassies in Africa.

I also can't see how asking for evidence against those whom you would extradite is a sham. I'm not familiar with such cases, but I would think that it perfectly routine. If the US had followed routine, it's conceivable that bin Laden et al would be in custody today. If that's what they wanted, and it's not clear this is the case.

The invitation is relevant. The Arab Afghans came through the machinations of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and the United States. "Al Qaeda" means "the base" ie the data base that anti communist intelligence agencies had on these fighters. In no way were the Taleban involved in their formation - they were an indigenous group. When they took over Afghanistan al Qaeda stayed on, training militants for operations in Kashmir, China and the West. They were still under control of the intelligence agencies, as I understand it, and not the Taleban. The Taleban did, from all I've heard, essentially eradicate opium production while they ruled. They can be condemned for not shutting down and expelling the terror camps. I'm sure some within their number were fully supportive of the al Qaeda agenda, but I'm sure also that outside pressure and support, in the absence of concerted outside efforts to the contrary, kept the camps operating.

To attack Afghanistan as the 'host of al Qaeda' I think is a distortion of the relationship. It was incidental. We can look on both as creatures of these intelligence agencies, mostly Pakistan, but also the US if you want to dig deeply. In any case, the issue of 'hosting' misses the point. Al Qaeda, a non state actor, has no headquarters.

I think launching a war, for whatever reason, requires at least a little deep digging, but I don't see much evidence of this. What exactly is the role of the US and its more disreputable allies in creating and using terror groups? A difficult question for those determined to fight a war on terror. Much more convenient to blame the Taleban who 'hosted' them.

You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it. - Ho Chi Minh

Dishonest straw man argument.

Zelig's picture

I said the primary reason for occupying Afghanistan is OIL, and to expand a bit, other petroleum products, and due our country's addiction to said substances.

I did not say that there is a lot of oil in Afghanistan. But you knew that, didn't you?

Me: We! -- Ali

Again, what oil in Afghanistan?

Bird Dog's picture

Since there is no oil of note in Afghanistan, your statement makes no sense. Why don't you try explaining yourself without impugning the honesty of my argument. Afghanistan was supposed to be the "good war" for Democrats because oil isn't an issue there.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009



Afghanistan was a "good war" because we had direct cause to intervene there when the local regime harbored the perpetrators of 9/11.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes


Bird Dog's picture

Tell that to Zelig.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

I thought that pipeline was going to India.


Are you saying we fought a war just to give India gas?

I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems scary and weird. It'll happen to you.—Abraham Simpson

Posting rules

Bird Dog's picture

For that "dishonest" crap you keep pulling.

The pipeline was never casus belli for Afghanistan. BBC is one report out of many which explains. The relevant quotes:

Flawed theory
This line of argument falls down on a number of points.

It is undeniably true that the Central Asian republics do have very significant reserves of gas and oil, and that they have been having difficulty in getting them on to the world market on conditions favourable to them.

Until recently Russia had an almost total monopoly of export pipelines, and was demanding a high price, in economic and political terms, for their use.

But it simply is not true that Afghanistan is the main alternative to Russia.

On the contrary, very few western politicians or oil companies have taken Afghanistan seriously as a major export route - for the simple reason that few believe Afghanistan will ever achieve the stability needed to ensure a regular and uninterrupted flow of oil and gas.

There have been exceptions, of course, like Unocal and the Argentine company Bridas.

The main proponents of the Afghan pipeline idea, however, apart from the Taleban regime itself and its backers in Pakistan, was the government of the eccentric Turkmen President Saparmyrat Niyazov, known as "Turkmenbashi".

Caucasus route
The West, in contrast, and particularly the US, has put almost all its efforts into developing a major new route from the Caspian through Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Black Sea.

This had the potential advantage (from a western point of view) of bypassing Russia and Iran, and breaking their monopoly of influence in the region - allowing the states of the Caucasus (Georgia, Azerbaijan and possibly Armenia) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) to develop a more balanced, independent foreign policy.

You're employing a red herring, based on mindless conspiracy theory, spewed out by the usual cast of fringie left-wing suspects, and right-wing if you insist on citing anything from the crackpot Lew Rockwell site.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

And, the DISHONEST straw man...

Zelig's picture

...arguments keep on coming! Yea, I'm not thrilled about linking to, but what the heck. I don't "insist" on quoting the site, but there it is.

I'm simply shocked, I tell ya, that the BBC would allow a reporter to write a story that would discredit this argument. After all, the Brits don't have a dog in this fight, now do they.

Nope. The oil companies need more product, and Afghanistan is part of the geopolitical puzzle.

Then there's the heroin trade. The primary economic effect of invading Afghanistan has been the re-establishment of opium production. Agreed? The Taliban had reduced output levels to virtually zero, and now, after just a few years, record setting crops are now being produced. Why would the US and British invading forces allow the re-establishment of the opium crop?

Answer: Somebody is profiting off of this, and for whatever reasons, the US is allowing these profits to be made. We NEED our SMACK.

Me: We! -- Ali


Bird Dog's picture

It's not just Lew Rockwell and his Crackpottery Barn of conspiracy nuts. Your other sources are chock full of wingbats and loopy loos. But hey, it's not my credibility at issue here. It's yours.

But to get to the substance, your only response to my BBC report is that it's somehow wrong. Well, why is it wrong?

As for the heroin trade, the Taliban is making $300 million a year from it (cite). Why would the U.S. government "allow" these whackjobs--our enemies, mind you--to profit from this?

EDIT: Here's some forensic journalism on how an idiot conspiracy theory gets started, mostly by idiot left-wing conspiracy theorists.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009


Zelig's picture

First, why is the BBC report wrong? Well, why do you think it's right? You like this report because it supports your position, I don't because it doesn't support mine.

I don't trust the BBC, or the NY Times, for that matter. As to annual income from opium production being "up to $300 million"... well I didn't notice any attempt to source that figure, and "up to $300 million" has been my projected annual salary for the last 20 years. Now, my income has never exceeded that figure, damn it, but I've come awfully close a number of times. (Depending, of course, on how we choose to define the term "close" in this context.)

Even though I have no opinion one way or another about that $300 million dollar figure, let's assume for a second that it's an accurate estimate. That number is dwarfed by the estimated $0.6-6 Trillion in profits generated by the opium trade once the drug has left Afghanistan. These unseen profits were disrupted by the Taliban, and our invasion has, for the moment at least, restored those Trillions in ill gotten profits. (Where did I get my estimate? The same place as the NY Times reporter got his.)

Even with the new "Obama Surge", we won't have half the troops needed to successfully pacify the place, according to COIN strategy experts who are NOT trying to kiss the current admin., or the previous admin's ass.

Unless and until our country is willing do things like add a million soldiers in uniform, with one in 10 of these new troops trained to be fluent in Arabic and/or other regional languages and dialects, we shall continue to stumble along in a similar fashion as the Bushroids did, but hopefully with fewer Pat Tillman-style fiascos.

Me: We! -- Ali


Bird Dog's picture

So, with childlike naivete, you trust wingbats like Lew Rockwell but not BBC or the NYT. Whatever, man. Believe the idiots all you want, and in pixie dust, too. It's no skin off my nose.

If you haven't, I suggest you read the Slate piece that I linked to above. It explains quite a bit about how like-thinking morons came up with a story that doesn't hold water. It also explains why you and others got chumped. You're so chumped that you are just convinced that any other explanation must be "dishonest", which is both stupid and ludicrous:

Why does the bombing-for-pipelines theory hold such appeal? For the same reason the supporting-the-Taliban-for-pipelines theory attracted so many: There's evidence that points in that direction. Unocal did want to build a pipeline through Afghanistan and did cozy up to the Taliban. Bush and Cheney do have ties to big oil. But theories like these are ridiculously reductionist. Their authors don't try to argue conclusions from evidence—they decide on conclusions first, then hunt for justification.

As for the opium trade, you made the allegation about the U.S. "allowing" groups to make money off of it. Okay, show me who's making the money and show me where the U.S. is benfitting financially from this.

As for troop numbers in Afghanistan, yes, the levels don't meet the COIN rule of thumb. But then, we were short on numbers in Iraq but the situation worked out, no?. Rather than trying to meet the numbers, maybe the ratios should be revisited. But that said, 20,000 additional troops isn't enough but a million additional troops certainly sounds like overkill.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Almost $300 Million a Year in Income? Damn, I've Gotta Get....


...that job myself.

Any openings that you know of?

I understand that this income amount is just a guesstamate...but what the heck, I like the idea that I'm growing slowly but surely towards that income level and will reach it some time before entropy and infinity intertwine in the heat death of the Universe.

But I like your thinking, Zelig...always the optimist!

Almost 300 million!


I think you need to spell out....

Bernard Guerrero's picture

...your otherwise clear-as-mud argument here. How, exactly, does a war or occupation in Afghanistan allow for significant increased control of any complex mistures of hydrocarbons, apart perhaps from poppy-seed oil?

My question is serious, to you, BD, tomsyl et al

mmghosh's picture

See, a lot of Afghans are dead. Afghanistan is one of the most backward countries in the world, with an impoverished, illiterate and disease-ridden population.

The 3000 dead Americans have been avenged many times over, tens of thousands of Afghans, guilty of actual crimes against Americans or thought crimes of supporting anti-American factions all over the world, innocent bystanders, physically or mentally challenged, criminals, non criminals - men, women, children, animals have actually been killed. What, now, is the need in carrying on? Why is the desire to see people dead not abated yet? What, I repeat, is the point?

It is quite clear to everyone in the area that the US has no desire to conquer and rule Afghanistan - which might have conferred the logic of conquest, exploitation, economic domination - whatever, some logical reason to be there. You cannot convince people in this area that the US Army is killing people to impose liberal Western culture, education, healthcare on a bunch of illiterate hillmen, Bird Dog's links to occasional "health camps" notwithstanding. Or even to dispense justice, via drones.

Those of us who study war and geopolitics look for reasons, usually economic or political or geostrategic. I simply cannot see a coherent logic, especially economic, for the US to stay on.

What, for example, would be the problem if the Taliban, extremism, militancy returned in triumph? The problem, the reaction if any, would be faced in the plains of Pakistan, and probably by ourselves, as it has for centuries and millennia. Why is that even significant for the US/NATO?

Is it to do with the fact that other places in the world would become emboldened? History shows otherwise. In fact, after the US withdrew militarily in South Vietnam, the world was not convulsed by Communist dictatorships - rather the reverse, in that Communist dictatorships largely collapsed within 2 decades.

So what is {i]actually[/i] going on? You guys know the US much better than I do. Iraq, I can understand, its clearly about oil, ME history, domino effect, Israeli interests etc. Afghanistan, I really cannot figure.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency


Bird Dog's picture

The Bush administration didn't invade Afghanistan for vengeance. The Taliban lost their power because they protected terrorists, and as far as I'm concerned, they had their chance.

So what is the objective for our staying there? I would say that it's not terribly different from our objective in Iraq: To help usher a free, peaceful, non-theocratic representative republic that can protect itself and would not threaten its neighbors. The Taliban is inimical to that objective because of their ideological alliance with al Qaeda (and related militant Islamist groups), and because they abhor any form of democratic governance. They had their chance.

If the Taliban does return to power, then al Qaeda & Co. would have a larger stronghold for their holy war. As far as I know, bin Laden has not rescinded his fatwa that declared war on the U.S., and al Qaeda's operations continue to extend into Iraq and other nations. We are still in a War Against Militant Islamism. Also troubling is how little ideological daylight there is between the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Also, I wouldn't downplay the emboldening aspect that would occur if the Taliban became emergent in Afghanistan. We saw a similar emboldening after we tucked tail from Somalia. Bin Laden concluded we were a paper tiger and set about to launch a series of terrorist attacks that culminated in 9/11. That is a piece of history I would rather not see repeated.

As far as our interests, you're right that our primary interest isn't economic. To me, our interests have to do with national security and, like we've done with other nations we've invaded and defeated, it has to do with leaving the country a better place than when we went in.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

The Taliban protected terrorists? That is disingenuous.

mmghosh's picture

Everyone, I mean everyone, before September 11 2001 knew that both Afghanistan and Pakistan protected terrorists. These very same "terrorists", as you well know, were trained and empowered by an US Administration against the Russians, and who then subsequently spent the next decade fighting in sundry areas in the vicinity. So its "freedom fighting" when its your policy, and "terrorism" when its not. Mr Clinton issued the first bombing orders in AfPak, I believe, to strong criticism in the US media who believed this was being done to divert attention from some domestic issues.

On the other hand, the Mujahideen groups, who are fighting against the Indian Army across the LoC, have refused to surrender and declared that the war will go on. ''We will not accept any agreement made between Pakistan and the United States on Kargil or Kashmir,'' said Amir Mehmood, leader of a Kashmiri militant group, at a press conference in Rawalpindi. ''America is our enemy; we cannot trust an American solution."

As major Kashmiri militant groups formed an alliance to fightthe Indian Army in Kargil, a spokesman for the Hizbul Mujahideen group told the press in Muzafarrabad that ''neither Pakistan norany other country could compel them to vacate the territory they'liberated' from Indian occupation.''

The Taliban authorities initially refused to cooperate with Indian authorities to secure a release of the hostages[citation needed]. They also emphatically refused to allow Indian commandos to storm the plane. They refused the request to let Afghan commandos storm the plane, as well. Their plea was that they wouldn't allow a foreign military outfit to operate in Afghanistan and they themselves are not capable to undertake such an operation. (It has since been confirmed that this hijacking was carried out with the official support/complicity of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda). The Taliban encircled the plane with tanks and heavily armed militia in a bid to stop any forceful storming by Indian Special Forces. Negotiations opened up between the Indian embassy officials and the hijackers.

The Indian Negotiation team Plane also had some well armed equipped soldiers but they were not shown[citation needed].

It was only after a week had passed that the Indian government sent its special crisis group to Kandahar for serious negotiations. By that time the media outcry in India was so great that a quick resolution to this crisis was needed as a political face-saving exercise.

As a result the government accepted the demand to release the following terrorists in exchange for the release of the passengers and crew of flight IC 814.

* Maulana Masood Azhar
* Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar
* Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh who had been imprisoned in connection with 1994 Kidnappings of Western tourists in India went on to murder Daniel Pearl These three released extremists were later involved in various terror attacks on India, including the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack in U.S.

Your other points are good points, but they appear to be largely wishful thinking.

To help usher a free, peaceful, non-theocratic representative republic that can protect itself and would not threaten its neighbors.

In September 2001, Afghanistan, was no different to Saudi Arabia, in being free and peaceful. As for not being "non-theocratic representative republic that can protect itself and would not threaten its neighbors", this was again largely like Saudi Arabia.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Disingenuous? Sorry, not

Bird Dog's picture

The Taliban stonewalled after an egregious act of war, continuing to give al Qaeda safe harbor. The casus belli was patently obvious.

As for the Afghan mujahadin and Soviets, the Soviets were the larger enemy. We also allied with Joseph Stalin in WWII.

As for "freedom fighters", what freedoms are the Taliban and al Qaeda fighting for? From my perspective, they want the freedom to oppress others and deny freedom to others, so "freedom fighter" rings completely hollow to me.

I'm not sure I understand your comparison to Saudi Arabia.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Oh absolutely. I have no issues with why the US went to war

mmghosh's picture

war in 2002.

IMO, vengeance played a large part in the decision. I agree with you about the official statements not mentioning vengeance, but wasn't there a tiny leeeetle bit of a desire in the US media and the corridors of the Administration, and in fact among Americans generally, at the time?

I would be somewhat surprised if so, and am ready to be corrected. I would have thought that most humans would act out of desire for swift and terrible vengeance, in this situation.

The "freedom fighters" comments was in the context of the Afghan mujahedin being supported by the US in the 1980s and 1990s - although it was very clear in those days that the mujahedin were fighting for an Islamic ideology and an Islamic theocratic state, and were hence anti-freedom then, too. You have made my point exactly - the US supported the mujahedin when there was a war against the Soviets, and those same mujahedin became the enemy after 2001. In other words, being a terrorist or not is a matter who is one's 'larger' enemy at a given time.

My other point is, 2002 is past, the casus belli is past. What is the clear objective in Afghanistan now? Is it to act just as a police? Is it to rebuild the country - its civilian institutions, economy, State-based services and infrastructure? Do you think that this is even conceivable at this point in Afghan history - by remote control of the Afghans themselves - with a considerable segment of its educated class dead, emigrated or in exile - without the US/NATO taking over the reins of government in actu? I personally would be in favour of this solution, actually, at this point, unrealistic though that may sound. But if you are not going to do this, and run the country via Afghan proxies, then you guys have to realise you are going to be there, at your current strength, for at least another 4-5 decades.

As for the Saudia context, my point is that in 2002, at the point of the US invasion, there was little to differentiate Saudia from Afghanistan.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

After 2002

Bird Dog's picture

First off, I'm not saying that vengeance played no role, just not the paramount role. For me, and I'm sure for millions of other Americans, al Qaeda needed (and needs) to be destroyed in order to prevent future attacks on American soil.

Secondly, the situation changed in Afghanistan, starting in 2007. Prior to that, we sort of muddled along, but there wasn't a visible or serious threat to the Karzai administration. From 2007 onward, the Taliban surged, amping up attacks considerably. The nature of the situation is different today than it was three years ago. The Afghan government and people are more threatened today, more so than in prior years, and there are vast tracts under Taliban control. Since they have openly stated that they reject democracy and would shelter al Qaeda, this is unacceptable. In a poll not that long ago, the Afghan people were in favor--by a vast majority--of democratic governance.

Third, I take issue (or half-issue) with your "4-5 decades" comment. Historically, speaking, it usually takes 5 to 10 years to defeat an insurgency, which is what I would expect in Afghanistan if we applied a proper COIN strategy. Of course, we could stay longer, if they wanted us to, to assist with aid and building.

As for your "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" comment, I reject it. A person who indiscriminately targets civilians for death is a terrorist. Period. If Afghan mujahadin did such acts while the Soviets were in power, then they were terrorists.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Umm, you are not getting off that easily.

mmghosh's picture

I'm not sure if you know the extent to which the infrastructure in Afghanistan is wrecked. To run an administration requires people - technocrats, bureaucrats, engineers etc.

This is not Iraq. There is no economy to pay these people - quite apart from schools, roads etc. In any case, even at the best of times there wasn't much in that way in Afghanistan, many of their people got their training here.

Its an entire generation you are talking about.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

The Sicilians think revenge is a dish best served cold


But in this case the "you destry two buildings, we desroy two countries" had a strong resonance with voters. How far that desruction should have gone, and where it should have been focused, is of course debatable, but the lesson against attacking a country that reacts violently and unpredictably have its own ad terrorem benefits, at least to me.

I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems scary and weird. It'll happen to you.—Abraham Simpson



but uncle sam doesn't look so tough if he puts his back out pushing over 2 of the weakest countries on the globe.

I don't think it was about vengeance.


The need to go after al Qaeda and deny them safe haven was obvious, a genuine military necessity, a casus belli if there ever was one. AQ was and is a continuing threat to all the western countries, as well as to millions in the Mideast. Of course as Mickey points out, the casus belli weirdly disappeared after Bora Bora when AQ slipped over the PK border.

I don't deny that many Americans simply wanted revenge.

I'd never noticed the "two towers, two wars" parallel before, and hate to think US policy can be so disturbingly simpleminded and fetishistic. Iraq certainly never seemed like anything but a complete non sequitur to 9/11, and that's exactly how most of the world has always viewed it.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

I thought the lesson


I thought the lesson to be drawn was that if you hide in Afghanistan we'll invade. Cross the border into Pakistan and we'll ignore you.

You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it. - Ho Chi Minh

Pretty astute, Mickey.


Unfortunately, that is exactly the lesson...and if the Taliban makes a successful coup for the rest of PK, it will be a strong lesson indeed. Want to take on the United States? Simply hide under an embarrassing problem the United States dare not face, preferably a nuclear problem.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Yes, seconded. A good insight. -nt-

mmghosh's picture


freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Seriously, Manish, I Have Often Thought to Suggest....


...just line up a million and a half Afghans, it doesn't matter if they are women, children, old men...we'll kill them as quickly as possible and get out.

This is the way America is.

We have to kill "x" number of people...sometimes it takes a long time, see Viet Nam, sometimes we do it much more quickly...see Korea and the first 2 years of that War.

We have been terribly inefficient in our killing in Afghanistan. This can be corrected with the help of the Afghan people, and then, lickety-split, we'll be gone.

Just watch and see.

This sounds like I'm doing a Johnathan Swift on the Irish Famine...but I'm not really.

Look at the data; look at the past; extrapolate into the future...It will be just like Korea, Viet Nam and Iraq...once we've killed enough people we'll call it quits and find a means, an excuse to walk away.

This is the way America is and if the Afghans really want us gone...they would get with the program, announce they were manning-up, allowing another million or more to be slaughtered quickly...

Really...Just wait and see, there's a magic number out there of Afghan dead...whenever it is reached, we will be gone so fast it will make you head spin.

Best Wishes, Traveller

Zelig's conspiracy theories may be inaccurate

mmghosh's picture

but the point I think he is making is that, in the absence of a clear, coherent reason to continue the war, one has to come up with speculation.

I'm not sure about this but, presumably, one has to indoctrinate Army soldiers, Marines etc for the reasons why they are fighting a war, any war. So what are the soldiers being told - because in this day it isn't possible to not tell a large part of the truth. What do you think, as a former soldier?

I never had any doubt, myself, that, having gone in, the US would never get out of Iraq, as long as there was any concern about the oil supply. But that logic doesn't work in Afghanistan.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

No, One Does Not Have to Come Up with Sepculation....


...war has always been a primary occupation of human beings, it is a fundamental driver of technological and societal change...more often than not, war in sweeping away old structures (booth physical and psychological) brings progress.

You don't have to look at America either...Look at India and Pakistan, each nation fundamentally formed in the past, in the present, and certainly into the future by the bellicosity of the other.

They would be entirely different countries now without each other to play off of and against each other.

You don't need reasons except to the extent that Human Beings seek the rational...even when there is none, or, especially when the answer is staring them in the face...they just don't want to believe it.


Ha. Truer words never said.

mmghosh's picture

each nation fundamentally formed in the past, in the present, and certainly into the future by the bellicosity of the other.

The point is, it is our history, our bellicosity - as you put it - and has been so for millennia. Its our game, if you will. What is the logic of Americans getting into a conflict in a land they do not really care about?

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

"We're here to kill gooks for God."

Zelig's picture

Oops. Wrong war.

Me: We! -- Ali

How common was that meme in Vietnam?


I'm curious.

I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems scary and weird. It'll happen to you.—Abraham Simpson

It's the Big Oil Pipeline Consiracy theory again - see above.


Much as I love consiracy theories, that dog don't hunt.

I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems scary and weird. It'll happen to you.—Abraham Simpson

a record month


I don't think Obama and his military strategists share your views. They seem to favour more and more aerial attacks. I have to conclude that the good opinion of the people of Afghanistan is not important to them, regardless of all the COIN hype.

Air Force, Navy and other coalition warplanes dropped a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during April, Air Forces Central figures show.

In the past month, warplanes released 438 bombs, the most ever.

April also marked the fourth consecutive month that the number of bombs dropped rose, after a decline starting last July.

You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it. - Ho Chi Minh

Sorry but 438 bombs is a rounding error in a typical air war.


A single B-1 bomber carries 82 500 lb bombs, or 2280 individual smart munitions.

I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems scary and weird. It'll happen to you.—Abraham Simpson

Like Cambodia?


Is Afghanistan a typical air war now? Like Cambodia?

You will kill 10 of our men, and we will kill 1 of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it. - Ho Chi Minh

I've been saying this since 2003


Glad you finally came to your senses.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.



Another problem, Kilcullen says, is that "using robots from the air ... looks both cowardly and weak."


I always enjoy how even these nibbling-round-the-edges criticisms of empire are necessarily preceded by the establishment of the critic's bona fides as someone who has absolutely no moral qualms about killing hundreds of civilians with remote-controlled weapons. Apparently only high-functioning sociopaths have standing to meaningfully criticize the actions of the United States.

The other day I heard that ignorance and apathy are sweeping the country. I didn't know that, but I don't really care.

Yes. - nt

Bernard Guerrero's picture

To be fair, I think the point is


that you don't fight a war by choosing only techniques which make you look fearless and brave. You take cheap shots, ambushes, you shoot the enemy in the back, when he's sleeping, when he's taking a crap. You fight dirty, you fight mean. It's not a game and there are no points for style. Drones are a great way to surprise guerrilla fighters who rely on staying hidden and mobile as their main weapon, a great way to terrorize the terrorists, introducing uncertainty in their plans & sow mistrust among their circle of allies.

At the same time, when ingratiating yourself with a local population is a condition of victory, being perceived as cheap, dirty, careless, heartless & without dignity is not going to help the cause.

As I say below, the objective (kill AQ officers at any cost to the locals) needs to change.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

Oh, but there are.


...points for style.

Of course there are.

War, except rare all-out war, is game for political power. If your tactics undermine your objectives because you have no style, you are definitely losing points.

This was clear enough to Larkin, whose patriotism rested on the notion that England was the worst place on earth with the possible exception of everywhere else.

Containment, not assault?


Drone attacks are a growing liability, as perhaps is the fervor of US forces to kill al Qaeda officers at any cost (to the locals, not to US forces).

What about hemming them up? Let the villagers live cheek by jowl with AQ thugs and, like the Sunni of Anbar Province, come to their own conclusions as to who they really want to be friends with.

Let them wear out their own welcome.

Siege warfare? It's a thought.

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes