Bird Dog's picture

A few days ago, SecDef Panetta said that his preference would be an ending of a combat role for American forces by mid-2013, which sends mixed messages about our war effort. Considering the growth of homegrown troops...




...his announcement makes a degree of sense. Also, there are 90,000± Defense Department contractors (link), and who knows how many there will be over the next several years. However, Panetta also said NATO would be downsizing Afghan forces as well, which doesn't make sense. The motivation behind the Afghan downsizing appears to be financial and political, not strategic.

The timing of Mr Panetta’s remarks about accelerating the pace of the transition to Afghan national security forces (ANSF) owes more to the Obama administration’s electoral calculations than to the situation in Afghanistan. There, everything argues against a rush for the exit.

Although Mr Panetta paid lip service to Lisbon, stressing that his proposal did not mean early withdrawal and adding “we’ve got to stick to the Lisbon strategy”, he was, in fact, carefully undermining what had previously been agreed on.


Even the end-2014 deadline for withdrawing Western combat troops was tight, but at least it was based on a phased transition and a staged ISAF drawdown that everyone understood and was working towards. The second phase of the transition, which started last year, has already put the security of about half the country in Afghan hands. Over the next two years, the plan was for Afghan forces increasingly to fill in for Western troops as they either withdrew or were deployed elsewhere, holding what General John Allen, ISAF’s American commander, calls the “human terrain”. In a recent interview, General Allen described the ANSF as the “defeat mechanism” of the Taliban insurgency.

Accelerating the pace of the transition and cutting the numbers of the Afghan forces inevitably risks eroding the real security gains that have been made in the south (particularly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces) since America’s “surge” in 2010. It also places in jeopardy the aim of a concentrated effort to peg back the insurgency in the still-violent east during the next two fighting seasons. Before Mr Panetta’s announcement, General Allen’s job looked difficult but doable. Now it just looks difficult.

More here. There goes troop morale, and it looks like we'll be going back to the Biden Magic Secret Ninja Plan. Oy.

There have been numerous failures and mistakes since Obama greenlighted a counterinsurgency strategy but, to me, the biggest is that we were unable to enlist enough Pashtun leaders to side with the Afghan government. We couldn't earn their trust. In Iraq, a key turning point was the group decision by Sunni sheiks in Anbar province to reject al Qaeda and join the coalition. For the most part, this hasn't happened in Afghanistan. There were no sheiks to be had. Talibans are Pashtun, and they are sufficiently enmeshed in the tribal culture to have its way. ISAF could not make headway, so Plan B is to have Afghan forces fight the Talibaners, with U.S. and NATO personnel in training and support roles. That's the best we can do. There is no doubt that the Afghan army can use more Pashtuns.

Earlier this week, BBC was able to leak a report from NATO, and the information is based on 27,000 interviews with 4,000 Taliban, al Qaeda, foreign fighters and civilians. The Economist has a good read on the report, particularly Pakistan.

The semi-comforting belief that only “rogue elements” in the ISI have close connections to the Taliban never had much basis in fact and it has less now. A senior al-Qaeda commander in Kunar province (in the wild north-east of the country) says: “Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can't [expletive] on a tree in Kunar without them watching. The Taliban are not Islam. The Taliban are Islamabad.” The report also states: “Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad, Pakistan.” Nasiruddin, a son of the Haqqani clan’s leader, Jalaluddin, and its most prominent fund-raiser, was arrested by Pakistani agents in December 2010 as a sop to American pressure to take action against Taliban leaders in Quetta. If Nasiruddin is indeed free and living in the same neighbourhood as the ISI, suspicions that his detention was a sham will be confirmed.

At Foreign Policy, Arif Rafiq discusses the possibilities of civil war and discusses the groups involved. To me, civil war is a virtual certainty. The Taliban won't back down, and the other ethnic groups aren't going to back down either. The Karzai administration is ineffective and ineffectual. And finally, Pakistan harbors Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists. Dysfunction will reign, especially with an Obama wanting to bail.

Speaking of terrorists, this article tells how al Qaeda dupes its followers.


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Why Should We Honor Our Military? 2nd War They Lost...



...and the sacrafice, for what?


If our military is too stupid to give good, cogent advice to the political side of this equation, then I think they all should be shamed.


We need to have a serious discussion in the United States...AGAINST and recognizing the continuing FAILURE of our Military.


No one has the guts to say it....but these guys....but definition of producing no victories for decades now...are Clowns...and probably the worst kind of cowards in refusing to level with the American People what war is actually like and all about.


Piss on all this false Simper Fi, Ruh-Ha!



Possibility of civil war?


Not so long ago, this was the definition of civil war you seemed to be endorsing vis a vis Syria: 

  • two or more armed groups are fighting within state borders over some incompatibility (change of leadership/government, territory, or major policy issue);
  • One of the combatant groups is the government;
  • at least 1,000 people have died due to combat; and
  • at least 100 people have died on either side of the conflict.

Under this definition, we've been in civil war in Afghanistan for many years.


"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

I'm fine with it

Bird Dog's picture

There is a civil war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, per the above definition.


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

--Barack Obama, January 2009

"There were no sheiks to be had"

mmghosh's picture

well and precisely said.  Perhaps that might have been noted before, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.  One couldn't be sure that there [i]weren't[/i] sheiks to be had, before starting the process of having.  Unless we regard some politicians in AfPak as sort of having sheiks, or maybe everyones just a little confused at this point.  The good news would be that least some people here got some trickled down US dollars - the economy will have benefited to that extent, all part of the good.   


After the Osama business was sorted out, there wasn't [i]really[/i]much else to do.  In all fairness, the goals have been achieved, 9/11 has been avenged, the conventional 1000-1 proportionate numbers of locals have been put to the sword (300,000 for 3000, taking Iraq AfPak together).  It seems a sensible time to draw down.


Presumably the perpetrators of 9/11 and their allies have got the message that attempting a repeat 9/11 will bring down another firestorm on their heads. 

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

having a sheik


You can`t `have a sheik` and punish him for 911 at the same time. You have to choose one or the other. Once you can grasp that simple fact, the contradictions of the US adventure in Afghanistan should be apparent. The contradictions have been there all along.


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

Of course you can.

mmghosh's picture

That's the whole point of the game.  The sheikh, or an AfPak general or some other claims to need to be paid off, "so that militancy can't get a toehold" and so forth.  Its a not-so-subtle form of blackmail.

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

The whole point is that it doesnt work


The whole point is that it doesnt work. There are sheiks, warlords and karzais on the payroll, the Taleban is even on the receiving end of US handouts, for their role in ´protecting´ shipments of goods to NATO troops. It has not stopped militancy from getting a toehold. Military vengeance, even when it is backed by a large and indiscriminate programme of payoffs is not persuasive. You shouldnt have to be an Afghan to understand this. If we think of the Afghan, despite all our gut instincts, as a fellow human, worthy of our respect, our problems there would decrease.

I remember reading something about a large number, maybe even majority, of casualties among the NATO forces are the result of incidents where the Afghan military turn their guns on the soldiers they are supposedly working with. Apparently both sides view each other with loathing. The special forces, which apparently has a lower quoitient of hillbillies in their ranks, and live and share the same lives as their Afghan counterparts, dont have this problem of fratricidal killings. It comes down to treating each other with respect. There is no substitute for that.


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

Leaving is losing


part 117 in the 21st century alone.


We need to get the hell out. The only people benefitting from any of our involvement there are US war profiteers. I'm sure your political party will try to make hay of this, but I think the us is by and large finally sick of these ridiculous adventures.


Of course it's political

HankP's picture

how in the world are NATO allies supposed to justify the presence (and fatalities) of their troops when it's clear that there's no military solution to the problems in Afghanistan? Ignoring that leads to elections that guarantee the withdrawl of troops ASAP and strong tendencies in the future to avoid any military participation.


Look at that chart you posted - the Bush admin completely ignored Afghanistan for the first 2+ years until it got completely f(*ked up, and we've been trying to recover from it ever since.

I blame it all on the Internet

In the first two years,

Bird Dog's picture

the Taliban were routed and licking their wounds in Pakistan. The Taliban didn't reemerge until around 2006, which was right at the time when Iraq started getting really ugly and were unable to redeploy troops.

So we agree. Obama's decision to withdraw troops sooner is political.



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

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Obviously not

HankP's picture

strategic withdrawal is more like it, because they were playing the long game and Bush was playing the short game.

I blame it all on the Internet