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Thursday, October 29, 2009


Matthew Hoh, a senior US administrator, has resigned from his position running one of Afghanistan's provinces on the grounds that the war is unwinable.
I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque & Sisyphean mission as the US military has received in Afghanistan.

..."We are spending our way into oblivion.
The entire pdf deserves reading, certainly by anybody with responsibility for ordering soldiers to put their lives on the line.

The impression given is of an army being ordered to march into quicksand on the theory that eventually the heap of equipment & bodies will be enough to form a road & with the implication that anybody who suggests doing something else is failing to respect the sacrifice of those already under the sand.

Of course this is not the way to build a road. Nor is it the way to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan. The most important thing is to decide what the objectives are.

One cynical interpretation of the object is that produced by Orwell in 1984.
To understand the nature of the present war -- for in spite of the regrouping which occurs every few years, it is always the same war -- one must realize in the first place that it is impossible for it to be decisive...

The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living
combined with Mencken's "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." In which case the propose of the war is to spend money thereby preventing it being spent on something constructive & to keep us scared enough to put up with all the "anti-terrorism" bureaucracy & stupidity. It appears the cost of the Afghan war to Britain is £2.5 billion a year & would thus guess the US cost to be about 20 times that ($90 bn) which, if we are going to be there for 30 years would soak up enough money to colonise the entire solar system or build 5,000 nuclear power plants (assuming economies of scale) & give most of the world a standard of energy use & thus living equivalent to what Britain has now. My guess is that the £2.5 bn figure is now to low - lets hope the 30 year one is to high. This seems to be out of all proportion to the value to us of the country. Indeed even out of all proportion to the 9/11 deaths, which, after all, are less than NATO's murders in Serbia & Kosovo.

So if the cynical view is correct the war is going very well for those responsible.


However treating it as a conventional military problem we have a different choice.

First establish the objective. The initial objective was to kill bin Laden, smash al Quaeda & prevent it threatening terrorist attacks. On that it has been wholly successful. I think bin Laden is dead & has been for years & his name is nowadays used much less often by the media so he may indeed be being airbrushed out the picture. Nowadays the objective seems to be to establish a "democratic", centralised state with western gender values. This goes against all their cultural traditions & if that is what we are going to spend the next 30 years enforcing on them we will have to kill an awful lot of them.

On the other hand if we restrict our aims to the original ones we know we can achieve them because we already did. This is something those responsible for making decisions about lives should read.
From the beginning of 2007 to March 2008, the 82nd Airborne Division’s strategy in Khost proved that 250 paratroopers could secure a province of a million people in the Pashtun belt. The key to success in Khost—which shares a 184 kilometer-long border with Pakistan’s lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas—was working within the Afghan system. By partnering with closely supervised Afghan National Security Forces and a competent governor and subgovernors, U.S. forces were able to win the support of Khost’s 13 tribes.

Today, 2,400 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Khost. But the province is more dangerous...

We saw how this could [putting Afghan troops in control] could work in the Tani district of Khost starting in 2007. By assisting an ANA company—with a platoon of American paratroopers, a civil affairs team from the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, the local Afghan National Police, and a determined Afghan subgovernor named Badi Zaman Sabari—we secured the district despite its long border with Pakistan.

Raids by the paratroopers under the leadership of Lt. Col. Scott Custer were extremely rare because the team had such good relations with the tribes that they would generally turn over any suspect. These good tribal relations were strengthened further by meeting the communities’ demands for a new paved road, five schools, and a spring water system that supplies 12,000 villagers.
Jerry Pournelle puts it even more bluntly
[Buying up the opium crop} will drive up the supply, of course, but even so it will be cheaper than what we are doing; and enriching local tribal khans -- sometimes called warlords -- will help keep Al Qaeda out of their territories. Silver bullets often work wonders, and are sometimes cheaper than real ones. And no, that's not Danegeld. The Afghan warlords didn't invade us last night, and we're not paying them cash to go away. We're paying them cash to make our enemies go away. Hire and purchase...
To that I would add that our military advantage is technology. Our disadvantage is that our soldiers are ordinary humans like them - except that we can't take the sort of casualties Afghan warriors have been cheerful about for millenia. So we should not be having our soldiers on the ground any more than the absolute minimum (remember that the Taliban were first driven out by northern alliance tribal forces supported by bombers), we should be limiting ourselves to providing aur support, money & remotely piloted spotter aircraft. On a side I would offer $1 million to anybody who brings in the head of an al Quaeda Arab (DNA can now tell ethnicity). My bet is that life would become pretty hazardous for any al Quaeda member still in the region - that is if they haven't already gone the way of bin Laden.

HT Mark Wadsworth for the Orwell comparison

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