Friday, October 9, 2009

Giving the Taliban Ink by the Barrel

Go read Scott Wilson's article in the Post today discussing the Administration's developing policy on how to handle the Taliban in Afghanistan - it's a pretty good synopsis of the current issues and friction points in the debate. However, in addition to validating Michael Cohen's Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch (somehow defeat, disrupt, and dismantle al Qaeda translates into preserving a corrupt government engaged in what is essentially a civil war), there was another statement in this article that bothered me.

Wilson is not the first to report on this (and it's actually old news) and Wilson hits on the problem, but it keeps bothering me. I do not like this transfer of units from the countryside into the towns and cities, ceding that terrain to the enemy. So while we complain about the safehaven that the Taliban enjoys in Pakistan, we are going to hand over to them a large safehaven inside of Afghanistan itself from which to launch attacks on population centers.

But this problem goes beyond military operations. Counterinsurgency is about governance. If we remove coalition forces from the countryside the likelihood of the Afghan government governing effectively there is slim. Gee, who could fill that political vacuum? Oh right, the Taliban who has experience in this and being local actors are more likely to be well received in these regions. Instead of creating ink spots in urban areas, we'll be giving the Taliban their own ink spots from which to expand their own influence and governance. This will be exasperated when attacks from the countryside will cause turmoil in the cities. It will make the less than perfect, but relatively calm Taliban governed areas look pretty nice in comparison.

Even with the addition of 40,000 troops, we won't be able to effectively control the cities and the countryside. It will be a battle of our ink spots versus theirs and I don't know how well that will turn out.

(Editorial note: apologies for the dearth of posting - that whole day job thing has been keeping me pretty busy. Thanks to Gulliver for keeping up the momentum!)

(Also, apparently I shouldn't post before I've had my coffee. Otherwise words like "barrell" sit in the title all day.)


  1. I am also addressed this issue -- at painful length -- in a post earlier this morning on POPCOIN, Ink Spots, and CT over at

  2. Bernard - you sure did. Great post.

    Everyone - go read where Bernard fleshes this issue out much better than my musings here.

  3. I can’t believe what these strategists are talking about in the War Room! First, to claim that Hezbollah “has political support within Lebanon and participates, sometimes through intimidation, in the political process” is worse than euphemism; it’s like willingly putting blinders on! Hezbollah is arguably The only credible organizing socio-military-political force of the Shiah community in Lebanon! They control vast swaths of social and communication networks of that community as well as parts of the state machine of the country. Plus, they have money to burn around. They even disbursed up to $10,000 for each house destroyed within their community in the wake of the last Israeli air campaign!
    The Taliban are different. They are the motivating presence for the “residents of the republic” already willing to fight an occupying force. They don’t have to contend with an “anti-Syrian” faction within the country as Hezbollah does. It is virtually the entire country that hates the “occupying” forces… Btw, did General McChrystal fight in Vietnam? Because his strategy of “securing the population” in safe locales smacks of the strategy that was once called “pacification” during the Vietnam War: confining populations in what turned out to be virtual prisons!
    Lastly, his (non-)vision of “building a viable political alternative to the Taliban” is a farce. It’s as if he doesn’t look around in Afghanistan. All the criminal warlords are back (with their own militias), with promises by Karzai to have them rule provinces as they see fit—to the detriment of the civilian population. What would the Afghan people think of NATO forces when they see them prop up and collaborate with a war criminal like General Dostum in the name of “building a viable political alternative to the Taliban”? Strangely, from what I can pick up from the press on the on-going strategy reassessment, it seems to me that the position of Vice-President is by far the more militarily sound. Which is strange, as the man is a civilian!

  4. Addendum: "Vice-President BIDEN..."

  5. The war in Afghanistan is always going to have two sides: people for it and people against it. What would your proposed solution be if the United States doesn't send more troops? Asia Chronicle News has been blogging about the situation in Afghanistan. Their news analyses are worth a read I think.