Monday, May 24, 2010

Does anyone remember us having "honest, thoughtful discussions" about the tactical utility of war crimes?

In a post this weekend at Firedoglake and the Huffington Post entitled "The Fundamentals of Radical, Transnational Counterinsurgency," Josh Mull spends about 1,200 words talking about "fascism" and "hate speech" and "ethnic cleansing" without really saying much of anything about the "fundamentals of... counterinsurgency." It's a schizophrenic screed penned mostly as a response, it seems, to Ann Marlowe's brief World Affairs piece expressing her entirely unfounded (and un-argued!) opinion that "brutality works." Alma addressed Marlowe's piece here, concluding with this:
I don't mind a healthy dose of provocation in commentaries on Afghanistan and other topics, but this one strikes me, to say the least, as particularly vacuous.
We also dealt (obliquely) with the familiar argument that unrestrained brutality can increase a counterinsurgent's effectiveness here, in a post that Mull links to disapprovingly. How truly evil must this "counterinsurgency" be if it brings us to this? he seems to wonder, a world where
[w]e so believe in this concept of "victory" in Afghanistan that we have honest, thoughtful discussions on whether or not crimes against humanity are a good tactic.
We do?

Was that an "honest, thoughtful discussion" about war crimes? About "whether or not crimes against humanity are a good tactic" (particularly in any moral sense)?

It doesn't help that Marlowe's original bit was so confused and poorly-argued, but Mull's response ends up as a disorienting farrago of aspersions, errors in fact, and ejaculations of righteous indignation. Mull acts as if we're over here fiddling while Rome burns, willfully ignorant to the moral costs of war while American troops rape, pillage, and fire the town, quibbling over tactical marginalia as the pervasive "COIN ideology" gradually corrodes our sense of right and wrong.

Well, I'm not afraid to tell you that this is the purest bullshit.

The affect most plainly evinced by Mull's tone and word choice is that of the jilted faithful; I can't help but think that he's so angry at COIN because it didn't live up to the things he thought it might: war without brutality, war without violence, war without war. Mull writes about a "fine-tuned, population-friendly counterinsurgency strategy," but that's never been on offer; "population-centric" ain't the same thing as population-friendly. And listen, if you think you were sold a bill of goods and you expected that counterinsurgency was all about love and hugs, talking things out, restoring legitimacy and puppy dogs and ice cream, then I can see how you might end up disappointed. But this one ain't on the COINdinistas, it's on those who misplaced their own faith.

Here are some truths, just so that we're all on the same page:
  1. Violence is a part of COIN, as it is a part of all war.
  2. Anyone who tells you that COIN is a "kinder, gentler form of war" is a liar.
  3. Unrestrained brutality is not an effective tactic in COIN, no matter what Ann Marlowe would have you believe.
The reason many of us sit here and have "honest, thoughtful discussions" about the utility of various tactics and operational approaches is that it's important to know how to do this well, so that what's needed can be done, and so that we can do it less. It's important to try to understand action and reaction, knowing as we all do that we'll never faithfully and completely map cause and effect. Discussions of the utility of force or the logic of violence aren't about justifying brutality or subverting the law of war, but rather an effort to better understand the levers and mechanisms through which war can be prosecuted more effectively -- which is really the only way to make the violence and brutality that is inherent in war even the slightest bit more just.

None of this is a substitute for strategic thinking. It's not a substitute for considerations of justice and morality, for thoughtful study of the relationship between our objectives and our actions.

Counterinsurgency is not an ideology. It's a tool, and sometimes it's the right one. But a man who doesn't believe in war can't possibly believe in COIN, either. It's galling (and not a little pathetic) to see the parade of "progressive" pacifists essentially whining about the lost promise of COIN when it's plain to see their own misconceptions are to blame.

66 comments:

  1. I can now check "being called a war criminal by the Huffington Post" off my list of things to do before I die.

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  2. "But this one ain't on the COINdinistas, it's on those who misplaced their own faith."

    Oh, no. It's on a lot of the COINdinistas, too.

    What they say amongst each other and what they say to mass market media machers often prove to be different things.

    SNLII

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  3. "Unrestrained brutality is not an effective tactic in COIN, no matter what Ann Marlowe would have you believe."

    It's not effective for COIN, but it is a means to pacify populations. As always, it depends.

    If we accept that ethnic cleansing, mass dispossession, summary executions and torture were effective for Badr and JAM in breaking the will of the AQIZ-abetted Sunni militias in 2005-06, then it's not merely an academic issue.

    A member of the Petraeus brain trust actually is working on a study of this now, and he gives great credit for the pacification to what happened BEFORE the so-called "Surge" and the "Awakening" -- the brutal, quite violent and hardly restrained civil war in Iraq that also proved a tad "effective."

    The question isn't necessarily that "Roman" tactics don't work in some circumstance, but rather whether they would work in Afghanistan (Ann actually doesn't think that they would).

    She's being provocative by attacking the very premises of hearts and minds and, in a post-Maoist conflict environment, even the centrality of the "population" as a prize.

    She's not the only one working on this issue.

    SNLII

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  4. But a man who doesn't believe in war can't possibly believe in COIN, either.

    War is politics by other means. Frankly, I trust Soldiers a hell of a lot more than I trust politicians.

    It's galling (and not a little pathetic) to see the parade of "progressive" pacifists essentially whining about the lost promise of COIN when it's plain to see their own misconceptions are to blame.

    You actually wasted your time reading something at the Huffington Post? Right now I'm pointing and laughing at the screen like Nelson Muntz. I wouldn't even wipe my ass with the Huffington Post if it were printed on triple-ply Charmin and given away for free. Upset? You got what you deserve for slumming on a website whose target audience is composed of dumbasses, whiners, and d-bags.

    And listen, if you think you were sold a bill of goods and you expected that counterinsurgency was all about love and hugs, talking things out, restoring legitimacy and puppy dogs and ice cream, then I can see how you might end up disappointed.

    Ah, but that IS how it was marketed. While not stated explicitly, that was the message was that was intended to be processed in the minds of the target audience. And the realization that this is the message that was received is making COL Gentile look ever more like a prescient fortune teller. I suspect the day will come when we will pronounce that "we're all Gentiles now" (even the Jews).

    None of this is a substitute for strategic thinking.

    Let's hope our policy makers come to that realization sooner rather than later.

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  5. Gratuitous Nelson Muntz link. Consider this my cyber-scoff at you for reading Huffington.

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  6. Consider this my cyber-scoff at you for reading Huffington.

    Not gonna lie: I didn't even know this Mull piece was out there until I got back from a weekend out of town and saw a couple of referrals in our stats.

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  7. Know we disagree on this. Think COIN isn't all that different from a war on organized crime. COIN happens all over the world.

    South Africa use to have 36,000 violent deaths a year in the mid 2000s. Did South Africa use COIN to reduce violence? Did Columbia use COIN to reduce violence in Columbia?

    I am with SNLII that massive violence often works in the short run. Saddam use massive violence to suppress the 1975 Iraqi revolt and it worked.

    During the 1980 Iraqi revolt, Saddam again violently crushed it and invaded Iran to take out the resistance sanctuaries. Again it worked.

    Saddam was able to suppress the revolt of 1991 as well. By some accounts hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died during that revolt.

    Mao used massive violence to win in 1949 and to defeat rivals during the civil war from the 1960s to 1971.

    Pakistan defeated the Bangladeshi resistance in 1971 by killing many hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis. Only a full blown Indian invasion was able to put the Bangladeshi resistance in power.

    Baba Ahmad Shah Durrani and his successors successfully used massive violence to suppress revolts. [1747 to the early 1800s Afghanistan included much of Northern India, all of Pakistan, Eastern Iran and part of the former USSR.]

    There are many examples of the Persian empire [ruled Afghanistan from early 1700s through 1747] successfully using massive violence. Ditto with the Mongol Seljik Turk Moghul empire [which ruled the large majority of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan from the 1500s through the early 1700s]

    China successfully used massive violence in Tibet, killing many hundreds of thousands.

    To a lesser degree, Sri Lanka also used extensive violence to defeat the LTTE.

    In the modern era, however, massive violence is not acceptable for free democracies because of popular pressure. ISAF [and the $20 to $30 billion in grants countries other than the US have pledged for Afghanistan] would implode if the ANSF or ISAF were percieved to use massive violence.

    To change the topic a little SNLII, in Iraq much of the heavy violence was applied by the ISF in 2005 and 2006. Especially in areas that were assigned as "battlespace" to the ISF. The MoI used horrific violence in 2005 and 2006.

    I would love to touch base with you on how the ISF you saw conducted themselves. I have heard of Marines and US Army being severely depressed because of the ISF conduct towards the local population that they observed. Some GIs even committed suicide, in part because of what they observed.

    Have some more specific anecdotal accounts of specific ISF units in Al Anbar. Some of the 1st IAD guys really scared the crap out of the local population. Might this be why Al Anbaris were so eager to negotiate with the Marines in late 2006 and 2007?

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  8. SNLII, Gulliver, Madhu et all; I was thinking about insurgencies comparable to what Pakistan/Afghanistan are confronting today.

    Might one example be Kashmir? Kashmir use to be an Afghan province and retains close links. Afghan Pashun tribes migrating to Kashmir initiated the conflict in 1947. After they were defeated by the Indian army Kashmir was quiescent until 1989, when many Mujahadeen from Afghanistan redeployed to Kashmir. After a short spike in violence in 1989 and 1990 that included many mid sized mountain battles, the violence was partly suppressed until 1996.

    In 1996 Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Mullah Omar, Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammed, collaborated to cause a massive spike in Kashmiri violence with the first surge in mass suicide bombings India had ever seen.

    Between 1996-2001 perhaps 40 thousand or more Indians died.

    Yet relatively quickly after 9/11/2001, violence in Kashmir fell about 90%.

    How was this achieved?

    Many of the largest Kashmiri militias/resistance groups redeployed to fight the Northern Alliance after 9/11, but this can't be a comprehensive explanation.

    What lessons on COIN from Kashmir can be applied in Pakistan and Afghanistan today? What mistakes did the Kashmiri police, Kashmiri state government, Indian federal government, and Indian army make?

    There are similarities between what Indians did and what GIRoA/ISAF are doing:
    -The Indian security forces tried hard to avoid using CAS (close air support.) The tight ISAF/ANSF ROEs to avoid civilian casualties are similar to the tight Indian ROEs.
    -large financial transfers were made to the Kashmiri state government by the Indian federal government [similar to the large foreign aid packages that the international community are giving the Afghans today]
    -elections
    -emphasis on building local governance [state government of Kashmir, and GIRoA]
    -emphasis on building the judicial system and police
    -attempt to deal with massive corruption in Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan . . . without much success in any of the three places.

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  9. Yes, truly its the fault of the "pacifists" for misinterpreting COIN and not armchair pundits who called it "warm and fuzzy" or "progressive" or the "graduate level of war" or who talked about CORDS in FM 3-24 and oops, forget to mention Phoenix or referred to Kenya and Algeria as models for future US COIN operations or who talk about Templar in Malaya and ignore Briggs or who gloat over the success of COIN in Iraq while glossing over the increased civilian casualties - and deaths from US arms - that helped make such "success" possible.

    Mull's piece is unhinged, but the notion that COIN advocates have been completely upfront about the nastier elements of counter-insurgency is Grade-A horseshit.

    As for the notion that brutality is "not an effective tactic in COIN" tell that to the Kikuyu, our own KKK, the Tamil Tigers, the Chechens, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq . . . and I could go on. Sometimes brutality works and sometimes it doesn't. But the notion that it is not an effective tactic is tragically wrong.

    - Michael Cohen

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  10. As for the notion that brutality is "not an effective tactic in COIN" tell that to the Kikuyu, our own KKK, the Tamil Tigers, the Chechens, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq . . . and I could go on. Sometimes brutality works and sometimes it doesn't. But the notion that it is not an effective tactic is tragically wrong.

    Now why exactly would you excerpt "not an effective tactic in COIN" without quoting the entire statement?

    Unrestrained brutality is not an effective tactic in COIN, no matter what Ann Marlowe would have you believe.

    Yes, as we've written from time to time, tactics that could be fall under the rubric of "brutality" are occasionally effective in certain circumstances. This is especially true if you include things like forced relocation ("ethnic cleansing" in the most literal sense) and other forms of physical population control.

    That said, you give some really poor examples.

    1. The KKK didn't prosecute a counterinsurgency campaign against anyone.

    2. The specific case of the Tamil Tigers is a poor exemplar for brutality's effectiveness (just as Malaya is a poor example of "pop-centric COIN's" effectiveness) because of the existence several unique circumstances that favored the counterinsurgent.

    3. Did brutality end the Chechen insurgency, or concessions?

    I feel like I'm repeating myself now, but brutality has occasionally been effective when circumstances were right, and when it was a part of a more comprehensive campaign of population control. No one denies this. No one denies that the brutal civil war and ethnic cleansing that preceded the U.S. "Surge" was vital to the pacification of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. Some people debate the centrality of different developments to the achievement of the eventual end-state, and let's put it this way: those who argue one extreme or the other are generally wrong.

    Mull's piece is unhinged, but the notion that COIN advocates have been completely upfront about the nastier elements of counter-insurgency is Grade-A horseshit.

    Look dude, it's a little rich to plead ignorance. If you're saying that COIN people have soft-peddled their recommended operational approach as part of a strategic communications campaign to convince policymakers and the public that their approach was the most effective and the best choice for the country, then yeah, absolutely, I agree. If you're arguing that this is some egregious violation of expected standards of conduct, or that this somehow differs from the sort of thing that anybody does when arguing for a particular policy option, then I think you're wrong. And if you think this absolves those decisionmakers and the public from their responsibility to seek out information about what's actually going on, about the actions the government and the military is taking in their name, then I think you're absolutely nuts.

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  11. The KKK did prosecute an insurgent campaign after the end of the Civil War that was brutally repressed by Federal troops.

    "Did brutality end the Chechen insurgeny?" Um, it played a pretty important role.

    But unrestrained brutality as well as more restrained brutality (a distinction without much of a difference I would imagine for target populations) have been core elements of pretty much every single COIN operation - both successful ones and unsuccessful ones.


    Your argument that "unrestrained brutality is not an effective tactic in COIN" simply is not true. It's not a silver bullet and it often backfires (Algeria and Vietnam are obvious examples) but it can and has been effective.

    In fact, name me one COIN operation where coercion and violence didn't play a crucial role?

    But as for the notion that no one denies this; I really can't believe that you're being serious. That's a strawman and anyone who has followed these debates closely over the past few years would know that the more brutal elements of COIN are consistently glossed over. (The failure of FM 3-24 to reference Phoenix in its discussion of CORDS is a great example). I've cited a number above.

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  12. "If you're saying that COIN people have soft-peddled their recommended operational approach as part of a strategic communications campaign to convince policymakers and the public that their approach was the most effective and the best choice for the country, then yeah, absolutely, I agree. If you're arguing that this is some egregious violation of expected standards of conduct, or that this somehow differs from the sort of thing that anybody does when arguing for a particular policy option, then I think you're wrong."

    Seriously, this is your defense? COINdinistas are misleading people about the true violent nature of COIN, but it's ok because everyone else does it? That is nuts.

    And how does what you've written in the comment above not directly contradict this: "And listen, if you think you were sold a bill of goods and you expected that counterinsurgency was all about love and hugs, talking things out, restoring legitimacy and puppy dogs and ice cream, then I can see how you might end up disappointed. But this one ain't on the COINdinistas."

    As for this, "And if you think this absolves those decisionmakers and the public from their responsibility to seek out information about what's actually going on, about the actions the government and the military is taking in their name."

    So why are you attacking Mull or making snarky reference to my piece on the myth of kinder and gentler COIN? If both pieces are illuminating the true nature of COIN - and educating decision-makers and the public - then you should be applauding them? (Or at the very least linking to them).

    In general though this answer is absolutely nuts. You have military officials misleading the American people about the true nature of counter-insurgency - and giving overly optimistic projections in private to policymakers, while pressuring them in public fora - but its the fault of the public to glean the truth?

    Come on man, that is really a bit naive about the true power dynamics in Washington and the ability of the military and its civilian enablers to manipulate public opinion.

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  13. But unrestrained brutality as well as more restrained brutality (a distinction without much of a difference I would imagine for target populations) have been core elements of pretty much every single COIN operation - both successful ones and unsuccessful ones.

    No, they haven't. There's a substantial difference between "unrestrained" brutality and measured violence, particularly as we're talking about the perspective of the counterinsurgent (considering that this is a conversation about effectiveness) and not that of the "target population."

    Coercion and violence are obviously a part of counterinsurgency. This is so obviously true that I simply can't believe you think anyone would deny this. Insurgencies are defined by violence. Are there honestly people who think that COIN is just about giving the people what they need and want? That there is no element of convincing them that what's been given is what's needed and wanted?

    That said, when you say "unrestrained brutality" and "war crimes," we're talking about something different. Where was the "unrestrained brutality" that was central to the UK's campaign in Northern Ireland? What about the "unrestrained brutality" in U.S. actions during the Surge (to which you'll surely respond, "but the armed sectarian gangs had already taken care of this for us!", and I'll say "so?")?

    The fact of the matter is that your argument comes around to something like "unrestrained brutality is NECESSARY and unavoidable for victory in COIN," which, really, is what Ann Marlowe was saying. It devolves into "all successful counterinsurgency is some variation on the Roman method," which is plainly stupid.

    Your particular argument is interesting because you see invalidation of COIN as both immoral and ineffective as a means to convince people that the Afghan war is a bad idea. Well, I agree with you on the latter point but think you've chosen a nutty way to try to make your argument.

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  14. Seriously, this is your defense? COINdinistas are misleading people about the true violent nature of COIN, but it's ok because everyone else does it? That is nuts.

    No, it's not a "defense." I'm not suggesting that "it's ok." What I'm saying is that you shouldn't be surprised that the proponents of a particular operational approach are going to downplay the negative aspects and amplify those aspects that are more appealing to the decision-maker. You worked in Washington and you're shocked by this revelation?

    The reality is this: anyone who ever thought that war could be won without violence, that war could be anything other than war, is a fool. There's not a person in the COIN community or the USG who ever argued that this is how it would go -- not John Nagl, not Andrew Exum, not David Petraeus or Raymond Odierno or Stanley McChrystal or Robert Gates or David Galula or Roger Trinquier or Gunslinger or Gulliver.

    So why are you attacking Mull or making snarky reference to my piece on the myth of kinder and gentler COIN? If both pieces are illuminating the true nature of COIN - and educating decision-makers and the public - then you should be applauding them? (Or at the very least linking to them).

    I'm not attacking anyone, nor am I trying to silence dissent. But let's be clear about the fact that you and Mull are united on one specific point: you argue against COIN as a means to argue against the Afghan war. You're both writing advocacy pieces. You can pretend like you're offering a service with historical study and well-researched contrarianism, but fundamentally you're "scholarship" in the service of advocacy.

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  15. 'Where was the "unrestrained brutality" that was central to the UK's campaign in Northern Ireland? What about the "unrestrained brutality" in U.S. actions during the Surge (to which you'll surely respond, "but the armed sectarian gangs had already taken care of this for us!", and I'll say "so?")?'

    Northern Ireland actually is interesting because the person most aligned with the pacification process there, MG Kitson, was the Major most noted for a quite different pacification program in Kenya.

    He always said that the difference was obvious: He could get away with certain brutal practices against the Kikuyu separatists that he couldn't against British subjects that could play bit roles on the TV newscasts.

    It might be why it took so long in the troubled northern counties. That and NI was an interesting example of a Maoist insurrection slowly transitioning to a post-Maoist operation exceptionally aided by a global diaspora (see also Afghanistan).

    'to which you'll surely respond, "but the armed sectarian gangs had already taken care of this for us!", and I'll say "so?")?'

    If you say simply 'so,' then I don't want you addressing the causative forces of rebellion because you won't tackle them. You shall abet them, obfuscate them or piddle-paddle around them, but you won't solve them.

    The first question any counter-revolutionary commander must address is the salient question of what is causing the troubles and how might they be remedied or mitigated in the most efficient and politically feasible manner possible.

    If one notices that the key part of the pacification process didn't involve US troops, US doctrine, US aid or US "hearts and minds" efforts, then one might begin to ask some hard questions about the efficacy of those US troops, US doctrine, US aid or US "hearts and minds" efforts.

    Steve Metz has suggested in his work that perhaps we compound the problem of pacification by following some of these paths. He might have a point.

    Marlow actually is tapping into a wider debate -- sparked partially by the work of Rid, Mackinlay and Betz -- that strongly questions the notion that the local "population is the prize" in many of our post-Maoist conflicts.

    That sort of debate is infinitely more complex and potentially fruitful than the stupid Mull-igan I was forced to read above.

    SNLII

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  16. In other news, on to Kandahar!

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/05/24/94740/mcchrystal-calls-marjah-a-bleeding.html

    Full marks to McChrystal for using a reference to Spain's Peninsular War (although I'm not sure he realizes that).

    SNLII

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  17. If you say simply 'so,' then I don't want you addressing the causative forces of rebellion because you won't tackle them. You shall abet them, obfuscate them or piddle-paddle around them, but you won't solve them.

    You're missing my point: recognizing that the violence that preceded U.S. action was important, perhaps even central to the eventual decline in violence/establishment of security in Baghdad, it is plainly the case that what took place afterward -- the "Surge" -- did not include "unrestrained violence."

    Maybe I'm coming to this circuitously, but here's the point: the application of forces and methods during the Surge seems to have been appropriate to the circumstances, and seems to have solidified and reinforced whatever positive trends were impacting the security situation. None of it involved "unrestrained brutality" on the part of U.S. forces.

    When I say "so?," I'm not abdicating responsibility for the study of what drives the violence. I'm merely saying that in each insurgency, those drivers will be different, and at the specific moment in time and space in which U.S. forces were expected to act (circa 2008 in Iraq), the methods and forces applied were appropriate and generally successful. And they did not involve "unrestrained brutality."

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  18. "you argue against COIN as a means to argue against the Afghan war."

    I was arguing against COIN - and making many of the same arguments - before I ever wrote a word about Afghanistan. I wrote three posts on the issue last March and April and did not begin my Afghan advocacy until a few months later.

    Moreover, my arguments against the Afghan war are far broader than just an indictment of COIN. And my argument against the myth of kinder, gentler COIN is an indictment of how COIN has been presented to the American people and policymakers over the past several years - its resonance goes well beyond Afghanistan. BTW, this is something that you claim in your earlier comment we need more of.

    "The fact of the matter is that your argument comes around to something like "unrestrained brutality is NECESSARY and unavoidable for victory in COIN"

    Not at all. I'm simply pointing out that coercion and violence is an integral part of COIN and it revolves around separating the population from insurgents. The idea that you can fight COIN in a way that uses carrots rather than sticks to separate the two is ahistorical and likely to fail. My argument is less anti-COIN and more anti- the FM 3-24 version of COIN being propogated by the US military.

    I want the US to be successful in Afghanistan; I think we should be doing pop-centric COIN in the North and West of the country; I don't want us to withdraw and plunge that country
    into greater instability; but I think the current strategic approach risks doing just that.

    "Are there honestly people who think that COIN is just about giving the people what they need and want?"

    I have to assume that you're just being obtuse here - look at the rhetoric of M4 and other military officers in AF. It has consistently been based on the idea - at least publicly - that by providing Afghans with security and good governance it would turn them against the insurgency. It never mentions a stick-based approach to separating insurgents from the population, which has been the consistent historic approach. It's all carrots.

    I think that you've found yourself in an argument you can't easily get out from underneath. To argue that policymakers have downplayed the violent impact of COIN ON CIVILIAN POPULATIONS is so manifestly untrue I can't really believe you are making that claim.

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  19. I think that you've found yourself in an argument you can't easily get out from underneath. To argue that policymakers have downplayed the violent impact of COIN ON CIVILIAN POPULATIONS is so manifestly untrue I can't really believe you are making that claim.

    I think you may have left out a word here, because I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

    I have to assume that you're just being obtuse here - look at the rhetoric of M4 and other military officers in AF. It has consistently been based on the idea - at least publicly - that by providing Afghans with security and good governance it would turn them against the insurgency. It never mentions a stick-based approach to separating insurgents from the population, which has been the consistent historic approach. It's all carrots.

    I can't believe I have to say this again, but I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE RHETORIC. I've said it before: I agree with you that the rhetoric is not reflective of reality. I'm not saying that this is appropriate, only that it shouldn't be unexpected.

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  20. I suppose I should add that my greatest fear is the occasional sense that I have that McChrystal may actually believe the PAO-ish things that he says.

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  21. "It's [large scale violence] not a silver bullet and it often backfires (Algeria and Vietnam are obvious examples) but it can and has been effective."

    The French counterinsurgency campaign won in Algeria. After winning, the French government transitioned authority to a friendly autonomous Algerian government. That "WAS" De Gaulle's objective.

    The Algerian government won the counterinsurgency in the 1990s.

    In Vietnam, North Vietnam won their counterinsurgency with massive brutality against the South Vietnamese resistance in 1975. This victory was achieved by 6 million boatpeople, over a million imprisoned in concentration camps, and one hundred thousand dead after the surrender of the South Vietnamese government; and otherwise scaring the crap out of the South Vietnamese people.

    The Khmer Rouge similarly won the war against the Cambodian resistance 1975-79. At the cost of killing 2 million people. By 1979 the resistance was wiped out. It was only a full conventional invasion and occupation by Vietnam in 1979 that liberated the Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge.

    While Ann Marlowe is a moron for suggesting that massive violence is necessary for successful counter insurgency; massive violence often works.

    SNLII is right that much of what happened in Iraq was unrelated to what the US did. It troubling how theoreticians often talk of Iraq like a monolith, forgetting that in fact their were different wars fought in each Iraqi province and often many different wars fought in a specific Iraqi province.

    The most important surge in Iraq was the Iraqi surge of ISF in 2006 and 2007.

    If 2nd/3rd IAD's weren't able to assume responsibility for Ninevah in late 2006, and 4th IAD assume responsibility for At Tamin and part of Salahadin in late 2006, the redeployment of MND-N assets to greater Baghdad couldn't have happened. Nor could 2nd IAD have sent half the division, and 3rd and 4th IADs send a brigade each to greater Baghdad if they weren't so effective in the North.

    8th IAD won the war in the upper south excluding Northern Babil with only moderate MNF-I assistance.

    4-6 IA (now renamed 17th IAD) and Hilla SWAT were critical in winning the war in Northern Babil.

    SNLII, wasn't 1st IAD's brutality helpful in winning the war in Al Anbar?

    In greater Baghdad however, the MNF-I played a much larger role than they did elsewhere in the country.

    MIchael Cohen, what do you think lead to victory in Iraq?

    Why do you think violence in Kashmir fell 90% after 9/11/2001?

    What do you think lead to the victory in Algeria in the 1990s?

    What do you think about the ANSF in Afghanistan?

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  22. "my greatest fear is the occasional sense that I have that McChrystal may actually believe the PAO-ish things that he says."

    Meaning?

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  23. "I want the US to be successful in Afghanistan; I think we should be doing pop-centric COIN in the North and West of the country; I don't want us to withdraw and plunge that country
    into greater instability; but I think the current strategic approach risks doing just that."

    Interesting. Do you favor an FID centric advisory training and Afghan institution building focused approach to Afghanistan?

    Do you support increasing the number of ANSF training at any given time [to allow for longer training cycles and improved quality]? Do you support a decade long roadmap to allow the GIRoA to gradually take control of and establish security in all of Afghanistan?

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  24. Cohen might handle this himself, but he rightly has questioned how Classic COIN (American version 2.0) has been sold as a seamless, ahistorical and progressive approach to warmaking, complete with a fixation on the happy ending portion of Hearts and Minds that reached a wet climax in FM 3-24.

    There's actually a long history of this in the COIN literature going all the way back to Gallieni. Douglas Porch writes interestingly about this, but so does Rid, who goes a bit farther to mention how US commanders traffic in the same salesmanship.

    Because Michael is, foremost, a political animal, he sees how the COIN bromides and emphasis on the masturbatory parts of HAM ease the ability for politicians and policymakers to conduct war separate from its reality.

    Gian Gentile in perhaps his most perceptively annoying moment publicly berated some of the memoirs cooked up by the Petraeus brain trust for playing down the violence done by US forces whilst playing up the violence that transpired against their forces.

    In the former, however, the brain trust most certainly applied the violence by fiat whereas they just glom onto the sacrifice by 11B specialists outside the wire to add drama to the books.

    Apparently, this is the sort of white glove slap that colonels who also are historians apply to each other at conferences.

    It probably doesn't help those 11Bs that for every Alex Horton writing about his experiences in the suck there are an effin' million Tom Ricks wannabes with their heads resting on the laps of McChrystal or Petraeus or whomever applying the journalistic equivalent of the girl friend experience, playing down what Alex did so that they might concentrate on the softer, gentler sort of "armed social work."

    SNLII

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  25. "SNLII, wasn't 1st IAD's brutality helpful in winning the war in Al Anbar?"

    Having played a very minor role in that, I recuse myself from the discussion.

    SNLII

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  26. Anand, Kashmir is very, very complicated. Because I'm a dullard, I avoid discussing it, leaving it those who actually know something.

    Of course, I'm a Naxal.

    SNLII

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  27. Would love to learn more about 1st and 7th IADs, offline maybe? Would love to run by you some anecdotal observations about it.

    Think it matters. If 205th ANA Corps becomes as good as 1st and 7th IADs, it transforms everything. The ANA becomes percieved as the strong horse that will win the war eventually. Afghan locals adjust their calculations and actions accordingly.

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  28. "I agree with you that the rhetoric is not reflective of reality."

    Ok but that's the rhetoric of our commander in Afghanistan; it's the rhetoric that fills our newspapers; it's the rhetoric that many Americans read; it's the rhetoric that was all over M4's review; it's the rhetoric that your fears, notwithstanding, overwhelmingly appears to be informing our actions in southern Afghanistan, particularly the ROEs.

    If it wasn't why are we having all these goddamn tea-drinking shuras I keep reading about in the New York Times?

    If you don't think it's appropriate why are you defending it? Your argument seems to be that M4 is spewing bullshit, but he shouldn't be called out for it, because everyone should know better than to believe it.

    I suppose that's an argument, but it's a not very strong one! At the very least you could recognize that not all of us are so trusting that M4 doesn't actually believe the PAO-ish things he is saying.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Start with the article that SNLII links above if you want to see the difference between actions and rhetoric.

    Ok but that's the rhetoric of our commander in Afghanistan; it's the rhetoric that fills our newspapers; it's the rhetoric that many Americans read; it's the rhetoric that was all over M4's review; it's the rhetoric that your fears, notwithstanding, overwhelmingly appears to be informing our actions in southern Afghanistan, particularly the ROEs.

    If it wasn't why are we having all these goddamn tea-drinking shuras I keep reading about in the New York Times?


    This is where you'll have to forgive me when I say that you've got an unbelievably simplistic view of this whole thing. It's not just one or the other. It's not just killing or tea-drinking.

    Here you are, essentially back at Marlowe's argument: if McChrystal were serious about COIN he'd be killing more people, not propagating bullshit rules about holding fire and flapping his gums with tribesmen, right? You both seem confident that the other approach would work, though I'm not sure you agree on whether it'd be worth it.

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  30. "MIchael Cohen, what do you think lead to victory in Iraq?"

    Anand, I think you nailed it in your post. But I would quibble with the use of the word victory. Stabilization (in its current, fragile form) was wrought by violence and brutality (occasionally unrestrained).

    "Interesting. Do you favor an FID centric advisory training and Afghan institution building focused approach to Afghanistan?

    Do you support increasing the number of ANSF training at any given time [to allow for longer training cycles and improved quality]? Do you support a decade long roadmap to allow the GIRoA to gradually take control of and establish security in all of Afghanistan?"

    Much of this seems right to me. At the very least, I think the US should consider the sort of long-term roadmap you mention. Stabilization of Afghanistan and not defeating the Taliban should be our core operating principle.

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  31. Gulliver, if you think about it carefully, you will see that what Ann and McChrystal's PAO avatar are talking about is the nature of the war itself.

    McChrystal assumes in Classic COIN-speak that this is a drive to "out govern" the enemy, to replace with a great deal of US muscle and money the enemy's cadres and shadow governments and miltias with a legitimate, representative democracy that can deliver services and retain a monopoly of firepower on behalf of the ruled.

    Marlow (who actually is an expert on Afghanistan) sees the nature of the war as a retribute civil conflict that pits a loose alliance of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and whatnot against a mostly Pasthun-speaking but quite large minority represented by a number of militias, most especially various Taliban guerrilla organizations, most of them stretching into Pakistan.

    If one sees war as McChrystal does, then it falls into line that a gentle ROE/EOF, lucrative HAM and other Classic COIN efforts will succeed.

    But if you see it as Ann does, then one is forced to concede that there likely is only one means of "winning" in Afghanistan, and that's through a ruthless sectarian war against the Pathans because the Karzai kleptocracy (incompetent, feckless and rendered illegitimate by taint of foreign assistance) ain't gonna get it done, no matter how much we aid it.

    If Ann is right, then the population ain't the prize. The population is to be punished much the same way that the guerrillas will be pounded, should the alliance of sectarians currently disguised as a central governement hope to succeed.

    SNLII

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  32. Gulliver, you're really being obtuse here. My point was that its not all rhetoric from M4 - its also operational decisions. You seem to be arguing that rhetoric is bullshit when clearly it isn't.

    "if McChrystal were serious about COIN he'd be killing more people, not propagating bullshit rules about holding fire and flapping his gums with tribesmen, right? You both seem confident that the other approach would work"

    Honestly, this is just silly. I don;t think we should be killing more people. I don't think we should be trying to pacify southern Afghanistan with a carrot-based approach on a short timeline. That doesn't mean I think we should thus kill em all and let god sort it out. You make this out to be a binary choice between all carrot and all stick when that formulation only exists in your head.

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  33. Don't worry, folks. We now have more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq and we supposedly have the right resources and strategy. John Nagl told us so.

    Take another hit from the bong.

    ReplyDelete
  34. "Stabilization of Afghanistan and not defeating the Taliban should be our core operating principle."

    Agree that stabilization should be the focus. The goal should be a successful Afghanistan in the long run.

    But don't try to win too quickly. Emptying the rest of Afghanistan to resource Helmand/Kandahar ANSF strikes me as risky.

    Can someone explain to me why it is necessary to win in Kandahar this year? Can't the Kandahar operation wait until 2012?

    What areas does everyone think ANSF/ISAF should temporarily cede to the enemy to focus on a smaller ink spot?

    The areas I think ANSF/ISAF should partly cede to the enemy in the short run are:
    -Nuristan
    -Kunar
    -Wardak excluding greater Kabul
    -Paktika
    -Ghazni
    -Zabul
    -Kandahar
    Wait for the following before trying to sieze these areas:
    1) the rest of Afghanistan is an inkspot with improving governance, security and prosperity
    2) the ANA has more than 200 K
    3) ANCOP has more than 15 K

    Would focus on Helmand because Helmand is too far gone to be undone without harming the morale of the ANSF and GIRoA. Helmand also has some anti Taliban Pashun that would be killed if ANSF pulled out.

    Nimruz, Khost, Nangarhar, Uruzgan, Kapisha, Kabul, Parwan, Kunduz, Baghlan, and Laghman have many anti Taliban Pashtun, and the families of Pashtun ANSF need to be protected. Paktia is needed for Khost, to avoid giving Siraj a psychological victory, and to protect the families of many Paktia Pashtun ANSF.

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  35. "John Nagl told us so."

    :LOL: :LOL:

    ReplyDelete
  36. "The areas I think ANSF/ISAF should partly cede to the enemy in the short run "

    The areas I think that we should cede to whomever wants them would be that part of Afghanistan that stretches from Tir Pol east to Aliser and Tash Gozar south to Spin Buldak.

    Going once, going twice...

    SNLII

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  37. "
    But don't try to win too quickly. Emptying the rest of Afghanistan to resource Helmand/Kandahar ANSF strikes me as risky"

    I prefer incredibly stupid, but risky works

    ReplyDelete
  38. As for Ann, I also should mention that when Cohen and I first encountered her, she was suffering from full-blown Coindinistatitis.

    Symptoms included a perversely insane belief that by growing the number of ANPs and "partnering with closely supervised Afghan National Security Forces" and "competent" governors and other officials we could pacify much of the Hindu Kush.

    In 2008, she declared the Taliban a dead military force. No, I'm not kidding.

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/080inxsb.asp

    What prodded her to change her mind?

    Hint, hint: The nature of the war changed.

    SNLII

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  39. As a friend of Ann Marlow, Anand, I can assure you that she's no idiot. I read her rough draft for a SSI essay on Galula coming up. I think her provocative essay about "brutality" really is a means to divert everyone from Galula's emphasis on the population in Classic COIN wars, which no longer apply to conflicts such as in Afghanistan.

    SNLII

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  40. Ann MARLOWE...


    I don't know why I keep doing that.

    SNLII

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  41. What a coincidence: just published, MAJ Nathan Springer (Operations Officer at the COIN Center) in SWJ, Many Paths Up the Mountain: Population-Centric COIN in Afghanistan [pdf].

    The reality of how Troops implement and execute Population-Centric Counterinsurgency (COIN) in Afghanistan and the associated narrative spin in the Western COIN community of interest are at odds. A misguided and mistaken narrative surrounds ISAF’s Population-Centric strategy in Afghanistan. I have listened to countless experts describe Population-Centric COIN as soft, focused on anything but the enemy, and extremely left leaning while Enemy-Centric COIN gets pegged the right-wing counter-terrorism approach, wholly focused on the enemy. This over-simplifies both schools of thought and fails to accurately describe either of them.
    I have heard leaders voice strong concerns that the Population-Centric strategy will constrain them in Afghanistan while some contend Population–Centric COIN is glorified nation building. Others have adopted Population-Centric COIN whole-heartedly and without much question, as if it is the ultimate cure-all for any Area of Operation.
    COIN experts have seemingly come out of the woodwork, each articulating their own COIN theory on Afghanistan. Population-Centric, Leader-Centric, Enemy- Centric, tribally motivated, religiously motivated, externally organized, internally organized, you name it. I have experienced a recurrent thought as I have traveled to various COIN venues over the past few months, scrutinizing the dialogues about these theories. A few days ago, at the COIN symposium, I decided to just get it out there.

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  42. I know everyone is going to roll their eyes at this, but the Indian blogs that I read seem more realistic and level-headed about the situation, and always have. They don't have to pretend (or don't believe), I suppose, that the real problem is Afghanistan.

    - Madhu

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  43. Madhu, Indian blogs were good sources on Afghanistan in the early 2000s.

    But not any more. They aren't granular in detail [differentiating by Afghan province, district and group.] Indians are also too cynical about Pashtuns, and bitter that their repeated offers to help Afghans have been blocked by America despite Afghan eagerness to accept Indian help. Indians think that the NATO allies are not as good quality as the Indian military [I am not kidding, they are arrogant.] Indians think they could train the ANSF far better than ISAF if America would quit blocking them from doing so.

    Indian cynicism about Afghanistan and the ANSF is puzzling given how successful governance, security force development, and private sector growth have been in poor Indian provinces. [Afghanistan is a former province of Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb; and not all that different from some Indian provinces.]

    Indians don't feel ownership for helping the GIRoA and ANSF succeed.

    President Obama and President Bush made big mistakes by blocking Indian training of the ANSF. Gates repeated that mistake in New Delhi earlier this year. [India put pressure on Obama to surge resources into Afghanistan and couldn't quite request America do it unless India offered to chip in too.] What is worse is that McChrystal has supposedly conveyed in private that he wanted India to limit its role in improving the Afghan economy and civilian governance.

    If you don't think that is offensive to Indians; got a bridge I would like to sell you.

    Obama blocking Indian aid to Afghanistan is another reason among many for the growing paranoia among Afghans that ISAF secretly backs the Taliban and AQ linked networks against them. This perception isn't exactly doing wonders for America's image among the tens of thousands of Afghans who have lost a family member in the ANSF.

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  44. Anand:

    Nothing you wrote necessarily negates what I said. You can be cynical and bitter, and still clear-eyed about a situation. Perhaps cynicism is better than fantasy?

    The mistakes you mention are made because the American foreign policy elite has a narrative about South Asia that it just won't quit, no matter the evidence. We will continue to pour money into the same corrupt client-state structures we always have, only the new twist this time is that we have our troops over there too.

    Am I cynical? No, I say this: I don't know what the future will hold and I (sincerely) hope for the best.

    But I don't know.

    - Madhu

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  45. Madhu Didi, if Indians were formally training ANSF and more deeply involved in Afghan civilian governance capacity building and economic development as we speak, Indians would be more positive about the ANSF and Afghanistan than they currently are. After all Bharat can do anything, right. ;-)

    Much of the "cynicism" is sour grapes at how America impolitely blocked their efforts to help. So now part of them wants the ANSF and GIRoA not to be so successful so that America realizes that she messed up.

    Among the NTM-A rank and file, formal significant Indian participation would be greatly appreciated. However, they are not allowed to speak out of lane and admit it on the record.

    ANATC (ANA training command) and the MoI equivalent want Indian help and are frustrated that ISAF is blocking it.

    If India had been allowed to contribute, the ANSF would be further along today. Too bad.

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  46. Anand bhai - we are still dancing around the main issue. You know what I am saying.

    At any rate, points well taken.

    That's it for me on this thread.

    Take care,

    - Madhu

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  47. "They don't have to pretend (or don't believe), I suppose, that the real problem is Afghanistan."

    Think I finally got what you meant to say. Indians believe the main reason the Taliban is so successful is that some parts of the Pakistani establishment support it.

    Whereas it isn't politically correct for North Americans, Europeans, other ISAF allies, or international leftists to admit this.

    If this is what Madhu meant, is this Indian perception correct. Is the largest problem in Afghanistan actually Pakistan? And can Afghanistan be solved without solving Pakistan?

    Any thoughts?

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  48. The Indians have tended to see the problem of Afghanistan as part of a security deficit the for the entire region.

    For domestic reasons, India has watched its negotiations with Islamabad continuously get scuttled. For domestic reasons, elites in Pakistan have had problems mending the Manichean split with India.

    So they're forever on a war footing, and just as Pakistan treats terrorists as strategic chits below the level of nuclear or largescale convention warmaking, so the Indians likewise have sought to encircle Pakistan with regional enemies ranging from the Northern Alliance to various non-batsh** crazy separatists groups.

    The Indians might suggest that you won't "solve" the Afghanistan problem until you "solve" the regional security problem involving Pakistan and India. Kashmir might be the best known battleground, but it's not the only one.

    SNLII

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  49. "For domestic reasons, India has watched its negotiations with Islamabad continuously get scuttled."

    Domestic Indian politics favored peace negotiations with Pakistan. BJP, Congress and the United Front all tried to negotiate peace with Pakistan.

    They were willing to offer Pakistan all kinds of goodies such as free trade, free investment, economic aid. I would not be surprised if they willing to offer paid scholarships to Indian universities for Pakistani students and work visas for Pakistani professionals as sweeteners.

    India was open to all sorts of ideas on Kashmir too, from partition to "co-sovereignty" to other possibilities.

    From the Indian perspective, Indian offers to Pakistan were sincere and constructive.

    "So they're forever on a war footing" much less so on the Indian side. India has 1.2 billion people and sees the world in global terms. Pakistan gets less coverage in the Indian press than it gets in the American press.

    "Indians likewise have sought to encircle Pakistan with regional enemies ranging from the Northern Alliance to various non-batsh** crazy separatists groups." Evidence? India's greatest nightmares are:
    1) nuclear bomb hits Indian population center
    2) Pakistan disintegrates [which risks Pakistani weapons falling into the hands of extremists]

    When the Indian government says that it believes the Pakistani Taliban poses a great threat to India, and want the Pakistani state to succeed they mean it.

    India stopped supporting the Northern Alliance in 2002, and encouraged all Afghan militias to dissolve and join the ANSF.

    What violent Pakistani groups do you think India might be supporting and why?

    "Kashmir might be the best known battleground, but it's not the only one." That is for sure. India's biggest priorities, truly speaking, are to prevent terrorist attacks against the rest of India.

    The biggest front in the global war on terror is the Pakistani civil war. Afghanistan is another important front, as are Takfiri attacks agaisnt Shiites in Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Yemen.

    Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia are also important fronts.

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  50. "Evidence?"

    The year before 9/11, India was supplying the NA with more than $70 million in military aid. India previously had catered to the anti-Taliban forces supported by ISI, but the new supplies were destined for Massoud's NA and run through the Indian depot at Dushanbe in Tajikistan.

    When Massoud was attacked by bin Laden's agents, he was taken to the Indian military hospital at Farkhor in Tajikistan.

    Why was an India military base in Tajikistan? Why was India running military supplies through Tajikistan? To erode Islamabad's notion of strategic depth by encircling it from the west.

    It's also why India has sought to extend military, diplomatic, intelligence and economic tentacles into Uzbekistan and other Central Asian nations -- raw materials (especially energy) and boxing in Pakistan.

    'When we look at our extended neighborhood we cannot but be struck by the
    fact that India is the only open pluralistic democratic society and rapidly
    modernizing market economy between the Mediterranean and the Pacific.
    This places a special responsibility upon us not only in the defense of our
    values but also in the search for a peaceful periphery. We have traditionally
    conceived our security in extending circles of engagement. Today, whether it
    is West Asia, the Gulf, Central Asia or the Indian Ocean region, there is increasing
    demand for our political, economic and defense engagement.'

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 2006

    Both nations meddle in sectarian separatist organizations. Both nations support or seek support from regional neighbors. Since Smiling Buddha, both nations have moved to prosecute for their own domestic reasons a form of warfare low enough along the spectrum of conflict that they won't risk nuclear destruction or another massive conventional bloodletting.

    America should thread the needle between them, becoming an honest broker to both Pakistan and India. But we won't do this because our generals refuse to see Afghanistan beyond its strategic perimeters.

    That's because our generals are strategically stupid and operationally gifted.

    SNLII

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  51. (Okay, this really is my last comment)

    SNLII or others:

    Various people keep recommending the following book to me:

    http://www.amazon.com/KAOBOYS-RANDAW-Down-Memory-Lane/dp/097961743X

    Have you or anyone else here around here read the book? If you did, what did you think?

    The United States, because of its client-state relationship with Pakistan, cannot be an honest broker between the two nations.

    This is the essential problem that the American foreign policy elite (right and left, both) has created for itself and to the detriment of the Pakistanis, the Indians, and ourselves, too.

    - Madhu

    PS: Okay, it's a theory. I don't know if it represents truth.

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  52. SNLII, congrats for knowing about Indian activities pre 2002. Most people don't know and don't care.

    Was India giving only $70 million/year to the Northern Alliance? If so, that was one cheap effective investment. And it lead to the liberation of Afghanistan and the freeing of Afghan woman in 2001. [To be sure Turkish, Iranian, Russian and Western help were also essential to the victory of the Northern Alliance and their allies.]

    I think the Indian depot at Dushanbe in Tajikistan and Indian military hospital at Farkhor in Tajikistan benefit Afghanistan, central Asian reason; while weakening the Taliban and its allies.

    "To erode Islamabad's notion of strategic depth by encircling it from the west." Started out that way. But the main motivation changed to supporting the Northern Alliance and later ANSF/ISAF against Siraj Haqqani, Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, LeT, JeM, LeJ, Iyas Kashmiri's brigade 313, Lashkar al Zil, TNSM, TTP.

    India has a file against the AQ and Taliban linked networks independent of its file with respect to Pakistan.

    If there is a major terrorist attack against India, there is a good chance it will have a Siraj, Mullah Omar, AQ, TTP/TNSM, LeT connection. LeT/JeM/Harakat al Mujahadin declared Osama Bin Laden to be their supreme leader in the late 1990s.

    As of now LeT, JeM, LeJ/Sipah e Sahaba, AQ, Osama Bin Laden, Zawahiri, TNSM, TTP, Siraj Haqqani, Hekmatyur, have all publicly declared that Mullah Omar is their supreme leader. India's struggle against them will continue regardless of Pakistani/Indian relations.

    India will soon be the world's third largest economy. It needs lots of natural resources. This is why India is so interested in Africa, Indonesia, Central Asia, and Latin America.

    India is more dominated by its business lobby and more pro business than America is. India is like China in that ;-)

    Americans are more emotional and idealistic.

    "Both nations meddle in sectarian separatist organizations." Examples of Indians doing this to Pakistani internal groups?

    Indians have been sympathetic to Balochi seperatists. This is the only thing I can think of. But even here, I am unaware of Indians actually giving weapons or training to them.

    "America should thread the needle between them, becoming an honest broker to both Pakistan and India. But we won't do this because our generals refuse to see Afghanistan beyond its strategic perimeters." Actually, I don't think we should. Rather we should force some other poor sucker to be the neutral arbitrator that gets to be hated by both sides for his/her efforts.

    "That's because our generals are strategically stupid and operationally gifted." To some degree true. They don't incorporate a broad enough view, perhaps out of fear they will go out of their lane. They don't incorporate economic, 3 D considerations sufficiently.

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  53. The Pakistanis have long alleged that the Indians have intrigued in Balochistan. It seems likely to me for realpolitik reasons, but there's no hard proof, unlike with the NA.

    The US actually could learn a few lessons about DIME from the Indians and the Pakistanis, at least in south Asia.

    India had a boner for the Taliban following the plane hijacking shortly after they came to power, but they never cared for them anyway because they perceived of them as clients of ISI anyway. "Strategic depth" for the Pakistanis allowed for a great deal of cross-pollination of these terror organizations in the wild west, a dangerous game but one that worked well enough for ISI and solved some domestic problems for Islamabad along the way.

    Both India and Pakistan face ongoing insurgencies within their own borders (Naxal in India being the most serious whereas Islamabad deals with the various Pakistani Taliban). Neither nation is likely to fall because of them, but because of their Manichean struggle they perhaps haven't given these nettlesome revolutions the effort that they require.

    If you want peace in Afghanistan, you must get peace -- or at least a working understanding -- between India and Pakistan and their regional allies, including PRC.

    Perhaps the best chance of that is American leadership. Or perhaps the best chance is American eviction. I don't know.

    I'm not sure anyone does.

    SNLII

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  54. So long as we're talking about "client states" and those untrustworthy Pakistanis, and lauding the Indians for all of their own surely selfless contribution to world peace and global economic growth, there are people that might be interested in this story.

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  55. Oh Gulliver.

    What a silly strawman argument. Who ever said the Indians are perfect beings or don't do realpolitik to further their own national goals and interests? I am not Anand, remember?


    Are you seriously arguing that a succession of American governments has not tried to "rent" out the Pakistani army in a sense, in order to further our goals? To the detriment, I stress again, of the Pakistani people themselves?

    Anyway, I don't like discussing this issue with you because, frankly, I don't know how much you've read of the history of the region, whether from a Pakistani or Indian perspective. But maybe you have. Even the Pakistanis would agree with my assessment above - that American military aid has caused a lot of problems.

    - Madhu

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  56. Sorry, I had to re-read what you wrote again.

    It made me laugh, it is so off the wall. Good grief, Gulliver. Do you sometimes just argue for the sake of arguing?

    - Madhu

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  57. You know what I think? You are displaying that progressive Orientalism I sometimes talk about.

    You think that all brown people everywhere must be talked about equally, because we can't make value judgments on behavior.

    Well, I can and will. Governance in that part of the world is categorically awful, favors a small feudal elite, and creates a misery for its own people.

    Although, given the state of governance around these parts, maybe I shouldn't complain too much.

    - Madhu

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  58. What a silly strawman argument. Who ever said the Indians are perfect beings or don't do realpolitik to further their own national goals and interests? I am not Anand, remember?

    You might consider the possibility that I wasn't referring to you.

    Are you seriously arguing that a succession of American governments has not tried to "rent" out the Pakistani army in a sense, in order to further our goals? To the detriment, I stress again, of the Pakistani people themselves?

    What would give you the idea that I'm arguing that?

    You know what I think? You are displaying that progressive Orientalism I sometimes talk about.

    You think that all brown people everywhere must be talked about equally, because we can't make value judgments on behavior.


    You're free to make all the value judgments you like. I don't see that as being particularly helpful in getting us to our policy objectives, so I'm not going to sit here and whine about how the Pakistanis are so bad, and we don't treat the Indians well, and some people are kind-hearted and filled with democratic spirit while others are greedy swindlers, pulling the wool over our eyes to enrich themselves to the detriment of their people.

    It's a complicated game. We're not doing a very good job of playing it. We're not going to get any better at the game by reflexively distrusting every Pakistani while taking every Indian at face value.

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  59. How do you know that "Gulliver" isn't from some feudal society?

    I mean, he is from Texas.

    I don't think that he's brown skinned. Sure, he finds Kelley Vlahos "kinda hot" and drinks Bud Light, two uber-white things that probably disqualify him from most other race and cultures just on principle.

    But we need to know so much more.


    SNLII

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  60. Thanks very much for your response. I read Ink Spots regularly (you're highly recommended by some heavy weight mutual? friends)

    I think it's likely a misunderstanding, and that's my fault. I appeared to lump you in with a bad crowd (Marlowe), but I actually linked to that piece because I agreed with it. It was, I maintain, an honest and thoughtful discussion about authoritarianism and the brutality it permits in war (authors you referenced often conflated the two, as did I). You didn't find much evidence to support the persistent idea of authoritarian COIN, and that's why I linked it, in the hopes that someone would click through and see that even serious COIN bloggers weren't entirely comfortable with the idea.

    As for the tone of the piece, I think we should be a little more honest. It's part of the blogging -format- to be over the top, isn't it? And yes, sometimes it comes dangerously close to a farrago of aspersions. For example, one might say I was ejaculating righteous indignation in my piece, as if to say I'm some kind of asshole for caring about the murder of human beings. It's a very twisted way of looking at compassion and humanity, but it's blogging, right? It looks good when you make your point.

    However, I may well be unhinged, but I'm also not advocating violence or brutality against human beings, as those who support COIN do, so I'm not sure how I'm the bad guy for that one. If Ann Marlowe thinks we could be successful by shelling a few more refugee camps, yes, I'm going to say she wants our soldiers to be war criminals. As you've said, the COIN rhetoric does not match reality, and that needs to be corrected.

    The idea of me as a progressive pacifist is laughable, but that's OK, you don't know me. I don't think it's a good idea to conflate my views with that of all HuffPo or FDL, though. Those are open forums, and all manner of view points are allowed to be expressed. Nobody agrees on anything, so one piece, or 100 pieces, don't really help you draw any conclusions. You might find my posts infuriating, but the other bloggers there could easily become your next favorite. Don't write them off because of me.

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  61. "I'm not attacking anyone, nor am I trying to silence dissent. But let's be clear about the fact that you and Mull are united on one specific point: you argue against COIN as a means to argue against the Afghan war. You're both writing advocacy pieces.”

    To be clear, I understand this was not an attack. I have no problem taking criticism, if only as the price of giving it, and I see zero harm in having my ideas put to the crucible. I appreciate very much you taking the time to engage in the discussion.

    But what's wrong with being against the war? And using -facts- and -historical study- to back it up? I can't speak for Mr. Cohen, but the facts didn't really come secondary for me.

    It's not like I decided to be against the war one day, then dug around for some evidence to support that. The facts are -why- I'm against the war. If Afghanistan were a peaceful, democratic ally, free of terrorism, or whatever today's reason is, then sure, great job COIN. But instead I see the situation getting worse and can't help but think this isn't the most effective foreign policy. Maybe someone else can see a thousand dead Americans and a trillion dollars down the hole as a good strategy, but I just can't filter the facts through that lens.

    I get that you seek an understanding of the policy, of action and reaction, etc. But that's not the only piece of puzzle. Some people advocate for policy. Somebody successfully advocated for counterinsurgency strategy and now you have something to talk about. Ink Spots may not be the appropriate -venue- for advocating policy, but attacking its existence or saying we're pretending to do something strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of how government works. We're not somehow -bad- or -less- than what you do in your discussions, we just focus on a different stage of the process. You may not want to silence dissent, but can you also respect it?

    Thanks again for your response.

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  62. Excellent work - one of your best pieces in my opinion: thoughtful and insightful. Keep up the good work. Regards, Tripper

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  63. Policy is king, but often is ignorant of the nature and character of war.

    – Colin S. Gray

    For some reason, this observation seems to apply.

    SNLII

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