Friday, October 16, 2009

Jiu Jitsu in Afghanistan

All right, here's the deal. I 'm paid to point things out that others haven't noticed. Not all the under-examined concepts that fizz out of my contrary-cracked mind prove right or even sane!  But I am pretty good at showing that this or that twist should at least be put on the table, and dismissed properly. And so, I'm going to toss something out there.  It is far from the most preposterous alternative I've come up with.  In fact, this idea should work! Even though it hasn't a prayer of being tried.

Let the Taliban take over Kandahar and parts of Pashtunistan.

 Yes, it sounds terrible.  Defeatist.  Humiliating.  Sending exactly the wrong message to our Pakistani quasi-allies and giving the jihadists reason to cheer...

Or would it?  Think.  When did we do our very best against the Taliban?

During the initial post-9/11 intervention, when they had something to lose.  Something that could easily be taken from them.  Guerillas are at their best sneaking around in barely more than the clothes on their backs, sniping in target-rich environments.  They know that they are absolutely terrible at holding onto discrete, well-defined territory, let alone governing it. Not against a coalition of modern powers.

Now combine this with the following news article from McClatchy (10/16/09):  The U.S. military can send only about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in the next three months without putting excessive strains on the Army and Marine Corps , but the top Afghanistan commander has said he needs more than twice that number to have the best chance of success, military and administration officials told McClatchy. 

Put aside for now the near-treason of a previous administration that left our military in such a state. (When Bill Clinton left office after a fantastically successful Balkans Intervention, every single US brigade was rated "fully combat ready."  When Bush left office, NONE were rated even close to fully combat ready.)  

The significant point here is that we simply haven't the resources to simply "police-down" a wild-ass insurgency in every valley of Afghanistan, also known as "the place that empires go, to die."

So let's try a little thought experiment.  Suppose we talked Karzai into "ordering" US and NATO forces out of some well-defined area called Pashtunistan.  The Pashtuns are the principal tribe causing trouble in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. A high fraction are fanatically conservative, the ones who want their women wrapped up in burkhas and who banned both music and kite-flying.  Suppose Karzai said "I've struck a deal -- limited autonomy for the Taliban in this region, if they'll agree to pull out everywhere else."

 Of course the Taliban will agree... and of course they'll intend, first chance, to stab Karzai in the back and resume their campaign.  That's given. Only think:

 1)  During the two month transition, you'll see transfers of population.  Fanatics hurrying to Kandahar and moderates moving out.  Especially any woman with any sense of pride or self-preservation.  Drawing fanatics away from the rest of Afghanistan and Pakistan and concentrating them in a place that finds itself almost without women?  Um... what's not to like?

 2) The new Pashtunistan will happen to have boundaries that allied forces can seal, at least somewhat.  It is arguable that less heroin will escape that way, than currently does, through today's widely-cast net.  In any event, trade will be at the mercy of the surrounders, not the surrounded.  Moreover, as part of the deal, the radicals will have to first turn over strong points and passes to the Pakistani Army.

3) This turns the civil war into a tribal one.  It should cause support for the government to rise everywhere outside Pashtunistan, as  Uzbeks and Tajiks and others remember what life was like, before 2002.  Especially as Kandahar devolves back into incompetent rule, poverty and sheer nastiness.  

(Let the Taliban cry out for donations and help from radicalists in Al Qaeda and the Arab world.  Let those funds flow.  It won't be enough.  Nothing can be enough.  Those sources will dry up.)

 4)  War will resume.  It is inevitable.  Jihadists cannot grasp satiability.  They'll start attacking, again.  And, when they do, we can simply take it all away from them again, in a matter of days, fighting on our terms, not theirs, to be greeted as liberators, even by the Pashtuns of Kandahar.  Oh, in trying to defend fixed positions, Taliban troops will be at their most vulnerable.

 Sure, it's a bit cynical, manipulative and callous... almost like the way the British behaved, during their imperial era.  The fig leaf of Karzai ordering this would be essential.   But really, when all is said, where are the failure modes?  For example, suppose the new Pashtunistan government surprised us by showing competence, skill and restraint, separating from Afghanistan and joining the community of nations.  Even if they are hostile to us, tell me how that would be worse than the present situation?  In fact, the more they have to lose, the more likely they will fear a repeat of 2002.

Oh, and then there's this.  A Taliban entity, sitting once more on the border of Iran?  Let the mullahs sweat that out.

All right, this doesn't fit into tidy left-right boxes.  Anyway, I despise that metaphor.  We need to be idealists, but pragmatic ones who are capable of jiu jitsu, when it seems called for.  And, when it comes to Afghanistan, jiu jitsu is always called for.


David Brin said...

Continuing the BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC theme... need a web site... and then new verses.

Continuing the grapes of wrath theme... heroin of hysteria? Cocaine of culture war? Dope of dogmatism?

Or stick to fruit?

Barry Goldwater's body is a-spinning in his grave....

When Adam Smith joins Maynard Keyes, then something is amiss....


Ilithi Dragon said...

I have to say that I like the Afghanistan idea, Dr. Brin, though as you said, it's unlikely to happen.

As for drugs/fruit... I'd say mostly stick to fruit. A common-usage drug reference to stupidity/delusion might work, but probably only once.

Rob Perkins said...

It occurs to me to suggest that such a thing would impel Iran to invade Pashtunistan just to keep the... oh...

That's a bit of Machiavellian brilliance, there, David.

Unknown said...

I have thought for some time the only reason to be in Afghanistan is the drug trade. By itself if corrupts governments, engenders violence and according to some authorities funds terrorism.

Surely we can interdict the processing centers and trade route with fraction of our current force.

lc said...

The infrastructure is happening!

A McDonald's in Pacific Beach (San Diego) is installing electric-vehicle chargers for its customers to use while they eat.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Sorry, Dr. Brin, but I'm going to have to CITOKATE you here. I think the most likely scenario to be enacted is an even better version of what you're proposing... as it fixes some flaws you may or may not have considered.

First, you're totally right: pulling into specific localities and letting the Taliban temporarily take a territory (and thus be pinned down to it) is absolutely a correct strategy. It's too bad that the Pashtun areas are the one place on the entire planet that Taliban/Qaeda laws and practices won't raise local hatred to the boiling point within six months.

Second, securing a border -- any border, drawn anywhere -- in Afghanistan is grade-A tough. With no rivers, plateaus, swamps, etc., your borders are limited to flat open semi-arid plains and mountain ranges. The enemy specializes in mountain operations, so that doesn't help; and as for flat open semi-arid plains, we can't close a border like that even in our homeland!

Cities, on the other hand, are something we have learned a great deal about defending in the past decade. We know now all too well how to keep ratfinks out of population centers; everything from the return of the city wall (three hundred years after cannon made it obsolete) to anti-IBD checkpoint procedures. We can *do* this, especially if we reconcentrate our forces.

Third -- as a practical matter -- occupying the cities means occupying the moral and memetic high ground. If you can't defend your capital (as Pakistan currently can't), you're seen as weak both inside and outside your borders. If you can, you're strong. *Holding* Kandahar, Kabul, and selected other cities and making them what we *want* Afghanistan to be makes us look good to voters at home and all the people there -- even as we're executing the partial-withdrawal strategy.

Fourth, and finally -- Karzai wouldn't do it. He's Pashtun and Kandahari himself, and what little credibility remains to him stems from his strong efforts to unite Afghanistan and tamp down ethnic animosities. All of that would be undone by declaring a Pashtunistan; every other ethnic group would demand the same, people would bicker, and Afghanistan would fall apart again. It would amount to renegotiating the Constitution, and Afghanistan doesn't need that. It would be political -- and quite possibly literal -- suicide for Karzai to do such a thing. Even if your plan succeeded, Dr. Brin, Karzai would still be the scapegoat for the increased ethnic tensions... there's no way for him to win personally, and there's no way it contributes to long-term stability for Afghanistan.

And even if we destroy the Taliban, if Afghanistan stays destabilized, their successor would inevitably arise and swear vengeance on us. It may or may not have been wise to stick our hand in the beehive -- even if we had to -- but now that we have, we'd best not pull it out until we're sure the bees won't come after us.

But fortunately, from what I hear, the middle-road strategy now being debated dodges these problems by making the cities, rather than the non-Pashtun areas, the fallback ground from which we will re-strike the Taliban. Further, we give the civilian teams the time to build the goodwill and infrastructure we should have been working hard on since 2002, and haven't for all the reasons you have discussed so thoroughly.

Remember -- it's not because they really like the Taliban that people welcome them back. It's because they deliver on their promises. If we can, and give them peace too, we win. Hands down. Even among those who think women should never have shoes or learn to read.

David Brin said...

Catfish, I totally disagree!!! ;-)

Seriously, you have it backwards. Afghanistan's countryside is possible to quell, through technology. Envision real surveillance tech taken another generation ahead. Barren mountains are good guerilla territory, until they are watched in all places and all times with deep-spectral sensitivity. THEN then become very much unlike jungles... they become death traps.

At that point, the principal consideration is the expense of the tools used to get the bad guys. Hellfire missiles can't be wasted on ones and twos on a mountain trail. Here is where we might see the first use of battlefield lasers -- not against tanks or ICBMs.

IF the right tech breakthroughs happened, a few hundred high point surveillance sites -- inaccessible by anything but helicopter -- ought to make interdiction possible. SOmething that is much harder in cities, as the Pakistanis are finding out.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Well, Northrop has already successfully tested a 105-kilowatt solid state battlefield laser prototype, that is small enough to mount in the back of a truck, or on a tank or airplane, early this year, and their Firestrike system is a 15-kilowatt solid state laser that was ready for order late last year (as in 'production model' and not prototype), and is small enough to mount in the back of a truck. Combine with some high-tech surveillance systems we've had for the last 10-20 years, and I think Dr. Brin's idea could well be within our technological (and probably financial) capabilities now

Brendan said...

When the US goes into re-liberate the Taliban owned areas, my guess is the Talban and their supporters will do exactly what the Iraqis did that ended causing the US so much grief. They will put up token resistance and fade into the background. Lots of caches of ammo and IEDs will be in place for the Resistance to use against the US-Afghan-International INVADERS(which is how the attacking forces will be seen locally).

In Terry Pratchett's latest book peace is defined as"a period of time to allow for preparation for the next war". This is exactly how the Taliban would see any offers of peace, no matter how rosy they seem.

rewinn said...

Letting the Afghans work out their own heaven or hell would seem to be a wise course.

Certainly we should offer money, intelligence, food, roads and so forth to the factions we prefer. But if the people we like can't win with the essentially unlimited arms we can give, they can't win. Period.

The problem with a battlefield magic laser is the same as with a smart bomb or a cruise missile or a combat team sent into a village controlled by the communists (or Taliban, or whoever the bad guy of the week may be). A smart enemy (...the non-smart ones don't last long...) figures out how to infect the intel stream and take out HIS foes with OUR ordinance.

Tony Fisk said...

If you're seen as invaders, then life under the Taliban can't have been that bad, despite the assumption that might lead to invading in the first place.

Be very careful of believing your own propaganda.

Talking of bearded renegades, it seems an appropriate point to slip in a couple of articles giving pirates a better rap than the history books suggest. Did hollywood swashbucklers get it right!!? Well, maybe. You decide whether Somalis are carrying on a tradition that Adam Smith would have recognised)

(A-vast forthcoming novel about an-arrr-chy and collapse might find some interesting snippets to use, even if its just cybernetic parrots... oh! ;-)

On the battle hymn:

Wage war on drugs while singing hallelujah/
Sustain the righteous wrath: smash every hoo-kah!/
Don't think about the rush that's surging through ya!
You can withdraw in the morning!

(possibly a bit divisive in ways undesirable? That's what citing Kate is about!)

Tony Fisk said...

A variation on the pirate riff.

The commons seems to be regaining support.

Tragic!? Or has the collapse of communism allowed a veil to drop?

Website? You know where pbworks is!

Jon Sills said...

I read recently that the opium crop was worth in the neighborhood of $4 billion per year to Afghani farmers.

Might it be cheaper to simply outbid the bad guys, and offer, say, $5 billion per year for the poppy output, than to send people in to try to destroy the poppies? And might that increase our popularity with the Afghan people?

Unknown said...

Durians of Doubt.

Lychee of Lies.

Kumquats of Corruption!

(doesn't really scan...)

Ilithi Dragon said...


I think the problem is that you're trying to match fruit that start with the same letter as the word theme you want the line to focus on. Grapes and Wrath don't really have any phonetic association, after all. Try going for symbolism, instead.

David Brin said...

I think the failure of the Bushites to fully fund development of surveillance + laser interdiction methods is further evidence that they did not want to win.

Well... actually, some of these lasers are big chemical jobs that require a lot of tanks of stuff to run. Not exactly easily placed on a maintain top overlooking a valley/pass. Not the way you should be able to set up surveillance tools, camouflaged and with great ease.

Missiles are too expensive except for hi value targets. I guess, till really good lasers are around (ideally solar powered!) the compromise would be a kind of middle caliber, hyper accurate sniper/artillery.

Crux. Technology distinguished us from the clumsy USSR in 2002. Another leap is called for... though it is still a scary/awful quagmire.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Dr. Brin, the laser systems that Northrup has already developed (Firestrike, and the 105 KW prototype they successfully tested early this year, with just some miniaturization and ruggedization required for a production model) are solid state lasers, with solid-state lasing mediums pumped by laser diodes, unlike the big, bulky chemical laser job they're stuffing into a C-130. These 15-105 kW laser devices are small enough to mount in the back of a truck, or on a tank, or in a plane or chopper. They're not as powerful as the chemical lasers, but then, you don't need megawatts of power to take out infantry, artillery shells, missiles, etc. We have this very technology that you're talking about right now.

David Brin said...

There is still the question of supplying power. Electricity ain't cheap at those wattages. You need to pump up dang big capacitors. If it's done with gasoline generators, you'll need a big 'un and lots of fuel and capacitors and TIME between shots.

If they've reduced the size/bulk of support material and the recharge rate, and if they could be deployed to high vantage points in large numbers, then it could be a very effective weapon for these circumstances, rendering Afgh a terrible place for infiltration, rather than a very good place for infiltrators. Except in rain and smoke and haze, of course.

Have refs & URLs?

Rob Perkins said...

David, those are small wattages.

Five car batteries in series can sustain 10 kW output for a few seconds, and that's a relatively primitive battery technology. About 180 amp-hours per battery, 98% efficient, marvelous recharge-ability.

Tony, your meter's off for the tune that goes with the Battle Hymn of the Republic; I can't come up with a melisma that makes it all match up.

diumbsh -- Y'all won't be able to resist the obvious with this one, will you?

soc said...


On the question of women fleeing the fanatics, surely plenty would have done so already from Afghanistan and the NWFP in Pakistan if it was realistic. That part of the world is pretty unforgiving to single women on the run. I fear most women will be trapped in Pashtunistan.

Secondly, what is the end game? Once the taliban have to hold and defend a territory they're going to lose. It's not their game.
But once they lose, they'll simply go back to being a guerilla army.

2002 will be repeated with the same results. Nato forces take the field and the taliban go back to hit and run warfare.

Am I missing something?

Ilithi Dragon said...

Yeah, the 100-kilowatt range is fairly low; the 1500+ kilowatt gas-turbine engine used in the M1 Abrams could easily put out that much juice with no loss in performance of the tank (largely because all the M1s have a governor that restricts their top speed to 45 mph, even though they're capable of 70+, because above 45 they start to shake themselves apart). That doesn't account for input-output efficiency, though.

Now, the battery tech for a fully-mobile armored laser is still a little limited (though we're making a lot of advancements there, too), but for a stationary emplacement? There shouldn't be much trouble.

As for links, here are a few news articles (plus the ones I provided above):


And the 105 kilowatt laser (the Firestrike platform with 7 compound units):

Now, the actual energy efficiency of the device is 19.3%, so the actual energy input required is in the range of 550 kilowatts, which is a bit more of a stretch for mobile power generation and energy storage, but still within the range of our capabilities, especially when you consider recent progress there.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re John Sills suggestion,
I have heard that we need the heroin for medical use
The idea of buying it from the Afghan farmers is worth pursuing

David Brin said...

The 100kw laser is way overkill for the purposes of Afgh insurgent interdiction. Far more significant, for dealing with supply trains of mules and infantry winding through a mountain pass, would be:

1_ Rapid repeat cycle
2_ super-accurate sequential tracking/aiming
3_ rugged portability for helicopter placement at high/secure aeries with wide regions of coverage

Of course, it is easy for an armchair general to imagine just fifty or a hundred such watch sites being able to surveil and interdict all plausible infiltration paths. In reality, convenient/defensible/suppliable aeries may not be available in all locales. Or line-of-sight problems may multiply the number needed. Hence, blimps would be a cool supplement, but slow to respond. Tethered aerostats would be easier to deploy for wide coverage, but also vulnerable to attack. Other kinds of aircraft cannot loiter permanently.

Then there's the public relations problem. People are squeamish about ALL variants on warfare. Using lasers against missiles? Fine. Against human flesh? Even though the wounds are probably cleaner than a bullet, a lot of folks would protest. Especially if even one insurgent were blinded, instead of killed.

Am I starting to sound like someone right-of-center, now? A fanboy of military SF? Well, sure. I always avowed to having many slivers of conservative or libertarian traits, mixed into the progressive whole. Indeed, most of my denunciations of the neocons deal with how they have betrayed patriotism, responsibility, prudence, restraint, self-reliance, individualism, professionalism, market-mindedness, sobriety and military readiness.

Anyway, those Taliban not only want to kill us and topple western civilization. They want to enslave women, and the liberation of women is the salvation of the world. If they can be stopped under circumstances and in locales where there just aren't any innocent bystanders -- along those mountain trials -- then I say go Pax Americana.

Tony Fisk said...

Rob, if my meter's off, it may be because I'm confusing the Battle Hymn with John Brown's body. If so, it serves me right for putting an oar into other people's cultural history!

... Ah, wait! The inner wikipedia does match the outer... try matching it to the chorus:

(Glory), (glory) (hallelujah)
(Wage-war-on-drugs) (while singing) hallelujah/
(Sustain-the) (righteous-wrath): (smash every hoo-kah!)/
(Don't-think) (about-the) (rush that's surging through ya!)
You can withdraw in the morning!

The ends a bit ropy, and may not be where you want to go.

(Avoiding the alliteration trap, what about the goosegogs of rant?)

sociotard said...

I'm pretty sure Obama isn't going to pursue lasers all that much. He helped cut off that laser plane, after all.

Rob Perkins said...

Sorry, Tony, I'm pretty sure "John Brown's Body" and the "Battle Hymn" use the same tune.

All this sniping means I'm going to have to come up with a verse myself, doesn't it?

Rob Perkins said...

OK, in my opinion, if you're going to do extra verses of the Battle Hymn correctly, and have a chance to make something that produces a unifying trajectory in the American memespace, then stick to the themes of the song, and leave the first three lines of the chorus to sing the glory glories.

Remember, you're singing about What God Is Doing, and you can be as deist or polytheist as you like about it, I think.

Like this:

He has opened halls of learning to the mind of ev'ry man
He has liberated mothers and their daughters, in His Plan
He has stoked the fires for freedom in the heart of ev'ry land
His Work is marching on!

(g-g-h X 3, His Work is marching on!)

(and you can substitute "We" for "He" and "Our" for "His" if so desired.)

In the past ensuing decades we have learned to enter space
We have plumbed the depths of oceans, put diseases in their place
We have opened up the civitas to every sex and race!
Thus God is marching on!

OK, that's just two toss-offs. What do you think?

Ilithi Dragon said...

Very nice, especially the first one.

I can try setting up a website, though my skills aren't very 'leet, and I won't be able to get started on it for a week or two, because of things going on here. Any ideas/brainstorms for the website?

lc said...

Rob: Bravo! Encore!

(Oh, word verification is "nuttag"...)

Ilithi Dragon said...

Hmm... 'nuttag'... Peanut washer?
} ; = 8 P

David Brin said...

Rob, those two are terrific!

Needed verses that:

- anger toward those who try to monopolize his name

- faith that He cares more about our future than our past, and takes joy as our wisdom and power grows....

Rob Perkins said...

Thanks, very much!

But they're doggerel, really; all I was going for was a match of meter and theme.

Maybe I'll take a crack at those two other ideas. The tune is a massive earworm for me today.

sociotard said...

Man murders couple for being "too liberal"


Davin Brin predicted 10,000 McVeighs/
A war of native terror to darken all our days/
Have we lost our future bright with Enlightenments rays?/
May right keep marching on!

Rob Perkins said...


Not quite; try this modification:

David Brin predicted horror in ten thousand Tim McVeighs
Wreaking wars of native terror, out to darken all our days
They have lost the sight of progress, blind to Reason's holy rays
Will right keep marching on?

Framed like that, we keep your sentiment, but match the meter of the tune.

Even so, though, it doesn't quite match with the pattern of the chorus, and will probably become anachronistic very quickly. And it's more about despair than the song's original call-to-action sense, but that would be quickly corrected by another verse.

rewinn said...

Dr. Brin must be joking about the laser blimps, since he hasn't bothered to respond to the problem Western military technology has had in fighting irregulars since Vietnam: intel.

Laser blimps or Marines on the ground have the same problem: is the dark-skinned man walking across the desert an evil communist seeking to sap your precious bodily fluids, or your comrade-in-arms seeking to hunt the same?

We never solved that problem in Vietnam, and it wasn't because we couldn't kill enough nonwhite people. The issue is not whether one is a rightwing SF fanboy or a limpwristed Liberace impersonator; the issue is the simple fact that the proposed weapon system simply creates more recruits for the badguys faster. Acting like the Russians is no way to win in Afghanistan.

Certainly the Taliban have an evil policy toward women, and granted that Dr. Brin agrees with Thom Hartmann that the feminization of politics and policy is necessary for passing the Threshold to a sustainable planet; it does not follow logically that turning the Taliban into feminists is the most urgent problem before us. One really interested in improving the status of women through force might divert those drones futilely seeking to distinguish good Afghans from bad Afghans to Darfur. Or to Saudi Arabia, where women are beheaded for complaining about being raped.

As for "killing them over there so the don't kill us over here" ... one might ask how an Afghan who doesn't realize that the world is round will be able to get through Customs at La Guardia? How many Afghans attacked us on 9/11 anyway?

Tony Fisk said...

OK, here's my take 2 (point about the chorus btw):

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is sweeping out the foxholes where the gripes and rants get gnawed.
He hath shone a fateful light on every false and righteous word,
His truth is marching on.

Hmmm! Aren't (blinding) lasers banned by UN regulations? (Never mind the effect of some poor sod's clothes spontaneously combusting, there is the thicket of mens' laws to weave through)

entedda: a counter-hijack operation executed by an elite force of stuffed toys.

Tom from Calgary said...

Just as a point of note Dr. Brin you really may want to re-examine your assertion that the Balkans intervention was "fantastically successful".

It has been anything but to date in terms of building functioning civil society.

The only thing accomplished might be politely described as kicking the can down the road a decade or two.

Going on two decades later there are still tens of thousands of troops stationed there, Bosnia will most likely come apart at the seams violently at some point in the next few years yet again, Kosovo is so far from being a functional state it's not even funny and with the Russians being back in the saddle again and trying to make a point that they're still a superpower you can safely expect the Serbs to start getting pushy as well in some of the territories bordering Serbia.

Out of sight out of mind does not make things fantastically successful. Give it under a decade and they'll most likely be knee deep in blood again. Faster if the EU decides it can't afford to keep footing the bill for what's effectively a wholly owned satrap in Kosovo.

David Brin said...

By all mans, tell this to the women and children of Sarajevo, Jace, Prizren, Skopje, who now see no difference between their peaceful lives and rebuilt schools and the way things were, when we intervened.

WIth all the former components of Yugoslavia working like mad (and yes, even the Serbs) to please bureaucrats from Strasbourg, modernizing and conforming laws to meet EU standards so that they can JOIN the EU... and three of the republics already having succeeded at the process of accession -- and with all the young people (yes, even Serbs) wanting ONE THING: an EU passport -- Your entire argument dissolves into:

"there are still some rough problems to resolve, and because of that, nothing CAN be done, and I refuse to even let my blinkered gaze notice what HAS been done. I'll just spout about things I know nothing about.

Your entire argument is "I'll bet it'll go to hell again!" Fine... you'll get to yatter if that happens. Problem is, you'll duck for cover if proved wrong.

Tom Crowl said...

Coincidentally ran across this on Debategraph...

Let Taliban take over Kandahar and parts of Pashtunistan

Whichever variation of such an approach one takes... it seems there's some wisdom in getting them to fall into the trap we may have fallen into...

That is... let 'em bite of more than they can chew and then help 'em choke on it!

soc said...

Maybe I'm a bit slow, but I still don't see what the end game would be. You give the Taliban their own quasi-state (like Pakistan did in SWAT). At some point the Taliban resume violence (like in Pakistan) and a massive military operation is launched against them. The military wins, they take the field and the taliban scatter, returning to a guerilla war.

What next?

David Brin said...

Advantages include: proving yet again that they have no plan/ability to actually govern, allowing all NON-Pashtunistan parts to have a breather in which to develop, drawing foes out of the passes (which they must hand over to get Kandahar), accentuating the Pashtuni nature of the insurgency, and getting large numbers to cluster and fight in the open.

soc said...


Sounds good but I'm drawn to the experience across the border. When the taliban first took swat, they were welcomed by the people. Then the beheading and blowing up of girl's schools began. The infamous video of that teenage girl being flogged while being held down by taliban goons sent a wave of revulsion through Pakistan.

When the Pakistani military went in, the mission was hugely popular. The people of swat were glad to be rid of the very people they had initially welcomed.

So far so good. All this makes the plan you propose promising.

But look at Pakistan now. Well over a 150 have been killed in the last two weeks by terrorist attacks. Even the very heart of the Pakistani military in Rawalpindi isn't immune.

Pakistan gave the taliban what they wanted in swat, but the taliban reneged on the deal and have launched one viscious attack after another. I'm not convinced these people can be contained. They'll break any deal you sign with them and spread chaos and insecurity every chance they get.

In short, the taliban have proven in swat, and when they had most of Afghanistan before 2002, that they have no plan/ability to govern, but they are no less a force because of it. They will never allow anyone a breather for development and will break any deal they may have signed saying otherwise.

Oh, and one other thing. How to counter the colonialism narrative? The one that says this is just another example of the big bad west pursuing its colonial interests. The taliban may be a nasty bunch but they're fighting invading foreigners so they're not all bad. The Americans want Afghanistan just so that they can build a large gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf. etc.

Anonymous said...

The political cost of intentionally abandoning a section of Afghanistan is pretty high. When insurgants can take and hold, for instance, a provincial capital, they gain credibility. Gulf donors, potential recruits etc notice this. And in a YouTube world it takes very little substance to look successful.

As to laser or even artillery based interdiction aeries? Dien Bien Phu redux.

As a good conservative I am loathe to critize the foreign policy of my president, but I think we would all be happier if he would elucidate it stongly and soon. This fussing about until a fully legitimate govenment stands in Kabul is wasting some precious time. Heck, sez the Taliban, just keep destabilizing whoever gets elected.

In Obama's favor I will say that his standing in the Muslim world could help deter at least donors, if not jihadi. And that the rock star popularity that makes Americans a little queasy really ought to translate to a few more european troops....

In fact, if you are cold hearted enough to set aside the very real human cost, it is beneficial for smaller countries to have their military involved. Just as excessive use of your army erodes it from overuse, avoiding all possible combat tends to rot an army from within. At least they should be, and mostly are, sending their special forces over. To their considerable benefit as regards combat experience.

But lets not ever forget that human cost in these philosophical maunderings.


David Brin said...

On to next posting!

farout said...

I posted this particular blog article link on my military school forum thinking that the uber conservative folks on the forum would appreciate the article.

Nope, all they can do is deflect and talk about how liberal the articles are, that they are so untrue, and then they go into 'the world is going to hell' rant. the normal response I tend to get when I post liberal logic. Some thangs have not changed over the last several decades.

Tom from Calgary said...

Sadly Dr. Brin your information on the Balkans appears to be out of date by about six or seven years.

It's not a case of what may happen over the next few years it's what's occurring right now.

Thanks to the Dayton accords Bosnia is locked into the same sort of ethnic power sharing arrangement that has pretty much destroyed Lebanon. Not one ethnic group trusts another any farther than they did 15 years ago. Period.

Kosovo is chafing under EULEX rule with increasing amounts of nationalist sentiments resulting in groups like the Vetevendosje committing acts of vandalism and sabotage against EU steadily increasing over the last three years more or less with tacit sanction from the Kosovo government in Pristina who want the EU out.

Which also leads to all sorts of interesting "Greater Albania" territorial claims from groups like the ANA if the EU leaves not to mention leaving whats effectively a functioning kleptocracy and one of Europe's largest organized smuggling hubs unsupervised.

With Serbia even the most pro-EU politicians are starting to wonder why they're bothering with EU membership when all their efforts just lead to yet mote moving targets and continual empty rhetoric from people like Biden.

The Russians at least have had the grace to show up with cheque in hand and more if you want to look into the deals the Sergei Shoigu signed yesterday. And Shiogu is a mover and shaker in the world of Russian Silovki. No empty Biden-esque rhetoric there.

But to put this another way with regards to Afghanistan... if we still have 150k troops in country in 15 years and they are the only thing keeping the locals who have supposedly signed up to embrace "democracy" and all that great other stuff that goes along with it from going right back to killing each other is that by your definition fantastically successful?

anthropos said...

"Fanatics hurrying to Kandahar and moderates moving out. Especially any woman with any sense of pride or self-preservation. Drawing fanatics away from the rest of Afghanistan and Pakistan and concentrating them in a place that finds itself almost without women? Um... what's not to like?"

Overall, your plan is merely ordinarily Machiavellian - but this quote has to be one of the stupidest things I've read in a long time. What do you think life is likely to be like for a woman in the middle of Kandahar who decides to move to Kabul on her own, without some handy male relative to bring along? Or for the daughter or wife of a "fanatic hurrying to Kandahar" who decides she'll stay behind?