Two opinions on Afghanistan

which I recommend everybody read:

Reform or go home, by David Kilcullen in yesterday’s New York Times.  Pretty much sums it up — it’s the Afghans’ problem.  Although I think his emphasis on early elections is misplaced (in IWCKI, I quote Lee Kuan Yew as observing that elections may be the end point of an evolution to democracy, but they are not the beginning), his point that it’s all about governance is hard to dispute.  Of course, “governance” is the one thing that outsiders cannot provide.  Draw your own conclusions.

Theories about 4GW are not yet like the laws of thermodynamics, by Fabius Maximus, a reprint from March 2008. Fab reminds us that what we’re involved in in Afghanistan is not 4GW for the most part but “counterinsurgency,” that is, interfering in somebody else’s civil war, and occupation (a losing game, at least since the end of WW II). The 4GW part — attacking the remnants of al-Qa’ida in Pakistan — is a very small part of it, requiring at most a few hundred troops.  If this seems low, ask yourself:

  • How many al-Qa’ida, that is, fighters under the command of OBL and his staff, are there?
  • How are they organized and equipped?
  • So why would we need more than a battalion of US special operations forces, marines, or armored cav to defeat them?

Finding and eliminating them might require an awful lot of other types of people, but relatively few combat forces.

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8 Responses to “Two opinions on Afghanistan”

  1. loggie20on 04 Oct 2009 at 7:42 am 1

    Plans are made onthe ground not in corporate boardrooms.

    Counterinsurgency is a US military “practice”, replete with lots of expensive stuff, looking for a mission to prove itself in.

    Practices look for uses.

    Afghanistan is now a playground, a form of Louisiana Maneuvers for all sorts of expensive useless experiments.

    The Soviets learned, and it will be expensive lesson for the US.

    Counterinsurgency is worngheaded experiment, as in the 1960’s.

    There is no startegic momentum in Afghanistan, this experiment is dead on arrival.

    Plans looking for applications are the US way of war.

    Unfortunately, the world does not work the way the guys in the boardrooms at Boeing and Lockheed would like.

  2. Maxon 04 Oct 2009 at 10:18 am 2

    In regard to BOTH.

    Let me paraphrase Manfred Von Rictophen.

    “we’re losing badly, everything else is Bull@#% !


  3. senor tomason 07 Oct 2009 at 12:49 am 3

    I saw General Petraeus on C-SPAN tonight. In part of his talk he mentioned nation building as part of counter insurgency in Afghanistan. I do not know nearly as much as General Petraeus – not even close. However, it seems to me that a fundamental flaw in the idea of nation building in Afghanistan is that there is no nation to build. Afghanistan is not a nation – just an area of land enclosed within lines drawn on a map by the British. Fabius Maximus mentioned in his blog that the British drew the Durand line for the express pupose of dividing the Pashtun tribe. Seems like Afghanistan was designed with the intention of being an unstable area. And now 116 years later we are supposed to fix that. Does not appear to be possible without redrawing international boundaries in south central Asia – which the Pakistanis would never go along with as a sensible redrawing would require them to cede territory to a newly formed united Pashtun state.

  4. Ed Beakleyon 07 Oct 2009 at 7:57 am 4

    Chet, For me this post highlights an apparent disconnect between you- via If We Can Keep It – and FM.

    To explain: Following the links from the FM “classic” (his words???) you will find two distinct threads. First are reviews of If We Can Keep It by Bill Lind, Zenpundit and taxdp. (Reading these led me back to your book and particularly several pages on transnational insurgencies,4GW and COIN beginning on page 77.) The second thread is a discussion begun by FM in 2006 on SWJ in regard to David Kilcullen’s Twenty-Eight Articles; Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency.

    In both the FM article of your post and in his “Why do we lose 4th generation wars?” in run on sentences via FM’s use of terminology it is most apparent that he equates 4GW with insurgency. To elaborate without great length, the Why Do We Lose 4G post is in fact a major disagreement with Kilcullen’s 28 articles, which by title and substance is very focused. It is not about 4GW. In addition, the SWJ discussion thread (significant number of posts from folks who have been in the fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan) almost all, if not all, take issue with FM’s take on Kilcullen and the value of his work in regard to COIN.

    I submit that his recent writing is also in direct conflict with your writing (specifically pg 77- 85)

    In “4GW is not Thermo,” FM calls for research on the topic, and I agree completely, but while he writes “4GW,” what he focuses on is need for data from insurgencies. Research with such disconnect in how terms are defined won’t be very useful.

    I had high hopes when the FM site opened that the promised discussion on 4GW would be of significant value. To me, far too early he reached the “insurgency equals 4GW, therefore end of story, no more dissenting views allowed” point and began a pro-war anti-war Afghanistan thread that completely buries the context of what 4GW portends in this century. I don’t see FM saying the following at all -“Fab reminds us that what we’re involved in in Afghanistan is not 4GW for the most part but “counterinsurgency..” He in fact time after time equates the two.

    Kilcullen in Accidental Guerrillas discusses war within war. To me, Afghanistan on one level is most certainly 4GW, with insurgency as another level – the sum total policy wise, strategically, operationally, and tactically messey to the extreme. See the war in Afghanistan as you will, IMHO there is much more to future conflict among the people/4GW that needs research and discussion.

    [CR: Thanks – good points. FM and I have talked about this, but as you can see, we tend to disagree at least somewhat.

    Tony Echevarria at the Army War College has long argued that if 4GW = insurgency, then we don’t need a new name and certainly not a new theory. I agree. If you go back and reread Lind et al.’s 1989 paper that coined the term, it’s clear that they were indeed talking about a new generation in the lineage that produced 1-2-3 GW, that is, state-vs.-state warfare between organized military forces.

    In the last 20 or so years, however, the term has morphed into some concept of state-vs.-nonstate conflict. I’ve argued in IWCKI that this takes it out of the realm of war as both Sun Tzu and Clausewitz defined it (we could throw in Boyd, too) and more in to the evolution not of war but of crime. One immediate implication is that military force is becoming less and less useful. That this is also true of COIN only adds to the confusion.

    However, what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is not COIN but something else, a mix of occupation and mucking around in other peoples’ civil wars. Unfortunately the modern track record of outside powers in either of these is not good, and there is no theory for how to do it well. Some people point to Germany and Japan as counter examples. To the extent one sees parallels between Germany and Japan on the one hand and Iraq and Afghanistan on the other, they have a point.

    The lone voice arguing in another direction is TX Hammes, who considers 4GW as a form of involved insurgency. That is a legitimate way to look at it (and could be another source of confusion), but until we again face the problem of how to defeat an insurgency in our own country, it has little application to us.]

  5. Maxon 12 Oct 2009 at 11:24 am 5

    “but until we again face the problem of how to defeat an insurgency in our own country, it has little application to us.”

    If one cannot recognise this, exactly for what it is, that only means
    that these people are a lot smarter than you.
    Every incarnation gets more subtle, sublime and slicker.

    It might be almost laughable in the irrony of the consideration of the pre-occupation with nation building, in a non-state entity on the other side of the world.


  6. Maxon 13 Oct 2009 at 9:37 am 6

    “The lone voice arguing in another direction is TX Hammes, who considers 4GW as a form of involved insurgency. That is a legitimate way to look at it (and could be another source of confusion)”

    From my perspective Hammes has done the best job,
    along with Lind, at nailing the proverbial jello to the ceiling.

    Hammes gives one the very best descriptions of what fits my own
    empherical experience and observation.

    Right here;

    [CR: Anybody who hasn’t read The Sling and the Stone should do so now. Then come back here.]

  7. jaylemeuxon 15 Oct 2009 at 12:01 am 7

    As I progress through my lowly bachelor’s degree in Political Science, I find myself increasingly unable to buy into the Lind/Van Creveld version of 4GW. Their (current) definition of 4GW as a shift in the motivation from nationalism to other ideals is inextricably tied to the decline of the state. The original “generations” paradigm allowed for the concurrent existence of multiple generations, but I get the impression that Lind now uses “4GW” as a vehicle to lament what he sees as the teleological erosion of the nation-state and, less logically, the erosion of Judeo-Christian values in America. The implication is that, one day, 3GW and below will cease to exist. Not going to happen in the foreseeable future, I say.

    I see the world as becoming increasingly globalized, ergo other motivations (some of which were probably always present, but which we ignored after WWI) are springing up alongside nationalism, but the latter certainly isn’t going away. Nor is the nation-state. It’s just that the definition of the state and its responsibilities are changing. I find it impossible to buy into Lindian 4GW without believing that the political world is crashing down around me, leaving perpetual tribal war in its wake. Doomsdayers have been around throughout history, but somehow we always manage to come through.

    Hammes’ version, that of Maoist insurgency with the conventional phase evolved out, is much easier to swallow and then operate on.

    “However, what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is not COIN but something else, a mix of occupation and mucking around in other peoples’ civil wars.”

    According to FM 3-24, civil war and insurgency are one and the same, no? It defines insurgency as a movement to overthrow a government. Doesn’t that qualify as civil war?

    [CR: Interesting, thanks. As you note, lots of debate over what “4GW” should mean. This is good.

    Re – your last sentence. Absolutely … for the Afghans, but not for us. At least not since 1865 and with any luck, ever again.

    Incidentally, an insurgency is a civil war, but I can envision civil wars that are not insurgencies.]

  8. Maxon 25 Oct 2009 at 12:42 pm 8

    “Tony Echevarria at the Army War College has long argued that if 4GW = insurgency, ”

    This post has been really bothering me for sometime. Other than FM, I don’t profess to be familiar with the specifcs and the authors, and am at considerable dis-advantage.

    I see “insurgency” as being an inspired action
    undermining an established regiem, be it a legitimate
    regiem, a just regiem, or not.

    It would be like the Government of Syria, sending agents to incite rebellion in a neighboring country, that’s what I call an “insurgency,”
    a close cousin to “insurection” wich I would equate with more
    domestic interests, including a coup.

    Enough semantics however, and feel free to take me to task,
    all that aside, what really interests me follows;

    I couldn’t put my finger on it until now, but I can almost allways
    smell a rat, be it ten times removed, and that’s what bothers me about that particular posting and exchange.

    For me, it boils down to this.

    “COIN” as it’s being sold and packaged in America’s current
    mis-adventures is BOGUS.

    In my estimation it more of a ploy,
    a charade, to distract from the evidence that we are occupiers,
    half hearted nation building, and al th while percieved widely
    as invaders and oppressors.

    Where I couldn’t begin to express, much less nail it,
    Andrew Bacheavich most recently explains, beutifully ;\

    [CR: For this site, “insurgency” will simply mean rebellion. So we can do COIN, but only in the United States or its territories.]