Buttle's World

29 October, 2009

How to Win in Afghanistan

Filed under: Posts — clgood @ 8:20

Michael Yon has one of his best-ever pieces on Afghanistan. He makes the compelling argument that it is not a country, but an illiterate teenager in need of adoption.

In Mr. Filkins’ article, a couple of seemingly small points are keyholes to profound realities, and to a few possible illusions.  For instance, the idea that Afghans are tired of fighting seems off.  Afghans often tell me they are tired of fighting but those words are inconsistent with the bitter fact that the war intensifies with every change of season.  The idea that Afghans are tired of war seems an illusion.  Some Afghans are tired.  I spend more time talking with older Afghans than with teenagers, and most of the older Afghans do seem weary.  Yet according to the CIA World Factbook, the median age is 17.6 years; meaning half of Afghans are estimated to be this age or below.  The culture is old, but the population is a teenager.  Most Afghans today probably had not reached puberty when al Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks.  Eight years later, Afghanistan is more an illiterate kid than a country.  The median age for the U.S. is given at 36.7.  In addition to the tremendous societal disconnect between Americans and Afghans, there would be a generational gap even if those distant children were Americans.  Clearly this could lead to frustrations if we expect quick results.

We ask Afghans for help in defeating the enemies, yet the Afghans expect us to abandon them.  Importantly, Mr. Filkins pointed out that Afghans don’t like to see Americans living in tents.  Tents mean nomads.  It would be foolish for Afghans in “Talibanastan” to cooperate with nomadic Americans only to be eviscerated by the Taliban when the nomads pack up.  (How many times did we see this happen in Iraq?)  The Afghans want to see us living in real buildings as a sign of permanency.  The British at Sangin and associated bases live in temporary structures as is true with American bases in many places.  Our signals are clear.  “If you are coming to stay,” Afghans have told me in various ways, “build a real house.”  “Build a real office.”  “Don’t live in tents.”  We saw nearly the opposite in Iraq where pressure evolved to look semi-permanent.  The Dr. Jekyll–Mr. Hyde situation in Iraq seemed to seriously catch hold by 2006 or 2007, by which time Iraqis realized we were not going to steal oil and might decide to pull out while leaving them ablaze in civil war.

Victory (yes, I used the v-word, Barry) is possible but by no means assured. If you remember reading about that amazing mission to deliver a turbine to a hydroelectric project you should read how it has turned into a failure.

It’s going to be a long war no matter what.


Deebow has a relevant open letter to the president on Blackfive.

As an American, I demand that if the leaders that I freely elect are going to commit blood and treasure to the defeat of our enemies, then we do not go about it in vacillating half measures following incoherent policies that lead to indefinable outcomes spread over generations.

We fight to win, or we don’t fight at all.

If you are unwilling or you are unable to fulfill your role as Commander in Chief, then you should tender your resignation.

Update, and bumped:

Krauthammer has a good point.

We always think of Pakistan as a place in which you create a haven for the Afghan bad guys that we are attacking, but it works in the other way as well. You have got to have hammer and anvil. And the hammer now in Pakistan is the Pakistani army.

But unless we secure the Afghan areas on the other side, the bad guys will relocate and have sanctuary in Afghanistan.

That’s why the wars are linked, and that’s why the increase in the violence now in Pakistan is linked intimately with our decision on Afghanistan. And I worry that if you adopt the McChrystal-light strategy…a narrow strategy, holding the cities and the infrastructure and leaving the countryside to the enemy. I’m not sure if that would in any way succeed.



  1. Yon is great. I enjoy his writing as well..clear and factual.

    Although I am still relatively mystified as to why we are continuing this “war”.

    I read your blog, respect your opinion.

    If your so inclined, can you tell me why you think we should continue? Can you provide a few simple points?

    Comment by Bob — 22 October, 2009 @ 9:18

  2. A few points, in no particular order:

    Afghanistan is probably half a century away from becoming anything resembling an actual country, but that would certainly help.

    Whether we should be there or not, we are there. Since it is just one front in a global war being waged by Jihadistan any defeat there would embolden the enemy.

    We showed by winning in Iraq that we can draw the jihadists into a fight. While we won’t have an Iraq-like victory in Afghanistan any time soon, the more of those savages we can draw into battle away from here the better.

    Of course, winning in Afghanistan won’t end the war. That won’t happen until everybody who wants to impose Sharia Law on others is dead or incapable of fighting. Long term we need to reduce their numbers by changing minds. Short term we have to kill their warriors.

    The sad reality is that Afghanistan is going to be a sorry mess for a long time. We can at least put it on the road to, oh, the 18th century.

    Comment by buttle — 23 October, 2009 @ 9:00

  3. Thanks for your response!

    While your points resonate, I’m still of the opinion we should exit..now.

    To expensive.
    Fuzzy goals
    Untenable military conditions
    The enemy is (ultimately) an idea.

    Comment by Bob — 26 October, 2009 @ 8:32

  4. Afghanistan and other Middle East countries their way of life is the tribe or the clan they live in. Tribal villages have been fighting each other for hundreds of years, over different points of view and blood feuds.
    The same stories are handed down to generation to generation it is their way of life, it is all they know, and tribal leaders do not want to change.

    Schools’ educating the people is the key to the problem, but educating the people makes them a threat because educated people can strip tribal leaders influence to maintain the old ways and MANIPULATING the people to fight. Educated people can throw the uneducated tribal leaders out.

    Educated people can put a stop to the blood feuds and fighting, and the tribe leaders know that.

    (So President Barack Obama should not increase the military presents that would just inflame the problem, you cannot fight tribal clan mentality this way.)

    He should get the corporation of the United Nations and ((build schools in protected locations throughout Afghanistan.)) Basic Islamic Education with Islamic teachers. And let the future Afghanistan straighten out their own country.

    That would be the United Nation’s roles protecting these higher education centers and health clinics.

    Comment by Dale — 29 October, 2009 @ 11:42

  5. Perhaps its just me..but Im always mistrustful of anyone who says someone needs to be “educated”

    It usually means “Make them like us”

    That’s a expensive proposition, on all accounts.

    As I see it we have two options in Afghanistan and ultimately Pakistan (which is really the issue)

    1. Leave.

    2. Or empower everyone (from the Generals to the Privates) to indiscriminately kill anything that is deemed a threat to our interests. Flood the beehive
    Erase them from the Earth in the most literal terms possible.

    Anything in the middle of these two options ultimately results in a compromised strategy.

    And even a casual perusal of a history book will show you where compromised political/military strategies get you.

    Comment by Bob — 29 October, 2009 @ 12:27

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