Winning in Afghanistan Long Enough to Leave

The post title above is deliberately provocative, but it gets to the point of the matter, for Afghanistan is significantly different than Iraq. Please chew on that a minute before you disagree. I am certainly not saying that we should drag up, the title challenges the embedded assumptions of the armchair followers of the war (those like myself,) as well as the level of commitment we seem to have now. The post title sums up what I believe much of the strat chat to be about right now.

Winning in Afghanistan is a long term commitment like getting married. There are no easy answers or silver bullets other than consistency and persistence.

Afghanistan is a long term commitment because it has so much less than Iraq does, because everyone is more independant than Iraqis are, and because there’s 2,000 years of shifting alliances to overcome. This is just one reason why the Sons of Anbar approach would not work there, that independence makes it natural for any central government be weak and any coalition or factional alliance to be a temporary thing.

Alliances are mercurial, and the sides can get rechosen very quickly. There’s no taint that goes with switching sides in the next choose up either, one merely has to look at the repositioning that Hekmatyar has taken over the years to see that. This is why arming up local militias and tribal lashkars is probably not a good idea except in limited niches. The weapons you give them one week could be used against you the next, and for you the month after that.

The tribes tend to ally with the side perceived to benefit them most at that moment. During the poppy harvest they ally with the drug warlords because that’s where the money is. During the winter they might ally against the same warlord’s bands who take to stealing and protection racketeering once the cash is gone. It’s a facile question of what’s best for the tribe right now.

This is easily seen when a blood feud occurs. To cure some perceptions blood feuds are mostly personal, or family vendettas, they rarely encompass whole tribes – tribes might support one side or the other, but once over they support the winner.

The concept of being traitorous to one side or the other does not really come into play. You can change sides without taint because it is assumed that you are always looking out for your family’s and then your tribe’s best interests first.

This was true in the time of Alexander well before Islam and the concept of Jihad arrived in Alexander’s city and if some new religion swept the region it would be true afterwards. Those advocating getting blood feuding started between Al Qaeda and the Afghanistan tribes fail to recognize the very personal nature of family honor in Afghanistan. [ I did at one time way back in ’05, but failed to explain that I meant blood feuds against individual Taliban and Al Qaeda Leaders by specific individuals they caused harm to. ]

There are also the larger divisions that lay atop this shifting field – those of larger ethnicities (Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik, etc,) then you can layer in the usual factors found in most other countries – urban vs. rural, class, religion, political stripes, etc. So if you step back and look at the whole picture you will see that Afghanistan has much in common with early America, and because they are fiercely independent they would make for great allies in an area where both Russia and China consistently try to make inroads and undermine stability. They might not always be on our side when we leave, but they won’t be on the other side either.

So with that background how do we win? First step is deciding if that’s what we want because winning is a commitment of a couple of decades. Another generation must get through shcools first.

The second step is to recognize the value of consistency coupled with persistence. If alliances are always mercurial, then the side that is consistently and persistently the best to ally with in all seasons wins, but it takes a long time. A strategy forged on the concept of getting out honorably fails – the only real honor in Afghanistan is personal and familial.

If we consistently take out the violent leaders, and build a base of new leaders who are less violent then we win over the next two decades. To do that we have to want to, and we have to marry into this. Is the political will and patience there to do that? Time will tell that tale as it always does, but first we have to examine long and hard how consistency and persistence break down into long term strategy, and daily tactics. The real question blowing in the wind is what does Obama’s CNAS strat team think of this reality? Some are pointing at good signs from Nagl.

Update: Here’s some of the typical strat chat you see, h/t Small Wars Journal:

More from small wars journal here. There’s one thing missing from their summation – where possible you must demonstrate the foreign interventionists. This is harder to do in Afghanistan’s southern frontiers because all Pashtun are automatically more “local” than ISAF or Northern Afghan troops, however where Iran’s and Al Qaeda’s intervention is in effect that mask must be ripped off and passed around every village bazaar.

Senior Al Qaeda Leader Targetted in Bannu Missile Strike

Reports from Bill Roggio and AFP both say we might have gotten another member of Al Qaeda’s Shura council. A good way to go into the Thanksgiving holidays.

Reports from Bill Roggio and AFP both say we might have gotten another member of Al Qaeda’s Shura council, Abdullah Azam al-Saudi. A good way to go into the Thanksgiving holidays.

UPDATE From The News:

BANNU/PESHAWAR: Four people were killed and five others sustained injuries when the US drones targeted a house in Janikhel area of Bannu district in the wee hours of Wednesday. The attack marked the first-ever US missile strike in the settled areas of the country.

Of those killed in the attack on the house of a local, Paran, in Zindi Alikhel area of Janikhel Union Council, is stated to be Abdullah Azam al-Saudi, a senior member of the al-Qaeda network. The report, however, could not be confirmed from official sources.

If the reports of the death of Abdullah Azam al-Saudi in the missile attack prove to be correct, he would be the second high-profile al-Qaeda operative killed in the US missile strikes inside the Pakistani territory.

Bannu District Police Officer (DPO) Muhammad Alam Shinwari told The News from his office in the southern district that the missile hit the house of a local in Janikhel around 3:45 am, killing four persons and injuring five others.

The owner of the house, he added, was among those wounded in the attack. Janikhel had become a de facto tribal area for the past several months after militants spilled over there from the North and South Waziristan agencies as well as from the Bannu Frontier Region. The area had almost become a ‘no-go area’ for the police.

According to some reports, three among those killed in the attack were foreigners, including two Uzbeks and a Saudi national. Some of those wounded were also said to be foreigners but their names could not be ascertained.

Reacting strongly to the US attack in Bannu, the MPA hailing from Janikhel, Adnan Wazir, announced to submit an adjournment motion in the legislature against the air strike. “No one among those killed in the attack was a foreigner nor were they terrorists. Innocent locals were killed in the attack, which is a violation of the borders of the country,” Adnan Wazir said

JaniKhel is about 12-15 miles S by SW of Bannu proper as a crow flies, the google earth pics are low res for that area, not much to see. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge. The strike likely occurred in the vicinty of the three markers A, B, C, and the white line designates the direction to Bannu.

Sayyid Imam Calls Zawahiri a Liar and Cursed Before God

In a book being published serially, Sayyid Imam points out the lies and double-dealing of Ayman Al Zawhari, and challenges him to a cursing before God. See here at Jihadica, partial list below:

  • Zawahiri repeatedly says I wrote the Document [the Tarshid] under the supervision of the U.S. and the Jews. He is a liar and I call him to a mubahala. I swear to God that I wrote the Document to help Islam and if Zawahiri has lied about this, may God curse him.
  • What Zawahiri says about the Document he also said about Bin Laden. Zawahiri accused UBL of being an agent of Saudi intelligence working among the Islamic movements when UBL didn’t support them with money in 1995. Zawahiri thinks everyone is a traitor like him.
  • Zawahiri accused me of being an agent of Sudanese intelligence. I swear that I heard Zawahiri say to me in Sudan at the end of 1993 that he had to carry out 10 operations for the Sudanese in Egypt and that he received $100,000 from them to that end. If he denies it, I call him to a second mubahala: I swear Zawahiri said this and if he denies it, may God send his curse down upon him.
  • He began working for the Sudanese a year after I cut off my ties with Islamic Jihad. He paid the Islamic Jihad group in Egypt to carry out operations there. I sat with them and warned them that it was futile and not required by Islamic law, but Zawahiri persisted. He and his brother swore they would go fight in Egypt until they died, but they did not; they let others die there instead.
  • For those not knowing who this person is, he wrote the book on Jihad originally used to train Al Qaeda, and is one of Ayman Al Zawahiri’s oldest associates.
    [ Editor: note that underlying this is not just fear of Allah, and it’s not just personal. A mubahala involves Zawahiri’s family as well, and who is to say how Allah’s will in the curse would be wrought? See this section from Wiki:

    Muhammad called them to Mubahala(Cursing), where each party should ask God to destroy the lying party and their families. Muhammad, to prove to them that he is a prophet, brought his daughter Fatimah and his surviving grandchildren, Hasan and Hussein, and Ali ibn Abi Talib and came back to the Christians and said this is my family (Ahl al-Bayt) and covered himself and his family with a cloak


    h/t Internet Hagganah

    Go Army! Soldier’s Angels Project Valor-IT

    The annual donations drive from Soldier’s Angels is on, and once again I’ve joined team Army. This project gets laptops and other needed technology to wounded vets and they need your help. Team Army is doing pretty well, but need your donation to hit the mark. Please hit the button now folks!

    While you are at it, please check out Soldier’s Angels here, money is not the only way to help. They have teams dedicated to supporting our military and their families, you can help many other ways.

    Victory in Iraq Day

    Zombie’s braver than I, I was going to wait until the defense pact agreement passed the assembly in Iraq, but what the hey…. Victory in Iraq Day!


    One other note on this: I predict the media will not join in, I predict that they will not be able to even contenance the V word until such point that they can work the narrative over enough to call it an Obama victory in Iraq.
    Hint to the media: President Elect Obama has Afghanistan before him as he enters office. He will be able to play a stronger hand there if he has an accepted Victory under his belt. On the other hand an embassey evac ala Viet Nam is a picture that would really hurt efforts in Afghanistan. Think on it.

    Stop by and thank Zombie for his / her efforts here.

    Future Dreams II

    What dreams have we? What future would we build? If you look around the Republican leadership, you don’t see many answers to those questions, but they are urgently in need of answer.

    In this series of essays I have challenges for different factions within the Republican base. The intent of these challenges are to get all conservatives to examine their base values and principles to recraft and redraft their policies into something positive and forward looking for this century rather than defending the rhetoric and favored pets from last century. For five years we have been on defense, and the strategy of running the table of social welfare issues that was practiced prior to the last two elections certainly backfired.

    In this century Fiscal conservatives have been mostly quiet, and now the challenges to speaking loudly for fiscal restraint are greater than ever. Over the years Fiscal conservatives drifted from message, and being the “anti-big government” contingent isn’t getting you far.

    To change that you need to look in the mirror, and re-examine values and principles. Should you be anti-big government, or should you be for fiscal restraint and effective government? Should you rail against social spending while on the backend you campaign for corporate welfare like ethanol subsidies and bridges to nowhere? Your challenge is perhaps the steepest of all: at a time when the economy is in trouble any cuts anywhere are going to be sharply debated.

    How can you create a positive fiscal agenda in the current environment? How can you stop the flow of taxpayer dollars in the form of grants to blatantly political groups like Acorn and the various witch hunt commissions that almost always have a life of greater than ten years? What about Republican political groups that receive taxpayer dollars? Will you grandstand on hot button items, or will you really reduce the budget? Will you stand firm against the “bail me out” lobbies that have descended? What can you do that’s effective strategy against the rollback of the tax cuts that will come?

    You can’t be effective without your base behind you, and that’s not going to happen if the hypocrisy coninues. For thirty years we’ve had an energy policy in doldrums, what are you going to do about it? More subsidies for oil and gas, and other energy lobbies, or real, forward looking programs created by eliminating the subsidies to level the playing field and redirecting subsidy monies to solid research?

    What kind of payoff would you gain from devoting 100 percent of three to five congressional staffers at hidden government waste? 

    For your part of the platform you don’t have the luxury your opponents do — you can’t buy banks of votes through legislating more spending – your path to ensure loyalty and votes is to cut spending, decrease waste, and eliminate failed programs. Tough sledding when you are not in control, but you must persist even in this environment.

    Will you continue the myth that we are a consumer nation, or will you look at why we aren’t manufacturing as much as we should? What are you prepared to close before you open new things? What’s overdue for sunset before you look for the sunrise?

    Whatever you do it must provide a clear path to prosperity and growth in America, not the vision that the Democrats favor of America in decline, and there lies your greatest opportunity.