What to do about Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 8 months ago

Tim Lynch has a recent post questioning what to do about Afghanistan.  I usually agree with Tim, always learn from him, and always consider his prose more than worth the effort and time to read.  But in this case I must disagree on three accounts.  Among other things, Tim says:

I am on record as saying that Afghanistan would never allow Al Qadea back inside its borders no matter who was ruling and the truth is Al Qaeda has spent eight years reconstituting in the Northwest Frontier and doesn’t need Afghanistan – they are fine where they are. In fact the ties with their hosts are stronger and their overall security much better than it was when they operated out of Eastern Afghanistan …

We had a chance to finish Bin Laden and blew it at Tora Bora.  In hindsight it would seem we should have thrown everything we had into the fight to finish him off but we did not do that.   The first hand account provided by Dalton Fury indicates that Colonels back in Bagram Airbase put the breaks on the American Special Forces troops who could have flooded the mountain in an all out effort to Kill Bin Laden. According to this account the Colonel in charge was a Mogadishu vet and did not want to see his men chewed up because they lacked proper fire support.  I would like to think that were I in that Colonels place I would have fragged as many birds as I could, rounded up as many troops as I could and flew into Tora Bora to make an all out assault on Bin Laden.  Nothing was more important than killing that shitbird and if it cost a lot of American lives so be it.  As long as I was there sharing the risk and hardships that is – you can’t be frantically flinging troops into a meat grinder while in remaining in the rear – that is a huge Bushido Code violation …

Western Armies are not good at counterinsurgency warfare.  They do not have the people or formations who can embed in the local community. Western Armies can no longer deploy formations overseas for years at a time.  They are not willing to use the tactics required to win which involve not only high risk but lots of killing.

Tim goes on to say that he doesn’t like the trajectory of the current campaign (neither do I).  I look forward to Tim’s followup post regarding his recommendations.

Now to my disagreements.  I won’t rehearse my problems with the use of SOF again like I have so many times, but throwing SOF at the problem of UBL along with half-committed warlords in Afghanistan is what allowed him to escape.  The Hindu Kush should have been flooded not with SOF and SF, but several Regiments of Marine infantry and elements of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.

But killing UBL wouldn’t have ended anything.  Let’s go back and do this again.  Killing … UBL … wouldn’t … have … ended … anything.  Ayman al Zawahiri was doing this in Egypt when UBL was a pup, and the problem is a transnational insurgency, not a man.  The man is a figurehead, and nothing more.  Killing UBL would have made him a martyr and put Zawahiri in charge as both the operations manager and figurehead.

As for whether Afghanistan would allow AQ back in, there are fighters from Uzbekistan and Chechnya right now in Afghanistan.  I am not certain what Tim means.  Either he means that if we left the ANSF would be able to keep control of Afghanistan, at least in the main, such that the Taliban wouldn’t return to power.  I disagree with this.  Or, Tim may mean that if the Taliban were back in power they wouldn’t allow AQ to return, and I disagree with this in the superlative.  The intimidation by the Taliban in Helmand and Kandahar is strong enough at the moment to allow anyone in that the Taliban want.  And the main shura is still located in Quetta.  If U.S. forces pull out, Mullah Omar would be heralded as a hero as he marched down the streets of Kandahar within three months of our final departure.  Everyone who cooperated with the U.S. would be beheaded within days.  The return to power would be complete.

Finally, as to whether Western armies can do COIN well, let me be clear.  Western armies do it better than any military force on earth.  Haltingly at time, and the large FOBs should be evacuated.  But when the right leadership is brought in, American boys adjust, adapt and overcome.  It’s just the way it is.

I am partial to U.S. Marines, but let’s also be clear about the fact that the soldiers in the Korengal Valley and elsewhere are doing yeoman’s work.  As for the Marines, I know a little something about the campaign for Anbar.  My son not only earned the combat action ribbon – and could have many times over given the amount of kinetics in Fallujah in 2007 – but reminds me all of the time that proper COIN isn’t all about kinetics.  Also, proper COIN isn’t only about protecting the population either.  Did you hear that last statement?

He reminds me that the Marines in Fallujah in 2007 did policing work – like policing on steroids.  Yes, they protected the population, drank Chai, watched TV and ate meals in homes, befriended the heads of households, and so on.  They also pushed very hard on known problem-makers.  Robust raids, intense pressure, door kicking, working through the details of life with many Fallujans and other things I cannot discuss.

Tim is a smart guy and in theater at the moment.  I am quite jealous of this last point.  But the notion that Western armies aren’t good at COIN just won’t fly.


  1. On September 24, 2009 at 11:44 am, Dawg said:

    Sorry about posting this twice, but I feel my thoughts apply here, as well.

    It seems that an alarming amount of well educated and – hopefully – well meaning people still can’t break out of the either/or mentality – either our Warriors are in rural areas or in cities, either they go after the terrorists or they stay put in bases, towns and cities.

    Few, except the Captain and a handful of others, seem to have understood that it takes BOTH to win, like during the Surge in Iraq. Seems to me that few understand what actually took place during the Surge. I am no doggonned genius or academic, but I understand most of what happened in the Spring and Summer of 2007.

    Using Baghdad as an example is useless without knowing what actually took place there. Had our Warriors ONLY been stationed at the JSSes as was suggested about deploying our Warriors to Kandahar to “secure the population”, the Surge would not have worked. It was the COMBINATION of deploying our Warriors to the JSSes in and around Baghadad AND the numerous, constant and overlapping Offensives, that our Warriors conducted so bravely and brilliantly and during the hottest Iraqi Summer in memory, in the Baghdad BELTS, in Diyalah, Babil, Anbar, Wasit, Salah’din, etc, that broke al quaeda AND the Iranian owned shi’a terrorists.

    That and constant raids inside Baghdad proper, not only killed a huge amount of enemies, but it also convinced the locals that the enemy was losing and that our Warriors were winning, and the fence became an empty place, so to speak.

    According to my somewhat limited “expertise”, the Surge must qualify as the most complex and brilliant endeavor in Military history.

    To refresh everyone’s memory, I post a good article from 2007. Read it, then think of that and then think Kandahar, Kabul, Herat, and wherever else it is needed.

    “Operation Phantom Strike”


    I say, sure, turn Kandahar into a “fortress”, but don’t forget to relentlessly hound and hammer the enemy in the surrounding areas. Over and over again. No taliban, al quaeda or whatever, will be able to do anything but get killed and try not to get killed. Most Afghans may not know how to read and write, but they are experts at knowing who is a winner or who is a loser. The way I describe it, it is clear who will be the winners. And the Afghans will work with the winners. Always been that way.

    This, of course, requires a lot more American Warriors – Marines and Soldiers. And all this must be followed up with more Offensives until Afghanistan again becomes the most hopeless place on this planet – for our enemies.

    Unfortunately, DC must want to do this and finance it. And DC wants out. Hence the leaked report. A “preemptive strike”, so to speak, by our Warriors, to block those who are already planning for a US defeat in Afghanistan and elsewhere. A “coup”, in a way, to save the Campaign, our Country and our Military.

    Bottom line, our Warriors are the greatest and they can win in Afghanistan. If they’re allowed to. They are invincible. Only the US can defeat the US.

  2. On September 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm, TSAlfabet said:

    duplicate post, but thought it was relevant:


    this is a link to a series by a U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan on the outreach to tribes and the prospects for turning around the situation there, tribe by tribe.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan and was published September 23rd, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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