The Graveyard Of Hope

As the recent horrific bombing in Kabul is driven out of the news cycle  it is time to interject some honesty into the Afghan story. The day of the latest attack Afghans took to twitter in droves asking how can a truck bomb get into the most secure part of the city or when will they be allowed to live in peace?

The answer to the first question is the truck bomb got into the Ring of Steel the same way every truck bomb has for the last decade. Bribes combined with insiders of dubious loyalty and lax security. True it was stopped at a checkpoint at Zambaq square but that is routine; trucks are not allowed to travel downtown during rush hour, it shouldn’t have gotten that far. The fact that it did indicates it was moved into position and hidden before it took off the morning of the bombing.

The answer to the second question is you’ll be allowed to live in peace when the Afghan people rise up and fight for it. More on that below.

Today angry protesters clashed with riot police in Kabul, several were killed and all were demanding the government resign over the latest atrocity. The religious leaders (the Ulema) of both Pakistan and Afghanistan have declared the attack on civilians during Ramadan to be un-Islamic. This would be news were it not routine. Just a month ago Afghans and the Ulmea were saying the same thing after the attack on recruits praying in a Mosque in Mazar-e Sharif. The month before that it was the attack on the military hospital in Kabul (some 300 meters away from yesterday’s truck bomb) that had Afghans furious and the Ulmea declaring it an un-Islamic attack.

How does this end? It ends like it started. Back in 2001 two ODA teams 555 in the north and 574 is the south combined with anti-Taliban Afghan tribes to defeat the Taliban while Delta Force ( the Combat Applications Group or CAG) went after Osama bin Laden in Nangarhar province. As these groups rolled into the country Afghan tribes joined them in droves to rid themselves of the unpopular Taliban.

I’m not a cheer leader for Special Forces as can be seen in this post but the job they did in 2001 was one they were well suited for and one they executed like true professionals. They mimicked what the Taliban had done when they came to power – they used the power of the people to drive their oppressors out of power. Massive change comes to Afghanistan when the people of Afghanistan rise up and demand it.

The ODA teams and their unbelievably skilled brothers from the CAG were doing a mission that was squarely inside their skill set and it was an impressive feat of arms. But the momentum that gained the quick victory came from the Afghan people. They supported the international effort and they drove the Taliban from power.

Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory when generals in the rear refused to let a young Brigadier named James Mattis to throw his Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the mountains behind Tora Bora to seal bin Laden’s escape route into Pakistan. That defeat was compounded by fuzzy thinking about staying on to help Afghanistan back into the world of functioning nation states; a mission we are not equipped to do and have never been able to do.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published and editorial that reflected my thinking on the matter although I’m only in partial agreement with its recommendation. The author was Eric Prince and the article was titled The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan. Both the author and idea are a fascinating combination that explain why Afghanistan is doomed.

Eric Prince is a military genius of epic proportions. He has proven his leadership and foresight time and again and for his efforts he has been maligned by the legacy media and jealous, less capable, bureaucrats in the CIA, Department of State and Pentagon. His crime was being successful at the ancient art of contracted war making. Google his name today and the words mercenary, infamous, and notorious jump off page after page. Forget the vitriol and focus on his accomplishments as outlined in the video below:

Eric Prince recommends a MacArthur like Viceroy to consolidate power under one person and then to address the weak leadership, endemic corruption and frequent defections; he offers this:

These deficits can be remedied by a different, centuries-old approach. For 250 years, the East India Company prevailed in the region through the use of private military units known as “presidency armies.” They were locally recruited and trained, supported and led by contracted European professional soldiers. The professionals lived, patrolled, and — when necessary — fought shoulder-to-shoulder with their local counterparts for multiyear deployments. That long-term dwelling ensured the training, discipline, loyalty and material readiness of the men they fought alongside for years, not for a one-time eight-month deployment.

An East India Company approach would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support. The U.S. military should maintain a small special-operations command presence in the country to enable it to carry out targeted strikes, with the crucial difference that the viceroy would have complete decision-making authority in the country so no time is wasted waiting for Washington to send instructions. A nimbler special-ops and contracted force like this would cost less than $10 billion per year, as opposed to the $45 billion we expect to spend in Afghanistan in 2017.

His solution is correct except for the Viceroy – he has to be an Afghan. You need to find an Afghan who is a warrior and an Islamic scholar. He’s there, waiting and we need to find him, present him to the Ulmea and then to the Loya jirgia and then the Afghan people.  Find that man and give him Eric Prince to set up the modern day equivalent of the Flying Tigers and a ground component I’ll call the Fighting Tigers and Afghanistan will be saved.

The UN has got to go as does NATO because they cannot help Afghanistan now. You need low tech aircraft and infantry capable of doing Pseudo Operations. That means Afghan units with embedded western mentors who live, fight and die like Afghans. A force that is on the Afghans side; one they can rally behind as they once did when the Americans showed up in small numbers controlling big fires.

If the Afghans are to find peace they will need a military capability that does not rely on a multi billion dollar logistic tail that runs through Pakistan. Contracted armies can fight on the cheap using low tech air and the fighting power of western military men. Pakistan in not a friend of Afghanistan and there will be no peace for Afghans until they operate on the opposite side of the Durrani line to share some of their pain with the Pakistani enablers who send the truck bombs to kill their children.

A radical solution like this  would require the international community to get over their aversion to contracted military formations. And that requires the international community to admit their efforts have been wasted, their solutions wrong and their council worthless. That is a bridge too far so, for now, and well into the future, the Afghan people are doomed by international bureaucrats who learn nothing, forget nothing but never hesitate to insist on solutions that always fail.

The way forward is to accept the lessons of the past and use what has worked in the past. Western armies can no longer do this kind of work. Contracted armies can; there are no other rational alternatives.

4 Replies to “The Graveyard Of Hope”

  1. Poor Tim. I have been away from your blog for 8 years(married, kids, you know the drill) and your message has not changed. Nor has the adamant refusal of those in charge to listen to reason.

    I have found through experience that the most vitriolic voices are the ones that I am about to prove to be totally incorrect in everything they have asserted. I believe Mr. Prince may have a similar experience.

    It should be noted that those who study history (as you and Mr. Prince do) often find themselves at odds with our current zeitgeist because one must throw out all learned wisdom to accept what is currently held as inexplicable truth.

    Afghanistan needs a Charlemagne. Unification will only come through force. Those seeking peace will not find it while their enemies perceive them as weak.

  2. My understanding, as a Brit, is that we supported local rulers in the area. The maraharja ruled his country, and we provided muscle to help him, and keep him in line. But if everything went well for the EIC then no muscle was necessary.

    Which is, I believe, what you’ve been proposing since I started reading your blog many years ago.

    The conventional understanding of the EIC is that for the first hundred years it worked very well – many of the Viceroys “went native” and commanded great loyalty. As we got more “up ourselves” and decided that we wanted to control India with a heavy hand, rather than a light touch, we bred resentment.

    As an aside, IIRC, all the “civillian officers” of the East India Company had to learn Indian languages before they went out there, and had a huge schooling in history and the arts, so that they could better appreciate their role. Again, I believe you’ve been advocating this for some time.

    1. I have been advocating this for years Steve and believe that, at some point, we will revive something similar or we will cut and run. The advantage of using the old EIC model is it does not have to be profit based. It needs to be resource efficient and it needs to be welcomed buy the Afghan people as being on their side. The Afghans can and will fight but not for a central government that is seen as incompetent, weak and predatory and one that cares very little about their soldiers.

      My prediction on how this ends hasn’t changed either – we’ll cut and run long before we make responsible changes to how we are conducting out combat operations.

      1. Tim,
        I think by now everyone knows that is what will happen.

        When I first started following your blog you were one of the few people saying good things could come of our involvement in Afghanistan. Which is one of the reasons I started reading this blog.

        Regards,
        Steve

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