Last Friday night I was invited for a short segment on Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler . She is on the One America Network and wanted to talk about the situation in Afghanistan. I was asked to speculate on the 4,000 additional troops that the legacy media has been discussing for the past few weeks. I responded it would be enough to provide permanent adviser teams for the 6 Afghan National Army (ANA) Corps and 14 ANA Brigade headquarters. I should have added the five geographic zones of the Afghan National Police which would add up to 4000 nicely. I was then able to add that this increase in troop levels would not work. I’d like to expound on that and offer up what I think would work.
The addition of 4,000 troops would probably work as a stop gap measure to prevent the collapse of the Afghan government. But that does not correlate with the goals outlined in the Department of Defense report to congress that was just released by the Pentagon today. The quote below is from the U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan section of that report:
The U.S. and Afghan Governments agree that the best way to ensure lasting peace and security in Afghanistan is through reconciliation and a political settlement with the Taliban. The United States supports an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process and supports any process that includes violent extremist groups laying down their arms.
That is such an ironic statement that it’s almost funny. What they are describing as a goal is exactly where Afghanistan was in 2002. The Taliban had laid their arms down (a least a majority had) and gone back home to war no more. Those that had no home, had bad reputations from the Taliban days or just liked to fight went to Pakistan but they were a small subset of the former Taliban regime.
The Afghans were all about starting over in 2001; in Kandahar the tribes gathered in the municipal soccer stadium to elect representatives for the loya jirga future president Karzai was planning to hold. At that meeting one of those selected was an elder from the Ishaqazi tribe, Hajj Burget Khan from the Maiwand district. Anand Gopal, in his book No Good Men Among the Living explains what happened next.
One hot May night, Abdullah was sleeping in the courtyard when a thunderous blast shook him awake. Looking up, he saw a blinding white light in the space where the front gate had been. Silhouetted figures rushed toward him. He ran for the guesthouse, shouting that the house was under attack. Inside, Hajji Burget Khan was already awake; he had been sipping tea with visitors before the dawn prayer. His bodyguard Akhtar Muhammad raced into the courtyard, firing his weapon blindly. Before he knew it, he was thrown to the ground. Two or three men were on top of him. He was shackled and blindfolded, and he was kicked again and again. He heard shouting, in a language he couldn’t understand.
Hajji Burget Khan and Hajji Tor Khan, Akhtar Muhammad’s father, ran into the courtyard with other guests, heading for the main house. It was then, as the first morning light shaped the compound, that they saw armed men standing on the mud walls in camouflage uniforms and goggles and helmets. American soldiers. Gunfire erupted, and Hajji Tor Khan went down. Before Hajji Burget Khan could react, he, too, was shot. Nearby, women huddled in their rooms, listening. Never before had strangers violated their home— not during the Russian occupation, or the civil war, or under the Taliban. A woman picked up a gun and headed into the courtyard to defend her family, but the soldiers wrested it out of her hands. Then a soldier appeared with an Afghan translator and ordered the women outside. It was the first time they had ever left their home without a mahrem. They were flexicuffed and had their feet shackled, and some were gagged with torn pieces of turban. The group was then herded into a dry well behind the compound.
The story gets worse, first Hajji Burget Khan was killed while being questioned:
“…a confidential dispatch from the Canadian Joint Task Force 2, part of the special forces team that carried out the raid, states that “an elderly father died while in custody” at Kandahar Airfield, “reportedly from a butt stroke to the head, which has caused much grief/ anguish in the village.”
Then the Americans in Bagram figured out the truth:
“For days, the prisoners were questioned. “We don’t know who we have, but we hope we got some senior Taliban or at least some Taliban folks in there,” Lieutenant Colonel Jim Yonts, spokesman for the US Central Command, told reporters. Yet it soon became apparent that the captives had all followed Burget Khan in embracing the new American order. After five days, they were brought to Kandahar’s soccer stadium and released. A crowd of thousands, who had made the trip from Maiwand, was there to greet them. A few months earlier many of these farmers had packed the stadium seats waving the new Afghan flag and chanting in favor of the coming loya jirga. Now, for the first time, anti-American slogans filled the air. “If we did any crime, they must punish us,” shouted Amir Sayed Wali, a villager elder. “If we are innocent, we will take our revenge for this insult.” Tribal elder Lala Khan asked, “Is there any law? Any accountability? Who are our leaders? The elders, or the Americans?”
Now, 16 years later, the American military strategy is to try and put things right by returning them to the way they were before somebody on high decided to stick around Afghanistan to root out an al Qaeda which had fled and Taliban which had already surrendered. This war should have ended with the killing of Bin Laden in Nangarhar province but the geniuses from the the Pentagon let him slip away because nobody sitting on their ass back in Bagram wanted “another Mogadishu”,
Killing Osama and ending our intervention in Afghanistan would have been worth 10 Mogadishu’s. The only senior player in theater who recognized that was a young Marine general named Jim Mattis who was begging to throw his Marines into the mountains to block bin Laden. That he, as the current Secretary of Defense, is the guy left holding the bag is a bitter irony that is lost on virtually everyone. But not me and now not you either.
The architects of the blatant incompetence describe by Gopal was the CIA. They were using a warlord to provide their actionable intelligence. The same warlord whose men assumed the responsibility of policing Maiwand after their police were arrested, Gul Agha Sherzai. Trusting that same organization to fix what it has spent 16 years breaking is madness.
What can be done? The first step is clear out the incompetent bureaucracies who have not one clue what to do now and appoint a Viceroy. We need one man with proven capabilities to lead a very slimmed down effort of reconciliation. I nominate Eric Prince because he is the only public figure who has made a lick of sense concerning a rational direction for Afghanistan.
Then we need a Information Operation (IO) campaign that works. Note how the Taliban and ISIS-K were all over the airwaves denying responsibility for the horrific attack on Kabul with the poop pumper truck. I say the Taliban did do that with the help of the Haqqani network. Why? Because on 9/11 /2011 an identical attack took place against an American base in Wardak province. The only difference was the truck was a water truck not a poop pumper truck. I’ll bet the explosives and triggering mechanism were identical and even if they weren’t, I’d be running a 24/7 IO op saying they were. Who’s going to argue the point; Haqqani?
According to the recently released Survey of the Afghan People the only provinces that harbor sympathy for the Taliban are Zabul, Uruzgan, Wardak, Laghman, Kunar and Nuristan. I’d be harping on that too with an IO campaign targeting them. You need IO to put constant pressure on the Taliban from the Afghan peoples perspective not from the big army or international press perspective.
The worst IO problem we face in Afghanistan is the common belief that we (the international community) are cooperating with Pakistan and the Taliban to keep Afghanistan unstable and in constant conflict. The United States Government and the Kabul Government can do nothing at the moment to change that. Kabul is facing intense, constant rioting over the latest bombing and their (Kabul’s) inability to protect the people of Afghanistan. The time for sweeping change is now but the players who created this fiasco are in no position to facilitate it.
That Afghans need help with both tactical and strategic intelligence and the model to use is the old Office of Strategic Services (OSS) model. Specialists embed with the Afghans; not in their own high security, incredibly expensive compounds. Go after the Taliban funding sources and cripple them. What do you do with all the opium? Buy it, send it to India and let them turn into pharmaceutical analgesics or build a plant to do that in Afghanistan or burn it.
What about the hash? Don’t buy that because it’s crap. In fact you could import some bubble hash from California to show the Afghans just how badly they do at growing dope. Then we could introduce industrial hemp and teach the Afghans how to make rope, clothes and shoes from it. Do you know how expensive hemp fiber clothes are? Real expensive and they last too. The Afghans could make a killing on hemp textiles and use their smuggling networks to try and get bubble hash from the west. Once some gets dumped on them they’re going to want more. Know what that’s called….IO ops brother – an IO op that works
Same with the lapis and the silver, and the wood; buy it all and then sell it back to Afghans at a subsidized rate so they can make stuff and develop what we in west call “an economy”. I can promise you this; buying the dope and the minerals will cost pennies on the dollars we’re spending now. And it will provide jobs and income that, if taxed reasonably, will allow Afghanistan to get off international welfare dole. Plus when they find out they’ve been doing the dope growing thing wrong for the last 5000 years it’s going to bother and confuse them. Which is how you get the industrial hemp trade going.
The Afghans need help defending themselves and the biggest problem they have with their army is the field discipline to takes to avoid IED’s, firefights you can’t win and keeping all the complex gear we’ve given them combat ready. The biggest problem they have with their air force is enablers and enough pilots. Embedded contractors are the answer, a fact which the international elites continue to lie about which is a good indicator it’s true.
What would these contractors need to be effective and avoid the Green on Blue attacks? Virtue. They cannot drink, smoke dope, do drugs, or womanize. They have to wear local clothes that keep their arms and legs covered. They need to be humble, deadly and dedicated. To use a tier one SF analogy – they need to be the Combat Applications Group (Delta Force) not SEAL Team 6. When’s the last time you heard something about Delta? Exactly my point.
This concept would work only if the Afghan people accept our help. We cannot gain that acceptance through a government that is viewed as corrupt, predatory and kept in place by the guns of foreigners. The way forward now goes through the National Ulema Council – the religious leaders. If you can sell to them a plan that involves westerners on the ground, flying aircraft and assisting with intelligence collection and analysis then there is hope.
The men selected to do this would have to stay for the duration. They need to be men that Afghan men would respect and the younger Afghans would want to emulate. As long as the Ulema could handle their your young men wanting tattoos the West can provide the help they need to stand alone.
Don’t tell me that can’t be done; I’ve done it, Panjwayi Tim has done it, Jim Gant did it and although I don’t know Eric Prince I’ve read his book and watched enough of his speeches to I know he’s done it too. There are thousands of internationals, some who I know of and many I don’t; men and women who have put in the time and displayed the aptitude to do what needs to be done to help the Afghans to help themselves.
It ends like it started with the Afghans, as a people, rising up to demand an end to the fighting, looting and destruction of war. That is how we started out, that is exactly how the Taliban started out and that is how this going end; with or without us.
What do the diplomats do? They could help by starting their own campaign advocating for a Pashtun and Baloch homeland. Those people should have their own country – who gives a damn about the boundaries drawn up by the old British Empire that were designed to split and them apart and weaken them? I can hear people now hissing their dismissal of such an ambitious plan but guess what? You don’t have to actually do it – just advocate for it and watch how quickly the Pakistani’s and Iranians start thinking about not messing with Afghanistan.
They would be screaming bloody murder as would the Turks but we can just shrug and act all PC like. “Hey man, were just trying to help the people and nobody likes the borders us old white guys drew up right? Why do you insist on borders us infidels imposed on you at the point of a gun? Why do you want hostile tribes inside your countries anyway; we did that to you and now we’re trying to fix and you’re getting shitty with us”?
Now there’s an IO op…could you imagine? I can; nobody in Foggy Bottom could which is another point.
Let’s go one step further (I’m on a roll) why not start talking about legalizing opium and heroin too? Portugal has and that drove their junkie population down. It’s not like junkies can’t find the junk easily anyway. And again, you don’t have to actually do it; just start talking like you’re going to do it while you buy up the opium in Afghanistan and watch the bottom fall out of that market. Know what that is? That’s an IO op; one you can believe in and one that will work.
This may sound like crazy ideas to you but I’ll tell you what is really crazy. Believing that the various agencies and governments who created this mess can find a way out with just a few more troops and a few billion more dollars.
I say give me a Viceroy and 10 Billion a year (we’re spending 50 now) and I’ll give you a peaceful Afghanistan. And we won’t lose anymore troops – just contractors and nobody gives a damn about them (which is why you pay them the big bucks). If anyone else has a better idea I’d love to hear it.
8 Replies to “The Storm Clouds Are Building; Time To Talk About Realistic Solutions”
Spot on mate. Best piece of writing I’ve read in a long time. Thanks.
Exactly. When do we leave and get to work?
I wish but do not believe our return is in the cards MK.
One question, two comments.
Question: How do you assert that by buying up all the opium the ‘bottom will fall out’ of the market? While I agree that a legal market not controlled by ‘the baddies’ is a good idea, won’t purchasing opium will simply drive up the price and increase the market? There would have to be some way to ensure that the opium is coming from the farmers. That said, I think you could eliminate a big chunk of the Taliban by letting them become legal (and profitable) opium traders.
Comment 1: I think you picked the wrong Viceroy. If only there were an ex-military man that had been living in Afghanistan for many years and new the situation well? hmmm… 😉
Comment 2: I don’t think a Viceroy will work. I do software and have watched the company drive the project into the ground, only for them to surrender control to me for long enough to pull it from the brink of the disaster. What do you think their next move is? No, it’s not to recognize I know what I’m doing and give me the control I need. The next move is to yank the steering wheel from my hands, claim credit and continue doing the same things as before. It’s not just big governments that behave like this, it’s people and those types of people unfortunately make a career out of this behavior. A Viceroy will not have the control over his own destiny if his power comes from Washington, careers are at stake in this game.
I’m advocating the position and not just the person. The concept comes from a time when money was tight and travel to an overseas post took months. That forced the Brits to have people on the ground who knew and understood both language and culture and it forced innovation towards getting the job done (whatever that job might be) with the people and material on hand. I know that it is impossible to believe that the US Gov or the international community would endorse a solution that involves privatization of a military/diplomatic effort but wanted to point out we have done it before and it would stand a better chance of success then what we are doing now. As far as the opium goes buying it at the source has got to be cheaper and if the crop is being used for legitimate purposes like producing analgesics it becomes a supply and demand issue. Heroin is a double edge sword that is smuggled to the west because people in the west (who are pre-disposed to addiction) have disposable incomes and can afford to buy it. There are plenty of people in the east also pre-disposed to drug addiction too (it’s not exclusively a western phenomenon) and if that continues the Islamic religious leaders are going to be forced to deal with it which might pressure the supply side too. I have no expectation that anything resembling the ideas I put forth on the blog will ever materialize but I enjoy writing outside the box ideas that incorporate successful methodology from the past. Happy 4th of July.
Drugs is a conundrum
I think complete legalization here in the U.S. will have lots of unintended consequences
Certainly the “War on Drugs” has been a complete failure
We lock up huge number of black people for drug use and then wonder why the inner cities have collapsed
And drugs are available inside the jails!
I like the idea of buying and burning the opium on site
Paying the farmers to grow all they can and destroying it right there will do more for Afghan development than anything else we have done
There is a deficit in opiate analgesics in the third world but my understanding is that most of the Afghan crop is not pharmaceutical grade. That may not be true but I heard it often from DEA types in Afghanistan which is why the buy and burn makes more sense. Opiates are also haram in Islam so a buy/burn program should, in theory, be supported by the mullahs.
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