“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What is Achievable in Afghanistan?

How does he do it?

Shortly after the Northern Alliance and US special ops routed the Taliban, there was great optimism for a new and changed Afghanistan. At a minimum, Afghanistan was to be prevented from hosting training camps for terrorism. There was hope for a more open and tolerant society. It was recognized that Europe also had an interest in a stable Afghanistan and Nato would provide the military mantle. 

Without willing cooperation from the Afghan people, no long term solution will work in Afghanistan.

Is there an internal political arrangement that can be a basis for stability and governance of Afghanistan? Can such a convention succeed without representation and participation of the loathsome Taliban? I doubt it. 

The US is having a difficult enough time getting and maintaining participation from other Nato allies. President Karzai holds authority by a thread from his very handsome shawl. Forget about what we would all prefer. US policy should be based on pragmatism and achieving the achievable at a tolerable price. Fire at will.

Afghans see mounting attacks, civilian deaths as NATO failure

  • Taliban using roadside explosions, suicide attacks to target troops
  • ‘Unwarranted house searches’ creating bad blood between troops and civilians

By Daud Khattak Pakistan Daily Times

KABUL: Scared of the increasing number of attacks on Afghan and foreign troops, NGO workers and government officials, kidnapping of foreigners, and the growing number of civilian casualties in military operations by emboldened Taliban rebels, many Afghans are questioning the role of NATO and the US-led coalition in bringing peace and stability to their country.

While the fledgling Afghan police and army are an easy target for militants in volatile southern and southeastern parts of the country, the well-armed NATO and US-led Coalition troops, numbering around 50,000, are not safe either inside their bases.

New tool: Copying tactics from Iraqi insurgents, Taliban in Afghanistan are now using roadside explosions and suicide attacks to target foreign and local troops instead of engaging in direct conflict.

The kidnapping of two Germans - one of them was later killed and the other freed recently - in July from the Jaghato district of Maidan Wardak, 40 kilometres south of Kabul, and that of 23 Koreans in Qarabagh district of Ghazni, points to the fact that even highways and cities in close proximity to Kabul are no longer secure.

Kabul University analyst and Professor Wadir Safi said the situation was drifting towards anarchy. “Unfortunately, the international community missed the opportunity of bringing peace to Afghanistan during the Bonn Conference,” he told Daily Times.

He said the non-inclusion of Taliban in the Bonn Process and giving representation to warlords accused of human rights violations had been a costly blunder. To remedy the situation, he suggested, the best option was to invite Taliban and other dissidents to meaningful negotiations.

Bad blood: Besides rising militant attacks, mounting civilian casualties and house searches by NATO and coalition troops are also creating resentment among Afghans. Safi said the “unwarranted house searches” run counter to Afghan culture.

Foreign forces often storm into houses in the Pashtun-dominated southern provinces, an act that has been fuelling anger against them. As for the civilian casualties, he said the Afghans, who welcomed the foreign troops as saviours, now wanted them out of the landlocked country.

Seven civilians were reported dead and more were wounded as NATO aircraft pounded an area in Jalrez, a district of Maidan Wardak province, two days before Eid. The district was once again bombed on October 22 and locals claimed 11 members of a family perished in the imprecise airstrike.

However, NATO officials said no civilians had died in the bombing. Major Charles Anthony, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, told Daily Times that investigations into the bombardment proved no civilian was killed or injured.

Asked about the killing of residents in ground operations or what ISAF calls “incidents of mistaken identity,” Major Anthony replied the NATO-led forces always try to avoid civilian deaths in its operations. However, he hastened to add the Taliban were using civilians as human shields.

On the situation growing out of widespread insecurity in the provinces and rising collateral damage in military operations, analyst Muhammad Hasan Haqyar feared it could lead to a total collapse of the system.

About the Taliban claim that dozens of districts in the volatile southern and southeastern regions were under their control, Haqyar said the writ of the Afghan government was mainly restricted to Kabul or only a few provinces.

While the southern and eastern parts are controlled by the Taliban or men loyal to the Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, powerful commanders are in control in the northern and western parts of the country.

NATO restricted: Haqyar claimed NATO troops had virtually been restricted to their bases in main cities and did not dare chase rebels in mountainous terrain or other places where they had pockets of support. “The most they (NATO/coalition) can do is to bomb areas and that usually results in large-scale civilian deaths.”

The gravity of the situation can be gauged from a recent speech of President Hamid Karzai, who literally broke into tears while lashing out at the foreign troops for “killing our children, women and the elderly in airstrikes”. He was referring to civilian casualties in the lawless Helmand province.

Besides Karzai, his international backers and the United Nations have also expressed concern over the mounting civilian casualties time and again. Reacting to a fresh incident outside Kabul, a UN spokesman told journalists at a news conference last week “civilian casualties in military operations are intolerable”.


  1. 2164th: Shortly after the Northern Alliance and US special ops routed the Taliban, there was great optimism for a new and changed Afghanistan.

    This followed a resounding series of successes in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Kuwait, Panama, and Grenada when ther ewas great optimisim for making those places shiny and new too. Then we went into Iraq with a half-assed plan cobbled together in the White House basement, using half the number of troops we needed, and God knows how many troop deaths we can attribute directly to that error. Only now with all hands on deck and 30,000 more troops are we getting on top of the situation.

  2. The loss of NATO as a proxy power projecting pawn is achievable.

    The loss of US credibility is achievable.

    The General in Charge, I've read, told the Ministers he would need, at a minimum, 160,000 troops, loyal and brave. They were shocked.

    Or so the story goes.
    The French promised to send 50.
    The Norwiegians stood pat with their 100.

    Objectives should be set, assets allocated, missions accomplished.
    Not accessing what can be achieved with the assets allocated and claiming that'd be enough.

    Ass backwards behaviour from the world's only "Super Power".

    If accomplishing the achievable is the criteria, containment of the jihadists, that's to much to ask, today.

  3. The AP reports that 80 Taliban were killed in a 8 hour fight Saturday. 72, fighting from trenches, were taken out by four bombs. How soon before we hear they were mostly women and children?

    Germany, Italy, France and Spain refuse to let their soldiers fight preferring instead to use them as an international "Peace Corp." Why do they bother to maintain a military at all?

    Canada and the Netherlands may soon be withdrawing their troops altogether. Will the new conservative government in Canada stand strong in the face of a growing opposition? It will be interesting to see how those who claim to have supported the invasion of Afghanistan do a 180 and call for withdrawal.

    How will Musharraf react to having his soldiers beheaded in the Swat valley? Will he repeat his mistake of negotiating a settlement or will he press the offensive?

  4. What is Achievable in Afghanistan?

    Not much as long as the Waziri neanderthals are given free range in Pakistan. This situation has been allowed to deteriorate. Musharraf must crackdown. If he needs US help to exterminate the vermin, he needs to ask for it. His time is growing short and unless he has given up on his country and intends to retire in Turkey, he needs to "man up".

  5. When the General President tried the military option in the Tribal Areas, over the past few years, it's failed.

    The reasons for that failure could be debated by folks with more knowledge than I, but the failures themselves are not.

    Call upon the US?
    To do what?
    We cannot "man up" in Afghanistan, let alone pursue a ground war into Warizistan.

    Iraq has broken the US military's capacity to project power onto to the ground. In either a conventional or COIN mode, in South Central Asia.
    Iran, Afghanistan or Pakistan

    We're still policing the streets of Baghdad, on D-Day plus 5 years

  6. "Objectives should be set, assets allocated, missions accomplished."

    Well, then.

    Better wrap up that other tar baby.

    C'mon, T, don't omit Somalia from that inspiring list of the shiny and new. To paraphrase: The path to OIF was paved with such harmless intentions as these, which GWB and much of the American electorate wisely swore off of in 2000 - in the manner, that is, of a glutton after a lengthy binge, which is to say, but briefly.

    We'll satiate our appetite yet. Or drop dead in the process.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. That's why those 4,500 Coalition troops in Iraq are marching home for Christmass...
    hoorah! hoorah!

    30,000 by the Fourth of July!
    70,000 by New Years Eve 2008

    Men will sing
    Boys will shout
    Ladies will all put out

    Johnnie is marching home!
    Hoorah! Hoorah!

    The Marines requested the Afghan Theater of Operations, I recall reading. They should hit the beach, of that landlocked country.

    Hoorah! Hoorah!

    At least then, there'd be helicopters, enough to go around.

    Hoorah! Hoorah!

  9. No Cause For Hypercaution
    In a new book, former Bush speechwriter and NEWSWEEK contributor Michael J. Gerson warns against learning the wrong lessons from Iraq.

    "Throughout most of my White House experience, I intuitively sided with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's combative confidence against Secretary of State Colin Powell's caution and diplomacy. But it is now clear to me that, despite its indisputable utility on today's battlefield, the Rumsfeld Doctrine, with its stress on light and flexible high-tech military power, is less well suited to an occupation like Iraq than are certain elements of the Powell Doctrine—especially the need for clear goals and overwhelming force.

    Defeating an insurgency is possible (a fact proven in Malaysia and El Salvador); and sometimes it is necessary. But this kind of counterinsurgency campaign cannot be conducted quickly or on the cheap. For years, lower-level officers had made the case that when American troops in Iraq came into an area and stayed, there was relative calm. But for years there were not enough troops to make that strategy work on a sufficient scale in Baghdad. "

    The same woud be true in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran.

  10. We've got underutilized air power. Let's put it to work in Wazoo land.

  11. Here is Karzai in a talk to the Counsel on Foreign Relations, 21 September, 2006 said "We are between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, our people want security; on the other hand, nobody likes to be bombed.
    There was an operation during the past two or three weeks by the Canadian forces, the coalition forces, in a place called Panjawyi. The people came to the coalition and said, “Please, show that you can do something, show that you’re strong. Show that you care. Show that you are real here. Show that you don’t have a deal with the Taliban or with these bad guys. Throw them out.” They began a series of bombings. I was uneasy about that. But then the population said, “No, Mr. President, we need tough action.”
    So, on the one hand, we want security and peace, and that cannot be there without taking action against terrorists. And when we take action against terrorists, there is collateral damage and we feel hurt. So the desire is that we will soon get to the source of it so they don’t come for Afghanistan, so we don’t have to work in our villages, so we finish it there and have stability and peace both in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world."

    entire transcript

  12. Yeah, you keep that happy thought, Rat.

    "His time is growing short..."

    He's not going to lengthen it by inviting the US military into the Tribal Areas. The extent to which he's perceived as our puppet, is the extent to which he digs his own grave, literally and metaphorically. (Karzai's getting a good taste of this right now.)

  13. and this is being reported in the Teheran Times....

    I copy the final paragraph which says a lot:

    It is there, specifically in the opium-rich Helmand province, that the population needs proof that Western democratic institutions can deliver more development and security than a resurgent Islamic Taleban funded by the narcotics trade."

  14. In response to an Australian pundits suggestion that the current Iraq campaign be replicated in Waziristan:

    The severe geographical, logistical, and political limitations make it impossible. There are critical areas where we can't even insert/extract a handful due to altitude, never mind maintain them for more than 72 hrs. That also means no mop-up and little or no confirmation after a strike. Bombing blind. (Shades of VietNam.) 20K guys in full battle rattle running around? Supported by what? From where? Doing what? For how long? Two in full mufti stick out like sore thumbs given 2 minutes and a second glance standing standing still. Your standard capabilities are vastly diminished to non-existent. And the civil/political end of it? Fuggedaboudit. Might as well suggest re-enacting Desert Storm in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, for all the sense it makes.

    I don't know what the author was thinking.

  15. "Better wrap up that other tar baby."

    Roger that. Behind closed doors we need to set a date certain and I don't mean 10 or 12 years down the road.

    Same goes for NATO.

  16. El Salvador was done on the cheap. No mass deployments of US troops.
    A few contractors, fifty some Special Forces operators. Mostly utilized as trainers and advisors to Salvadoran Army units.
    The officers and NCO's of which were often graduates of the School of the Americas program at Fort Gulick.
    But not "high cost".

    In Malaysia, the conflict involved up to a maximum of 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops against a peak of about 7–8,000 communist guerrillas, over the course of 12 years. So that part was not "high cost". The strategy of relocating 500,000 people, building entirely new villages and towns. That could have been costly, financially.

    The Brits fielded, in Malaysia
    250,000 Malayan Home Guard troops
    40,000 regular Commonwealth personnel
    37,000 Special Constables
    24,000 Federation Police

    In both those cases Mr Gerson cites there was extensive use of proxies, with a much smaller "outside" footprint.

    But there were 300,000 Malaysians, backed by 40,000 Commonwealth troops. Against 8,000 guerillas in the population base of 3.12 million ethnic Chinese in Malaysia at the time. Not all of whom were sympathetic to the communists, only about 500,000 or 15% of the Chinese civilian population.

  17. I just want to see Wazoo stan left in rubble and ruin when we leave south Asia.

    BTW - Has anyone at the EB given any thought to what happens after the US or Israel takes out Iranian nuclear capability. Do they just roll over?

  18. Same goes for NATO
    meaning set a date certain for getting out of that organization.

  19. There are 350 nuclear target points, an equal number of Iranian air defense and C&C nodes.

    How many do we have to strike, over how long a period of time, to reach the goal of
    "takes out Iranian nuclear capability"
    which Ms Glick tells US resides in Pakistan and North Korea, regardless.

    The scale and scope of the pre-emptive attacks would need to be defined, before the retaliation could be forecast.
    It is not analogous to the single bombing run raids against Iraq in the 1980's or Syria, last month.

    Likens more to the Israeli air campaign in Lebanon in '06. They could not stop the rockets, or to the great SCUD hunts of Gulf War 1, where we could not find the Iraqi's mobile launchers.

  20. Mika: Sent the EB an email:

    Oct 27, 2007 22:38
    US official: Syrian reactor may have been built as early as 2001

    A Photograph of an alleged Syrian nuclear facility that was targeted by Israel on September 6 was taken by an American company as early as 2003, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

    The report quoted a senior US intelligence official as saying that American analysts had examined the site several years ago, but had been uncertain as to whether it was in fact a nuclear facility.

    Independent analysts who had looked over the satellite image said that the structure's existence may have even begun in 2001 - a theory that the official said he agreed with.

    John E. Pike, who directs a private group that analyzes satellite images,, said that is was "uncommon to see such activity in the middle of nowhere," adding that American spy satellites and analysts had watched the site for years.

    North Korea's alleged involvement with the project could have started shortly before the new millennium, the report said.

    According to GeoEye Vice President for Communications and Marketing Mark Brender, whose company released the image, the picture was taken on Sept. 16, 2003 and had been "collected as part of the company's agenda of building a large archive of global images."


    If true, it's extremely disconcerting that the CIA could not connect the dots. :-/

  21. "Behind closed doors we need to set a date certain..."

    Date certain for what? Handing over the keys? Getting outta Dodge? Not gonna happen.

  22. Yes. Yes. Why not?

  23. Remove the troops and they have to be replaced by some other capability to keep shit from falling apart and to ensure the PRTs can keep working (let's say just between now and the elections). Weapons platforms? Contractors? They've both got more practical limitations and are as finite as are troops. Iraqi military? We keep handin' over. Doesn't do our numbers any good.

  24. Change the mission and you can change the numbers.

  25. Its all Colin Powell's fault. He started that "You break it, you own it." crap...Our job should have been done when we pulled the lifeless body of Saddam from his spider hole.

  26. "Its all Colin Powell's fault."


    That's not even worth responding to.

  27. Better if the punch line had something to do with his jacked-up presentation at the UN. S'okay.

  28. Afghanistan is a "dirt-poor" (pun intended) Country. They have ONE Cash Crop. The Taliban buys it; we destroy it. We're Doomed, UNLESS

    We can help them get on their feet with a different, and "Please, Lord," Better Cash Crop.

    I think they can cultivate Jatropha over there, and it would be a hell of a "cash crop."

    In the meantime we could buy the poppies, and turn THEM into biodiesel.

    We've gotta "Get Smart," or Fail Ignominiously.

  29. It's quite a jump, from it's a large building in "the middle of no where" to it's a nuclear reactor!

    Could have been a missle storage facility, as the Syrians claim, just as likely.

    Big square building in the middle of nothing, the US has plenty of those, spread around, that are not nuclear reactor sites.

  30. According to Rory Stewart of "The Places In Between", a Scotsman, there is not a lot to hope for in Afghanistan, land where most of the women have never left the village they were born in. But Rory has a lot of spunck, and is leading a project to restore an old marketplace, in Kabul.

  31. Rory walked all the way across Afghanistan, right after the Taliban fell!

  32. Rory is the dude on the far left.

  33. I like Trish's suggestion to re-enact Desert Storm in Waziristan!

  34. Interest grows in ethanol debate

    It would be tough to overstate the interest in the RFS, which would require that 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels are produced by 2022.
    Not more than 15 billion gallons could be produced from corn-based ethanol.
    The remainder would have to come from still-unproven technologies such as the production of ethanol from the cellulose in plants.

  35. Don't tell rufus that's it's unproven technology ...

    He'll blow a gasket ...

    Be interesting to see some of the alternative product distilleries come on line, would show a smidgen of seriousness on our part.

  36. Oh, it's "Proven," all right. It's all a matter of "Price Points," now. Companies such as Abengoa are, constantly, increasing the size of their "cellulosic" operations working on perfecting the process. As soon as the new energy bill is signed there will be at least 3 Large Plants begin construction.

  37. Rat, Abengoa began "production" in their 5 Million Gallon/Yr facility a couple of weeks, ago. Unless a Major "Hitch" develops (probably won't) they'll begin construction on their 50 Million Gallon/Yr plant in a month, or so.

  38. Poet, and Range will probably begin construction on their 100 Million gpy plants immediately after the signing of the energy bill as well.

  39. That one company that had the greenhouses involved ran into a "hitch" that required starting again from ground up.
    Good PR, tho, Albob read
    "how well they were doing,"
    and it wasn't til I got to the 5th comment that I learned they were recycling high-grade BS!

  40. Mortgage the Homestead on Abengoa Futures, 'Rat!
    ...that should just about use up the Permatex Permagasket Supply!

  41. Like Vinod Khosla said, Doug, "They won't ALL work, but they won't ALL fail.

    As for Abengoa: They're a Big Company, that's been doing this type of thing for awhile. I wouldn't bet against them.

    BTW, the only two companies that I have strongly touted, here, or anywhere, have been Deere, and Monsanto. Care to check THEM out?

  42. Deere doesn't stand a chanch against International Harvester.
    Just ask farmer AlBobAl.

  43. Rufus -

    We share an interest in Jatropha for Afghan fuel supplies -

    Yet there is little or no prospect of Western scale facilities paying off in the abject poverty & joke transport that the Afghans endure -

    Jatropha oil is readily pressed out, but its processing will require village scale plants if the wealth generated is going to stay local rather than vanishing abroad.

    My field is not fuel processing but rare breed sheep production - I.e. NFU for this project

    How about you ?

    One general question - are there any UK personnel out there/ reading this who'd like to help get a pilot Jatropha project field-researched asap ?