Thursday, March 01, 2007

Problems facing the US in Afghanistan and Iraq

There is a lot of press given to visits to Pakistan by American dignitaries. Most of the press also comes down negatively on Pakistan's leadership and rumours abound that American dignitaries are suggesting that America's fearsome congress will clamp down on aid to Pakistan unless Pakistan does something to clamp down on terrorism.

In a manner eeriely reminiscent of GoI officials in the 2002 period, Americans are telling Musharraf that they want Dadullah or Zawahiri to be arrested. You may recall that for the longest amount of time the Indian government wanted to see key Jihadi group leaders like Masood Azhar extradited, it appears that the Americans are now handing the Pakistanis some similar sort of list of wanted criminals and rogues.

Is it too simplistic to conclude that sections of the American military do not think highly of the Bush Administration and its friends? Is it too simplistic to conclude that the poor image of the name Bush in the military has become an issue of deep concern for the Adminstration officials? Could this public bashing of Musharraf be part of some scheme to regain lost ground with the US military? or am I simply reading too much into a few straws in the wind?

To be absolutely fair, the American military is experiencing a number of problems in its current role in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can summarize these as follows:

1) A hostile muslim population, divided along sectarian and ethnic lines but united by its resentment of the West.

2) A helicopter based line of communication that is increasingly vulnerable.

3) A military that is largely not mentally geared to handle peace enforcement operations.

How can Pakistan help? you ask...

1) Pakistan is a model (however imperfect) for how an unrepresentative minority can use sectarian and ethnic divisions to perpetuate its grip on power through the deliberate use of terror. In essesence - divide and rule. It could be that Pakistan teaches the Americans how to divide and rule a muslim population.

2) Technology and knowledge proliferation from Pakistan could increase the vulnerability of the helicopter based supply line. The effect would be similar to what the Vietnamese achieved with Russian air defence advisors. Note the manner in which terms from the Vietnam era are being used by miliary officers and members of the US press to describe insurgent strategies.

3) All the insurgents that attack the ill prepared US armed forces come from Pakistan. Pakistan could use its influence with these groups to degrade the effectiveness of the attacks on US forces. For example Pakistan could ask the groups to target only Afghans and Iraqis while leaving the American military largely untouched or Pakistanis could allow the US military to occasionally stage vengeance attacks on Pakistani soil against insurgent groups based there.

And how can Pakistan hurt the US? Well... that should be obvious by now, but I will state it nonetheless.

Pakistan can hurt the US by encouraging insurgent groups to attack the US. These groups could either deliberately shred the sectrian and ethnic fabric of Iraq and Afghanistan to the point where civil war breaks out or they could simply target only US military personnel and the helicopter based supply line. This is all part of the damage that Pakistan can do to US interests even if it does not give Al Qaida a nuclear bomb, or assist Al Qaida in conducting spectaculars on US or allied soil.

So what will Pakistan do?

Pakistan has deep interests in Heroin production from Afghanistan. It would like to be second to none in exploiting this resource, after all this is almost a 50 Billion USD a year economy, who does not want to be in on this? Pakistan also sees a greater role for itself in the Middle East, Pakistanis are through being menial servants of the Sheikhs, they want to be the masters now. Any conflict in the Middle East will draw immensely upon the limited pool of native manpower in places like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Pakistanis will therefore fill the void created by the outflow of manpower and effectively exert greater control over the economies of these parts. If there is control over Afghan heroin output, it is easy to see how a greater initiative in the middle east could be sustained. So from the Pakistani perspective Iraq and Afghanistan are literally pieces on a chess board.

It is not in Pakistan's interest to see the US gain a competitive edge over Pakistan by an extended and positive stay in Afghanistan. It may be in the Pakistani interest to see the US stay in Iraq for the present time as it will exacerbate the problems faced by US friendly regimes in the region. An anonymous "senior government official" allegedly told the Pakistanis that the democrat dominated Congress was keen on changing US strategy in this conflict. The Pakistanis already know this, and my personal guess is that the Pakistanis will be keen to see the Congress take the US out of Afghanistan first.

The only question now is what exact sequence of events will precipitate a US withdrawal from Afghanistan.


At 5:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maverick,

I found your post interesting but my take on the situation is very different from yours.

I am a retired military officer who has friends who are on active duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

I can tell you that your comment about "Bush's unpopularity with the US Military" struck me as just...well...weird. First, President Bush is very popular with most of the troops...they just like the guy. Second, as a rule, American presidents, whether Bush or Clinton, Reagan or Carter do not shape policies to please factions within the military. The military here simply does not have the influence over public and political life that it does in some other countries.

Your characterization of what is going on in Afghanistan does not match what I have heard from my friends and what I have seen in news reports.

In any fight between the insurgents and US forces the insurgents suffer tremendous casualties. I don't know where you are getting this "ill prepared" stuff but the facts on the ground are very different from that, at least as far as direct combat goes.

Your point about helicopters and modern anti-aircraft weapons is well taken but they have not yet become a major problem. Your characterization of that issue regarding Vietnam is simply wrong.

North Vietnam was brought back to the negotiating table in 1970 or so, by a massive bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong and the mining of their harbors and cutting the land routes to China. As far as helicopters go, we did have significant losses on a number of occasions but they never prevented US forces from going where they wanted to or staying as long as they wanted to. See Khe Sahn and the Cambodian incursion. When the last American combat units left Vietnam in the 70-72 time frame about 90% of South Vietnamese territory was under control fo the Saigon government. In 72-73 when the North Vietnamese tried their first conventional invasion they were defeated by a combinationn of South Vietnamese ground forces and massive American air support. It was only after the US congress cut military aid to RVN and forbade the use of military forces in theater that the second North Vietnamese conventional invasion was 1975.

There are many challenges in Afghanistan though.

The Taliban and Al Queda are able to reconstitute themselves because they have a sanctuary in the tribal regions of Pakistan and indeed in Pakistan proper. And they have at least tacit support among the Pushtun population.

Because Afghanistan is a tribal society, the central government is weak compared to the various tribal and ethnic groups.

Because Afghanistan is poor, has been through nearly 30 years of wars, and because it is largely uneducated...the infrastructure for a stable, civil society: roads, schools, communications, hospitals, an impartial police and judiciary and so on simply do not exist. Lack of industry or agricultural development means that there are large numbers of young men with nothing to do but fight each other.

And truth be told, some parts of the population are happy with this situation.

So, change will be slow and painful.

The US and our allies do not wish to occupy Afghanistan we only want there to be a stable, democratic government that can prevent it from again becoming a base for world-wide terrorist movements. So, there are never going to be enough troops in place to occupy any significant portion of the country for any time. The idea is that eventually the Afghan Army will be strong enough to keep order.

Whether that strategy will work remains to be seen but there is no indication that the Taliban or Al-Queda forces can acheive any significant military victories over US forces.

Patrick Walsh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA

At 6:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS. I should have also added that I am not in a position to contradict your analysis of Pakistan's strategic interests and potential course of action. Unfortunately, your take on the matter seems, at least, plausible.

I wonder though, is it possible that the interests and attitudes you ascribe to "Pakistan" are only shared by a portion of the ruling class? My own thought has been that Pakistan is in the midst of a low grade civil war with multiple factions jockeying for power. Certainly at least some of those factions share the interests and attitudes you identify. I just hope they are not common to all.

Patrick Walsh
Pittsburgh, PA

At 7:30 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Patrick,

I should have been more explicit when I used the word "military". In Indian parlance, it usually denotes speaks about the people between the troops and the political machinery. It does not automatically refer to troops on the ground.

From what I have read, there is little reason for me to doubt that the troops have a positive view of President Bush. The troops seem to be concerned mainly about relatively microscopic issues such as time on deployment, compensation packages, family care etc...

What I was trying to say was that there appears to be quite a spectrum of opinions in the middle. Since these people in the middle are tasked with running the war, discontent there is a more serious matter.

I agree with you that a single faction in the military (the mid level) does not shape policy in the US. However should some agenda emerge that unites the otherwise separate factions in a common cause against a percieved enemy, then a very unpleasant managment situation would appear.

I remain deeply skeptical of the casualty figures released from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have no doubt that a large number of people are killed everytime around US forces bomb a nearby village believed to be sheltering insurgents. What I doubt sincerely is how many insurgents are actually killed in such attacks.

There is another effect which I have noticed in places like Kashmir and Punjab in India, where the COIN forces tend to inflict high collateral damage and in the process alienate sections of the population. Each action by them creates more terrorists then it kills. The less prepared an armed force for a COIN environment, the more collateral it racks up.

The inability of US forces to stamp out the "Taliban" in Afghanistan, despite having a vast military superiority, speaks to something of this kind being at work.

When I said that US forces were unprepared for this role, I meant they were unprepared for two things, firstly having to sustain long deployments and operations which involve repeatedly attacking the same position in the mountains, or in an urban environment *and* secondly having to repeatedly take casualties from sub-conventional warfare in these operations. The psychological cost of these attrition operations is very different.

There is no way an army largely trained to fight a high intensity war across the plains of Europe can simply adapt to this low-intensity COIN environment, especially when it is required to field staff from its reserve of part time soldiers. Even with a professional army composed of highly selected people, that kind of thing takes a decade (e.g. Indian Army 8 Mount. Div)

It is a matter of pride for every American that their nation has such advanced weapons technology that it can its "weekend warriors" and splash them into an alien environment to sustain some form of hostilities but even the Americans are human, not Gods. I feel one has to recognize this limitation on things, if one is to make optimal use of the reserves.

At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi patrick,
there is apt saying for your version of american victory in vietnam:- Americans lost a war,vietnam lost a nation. Suffice to say that some of us love the way us troops retreated from the rooftops of saigon in helicopters. The casualties you huys suffered were in execess of 50,000 all this for what? Levelling a poor improvished nation to smithreens,killng a million vietnamese just to sopt communism! If you have strength attack china or Russia and see.
2)Some of us will love to see US govt. get enmeshed in a such a mire from where it will find difficult to extricate itself. Some of us will love to drag you more into a deeper mess. Of course like vietname,you will again win paki style self congragulation,
and again you guys will escape from rooftops of which embassy.
3) Look where U.K is now because of its continous hegemonstic policies.Great Britain is no longer Great any more.Ditto for Roman empire? Where are all of them?Where is germany? The same will happen if freedom loving Bush continues with its policies of hegemonism. Time only will tell.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Patrick,

I feel helicopter based mobility is the key to rapid low casualty operations. Once that environment is disrupted, say by eliminating fighter cover for the helicopters or by finding a way to harm the helicopters themselves, you are forced to deploy troops via roads, that are more vulnerable to attack by infiltration. This increases casualties. One of the biggest reasons we take such horrendous losses in Kashmir is because we can't fly all over the place. Our "MSRs" are lined with hostiles and any attempt to deploy forces from a base automatically becomes a high-risk mission. They know when we are on the roads before we know where they are **AND** it takes us days to get to some places.

In Afghanistan, if your people can't use helicopters, then I think you can pack your bags and go home. It is not much better in Iraq. Without helicopters I feel the political cost of this conflict will become unsustainable.

The similarity to Vietnam I believe comes from the fact that rising casualties eroded confidence in the political leadership of the President. This made him an easy target for a group of lightweights in Congress. Without any way to prove to people that the War in Vietnam was actually saving American lives, the President was asked to end the war and everything that came with it. That is the trajectory the Pakistanis may choose to impose on you in Afghanistan.

When I speak about Pakistanis, I speak about their military leadership in the Army and the Islamist groups. They are in my opinion - a very intelligent breed of people capable of considerable deception. I do not see them as zealots, I see them largely as rational actors who actually have very little by way of resources, and so rely on a deliberate show of irrationality for leverage in one on one negotiations.

All the violent factionalism seen in Pakistan is in my opinion the result of a deliberate alienation of a variety of sub-national groups. This alienation is a direct consequence of the "ideology of Pakistan". This ideology stress on the creation of a national identity by forcibly degrading natural diversity in the population. By forcing people to abandon their ethnic, racial, religious memory, the Pakistani leadership hopes to create slaves that work unquestioningly for them.

This model has met with limited success in Army and the Islamist groups where indoctrination is high. In Pakistani society however this model has only sowed the seeds of a perpetual intolerance of diversity and a culture that rejects pluralistic democracy.

As the institutions of demoractic self-expression fail, the only recourse left for people enmeshed in a conflict over resources is to take to violent struggle.

I am of the opinion that the Pakistani leadership understands this mechanism quite well, and they seek to create a state of controlled conflict in their land. By controlling the conflict, they breed an economy of size around any commodity of their choice and perpetuate their rule over the masses.

I think we may be approaching the same thing from different perspective. You appear to see things on the political side from the eyes of the military, I tend to see military things from the eyes of the politicians.

In my eyes a military victory is only relevant to the extent that it produces political capital for the person who ordered the military action. The gain or loss of a battle is meaningless unless it is followed by a corresponding gain or loss in the psychological space of political enemies.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi guys,

Please don't fight amongst each other.

Lets just talk here.

We are always going to have different opinions. So long as we tell each other what they are, its okay.

We don't have to agree on everything.

At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi patrick,
one more comment!
1) The US govt/US military is stuck in Iraq that neither can they proceed ahead nor retreat! Similiar to the German forces who were all stuck along the Russian frontier.Neither could they attack nor retreat! Go ahead fill your apetite for war by attacking Iran,Syria but we will sit here and watch all the fun.Officers with decades of CI experience have stated that with the current policies of the Bush admin, US forces cannot win the insurgency. Look at Dien Bien Phu,Algeria, what happened? Think and ponder before you ask us repeatedly for our troops to help in extricating your govt from the mess your govt. first created.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Pangloss said...


Pakistan is actively opposing the Baloch insurgency.

Iran also has a problem with the Baloch insurgency.

Iran is promising to build a natural gas pipeline through Baluchistan to supply Pakistan with NG.

Iran is protecting the Al Qaeda shura council, including Saad Bin Laden, Saif al Adel, (and Hekmatyar, IIRC) and wishes to insert friendlies into the top level of the AQ leadership.

Iran and Pakistan have been involved for many years in negotiations having to do with the nuclear weapons blackmarket run by AQ Khan.

Iran is sending jihadists into Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers, and has jihadists in Afghanistan poised to attack, whether or not they are already attacking.

Pakistan has allowed itself to be humiliated by the Taliban and blessed with independence the Taliban takeover of FATA and the Waziristans that gives the Taliban and Al Qaeda a safe refuge from which they can emerge and raid NATO forces and unprotected civilians in Afghanistan.

ISI connected persons have protected Al Qaeda and Taliban figures who recruit and move about freely in Quetta and have the run of the place in FATA and the Waziristans.


I believe that Pakistan is readying itself to actively coordinate with Iran in order to actively support and supply AQ and Taliban terrorism against Afghanistan and the NATO forces there.

Whether they carry out this plan depends on many factors, of which the primary one is how ferocious the U.S. becomes.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Pangloss,

The Baloch opposing Iran and the Baloch opposing Pakistan are two entirely different groups of people. As far as I know there is no cooperation between these groups.

The Iranians have problems with some sunni Baloch in the Gwadur area due to clashing interests in narcotics.

The Pakistanis have diverging interests with a Bugtis and Marris further to the north, over royalty for oil and natural gas exploration. The Pakistanis have largely fixed their end of the Baloch problem by killing Nawab Bugti and deploying a division size formation at the natural gas hub at Sui.

So I find it hard to imagine a convergence of Iran and Pakistan over this.

Pak-Iran collaboration after 1979 has been largely the by product of two extremely high ranking persian speakers in the Pak Army. It is unclear who in the present PA has that kind of enthusiasm or ability.

It may be in Pakistan's interest to push the US into a conflict with Iran and then ramp up the pressure on Afghanistan.

Incidently, Pakistani and Iranian spheres of influence collide in Kandahar, and Helmand. Iran will not be keen to see Pakistan's hands strengthened in Kandahar or even further north in Jalalabad.

Hi Patrick,

From the comments coming from the Pakistani ambassadors and the pointless drumbeating by US sources, it is becoming clear that the Pakistanis resent being part of a show carried out to appease the US military.

It appears that the secretary of the Army has been relieved of his duties. This supports the idea of severe crisis of confidence and possibly points towards imminent friction.

At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi maverick,
there is something very fishy going on w.r.t Cheney's meeting with Gola.It raises more questions than actually providing solutions.Let us look at them
1)Why this sudden round of shadow boxing between US and Pakistan? Is is this that Musharaff's election is due.Hence it is the best time to twist Musharaff's arm to gain more ? Who knows
2)Pakistan will never tolerate any other Islamic nation from acquiring nuclear weapons, as regards to Iran it is shia nation and a next door negighbour of pakistan.
3)This brings us to: As to why Cheney will gubo musharaff privately in a top secret tour(whose identity is revealed)with Musharaff supposedly galantly standing up to Dick; the proof of his valour being a suicide attack on bagram airbase when Cheney was inside.The meeting was suppose to pressurise Mush on Iran.Then why this overt chest thumping as to pakisatan will never accept dictation
4)Dick has had several meetings with Gola.The contents of all these meetings have never been revealed. Then why supposedly arrange a meeting with a senior govt.official,then reveal the name of the person conduciting negotations with Gola
5)Brig R. on a different forum was commenting on the alleged differences between hamid karazai and Gola. In fact Karazai has spent most of the time in pakisatan!!! under the very nodes of various paki regimes.
wheels within wheels, conspiracies with conspiracies. The more one investigated the more questions gets raised.

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi m,
sorry not scanning my posts through a spellchecker.

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maverick you have a peculiarly Indian mind set i.e. everything bad in the middle east west of you is due to Pakistan. And that Pakistan is either an American Client state OR a sworn enemy of America. Also I should add China is in the habit of giving Pakistan strategic technologies for free just to piss off India.
Here of course you insist that Pakistan controls Iraqi insurgents!!!!
Which ones? The Bathists who have been close allies of India or Shias who are pro-Iranian?
How does Pakistan control the opium that grows in Afghanistan? If that was the case then should'nt karzai insist on destroying the bumper harvest rather than dragging his feet?
How did Pakistan benefit from opium if Taliban had eliminated it? Maybe they did not get the ISI Memo?
Unless US creats a self-sustaining economy in Afghanistan based on agriculture, highways, and Transnational pipelines; Pashtuns will become disenchanted. It is that simple. Pakistan loses if Afghanistan is abandoned by the West again. Only the beards dream of that day. But I doubt saner elements of Pakistan estalishment wish to see US leave or join Iran in a pointless stand off against US. But NO ONE likes being blamed for sins of others.

At 8:24 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear Anonymous,

Yes I do have an Indian mindset and no doubt someone from Pakistan might find it peculiar.

I wish to stress I do not reflexively oppose every Pakistani desire, nor do I grudge the Pakistanis any form of national security activity.

I only note that that the Pakistani way of doing things gives their neighbours very few choices.

The Pakistani national strategy revolves entirely around overtly making a show of total subservience while covertly undertaking the worst subversion imaginable. It doesn't matter what the Pakistani promises you, from world peace to controlled escalation schemes, you can be certain that any thing Pakistan does overtly to meet its promises it will covertly undermine in some other way.

The sheer consistency with which Pakistani strategists repeat this mantra makes them predictable. Knowing that the Pakistanis will certainly betray them, Pakistan's neighbours are left guessing as to what Pakistan's real interests are. No amount of Pakistani assurances really work from that point on because everyone knows that Pakistan only seeks out trust so that it can betray it at a later date.

In essence, Pakistan in its desire to project superiority, "out-machiavillis" itself.

It is increasingly difficult for anyone to have a positive view of Pakistan as a national endeavor.

I never said Pakistani controls the drug trade. I said, Pakistan used to control the heroin trade from Afghanistan and that Pakistanis were a substantial presence in the Hawala world.

In 2001-2002 after the US attacked the Taliban, I kept hearing sporadic rumors that the US bombings had destroyed large stashes of heroin owned by the ISI. As I could not verify these reports, I remained skeptical of the US desire to reorganise the heroin trade from Afghanistan. The first inklings of a change came after the assasination of Haji Abdul Qadir. You may recall that Haji Qadir, the brother of Abdul Haq, was allegedly the biggest heroin trafficer in the Jalabad area and Haji Qadir used to run a private airline from Jalalabad to Dubai in the early 90s. The airplanes would fly heroin directly to Dubai from refineries in Jalalabad. I was initially confused by the suggestions that Gul Agha Sherzai had attempted to remove Haji Qadir from the trade, but eventually when Haji Bashir Noorzai turned up in a court in New York under indictment for drug trafficing, I knew the US was leading a reorganisation of narcotics trade in the region.

I agree that Pakistanis now no longer exert as much control over the trade from Afghanistan as they used to. I can only imagine how much anger the loss of billions of dollars in revenue brings the Pakistanis.

Is Pakistan responsible for the ills of Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it is, the number of LeT men turning up in Iraq is not exactly a secret and neither are the number of Pakistani army types turning up amongst the ranks of the resurgent Taliban. It is also notable that not long after the first call for volunteers for Jihad in Iraq went out over the mosques in Karachi and Lahore, the lethality of IED attacks on US troops in Iraq improved dramatically.

The Baathists and the Shias are fighting a battle for their survival. They have no incentive to dial up the level of violence beyond a certain level. High intensity mass casualty terrorist attacks are practically a trademark of Pakistani groups.

At 3:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Maverick
you said that much about pakistan. how do you know, its your problem in the west to Criticize pakistan for every thing goes wrong. but luckily you havent blame pakistan for your birth.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger maverick said...


I am from that wonderful land across Pakistan's eastern border.

I always take the position that my countrymen should not be blamed for Pakistan's birth.

At 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well you forgot blame Pakistan for climate change.Apparently this is only thing left to be blamed on us.


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