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Posted on Nov 1, 2009 in War College

What Next in Afghanistan? – A Strategy Options Debate

By Ralph Peters, John Sutherland & ACG Staff

Marines from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, take cover after receiving enemy fire during a patrol near Lakari Village, July 19, 2009. Photo by Marine Sgt. Scott Whittington. 


There is currently an important and passionate debate raging about the future course of American strategy in Afghanistan. Yet, today’s politically-charged atmosphere makes it difficult for the general public to obtain clear-headed objective analysis that is not tainted by partisanship and competing political agendas. The President is reported to be weighing various options for U. S. strategy and is expected to announce his decision in the coming weeks.


To provide our readers with revealing insight and a better understanding of this vital national security issue Armchair General asked two noted experts to offer their best analysis and insight about three likely options regarding future U. S. strategy in Afghanistan.

Our Experts:
Ralph Peters is an acclaimed strategist, a former U. S. Army intelligence officer, and the best-selling author of 25 books, including his latest novel, The War After Armageddon, reviewed on this Website in September 2009. He is a popular columnist who frequently appears as an expert commentator in broadcast media. His insightful “Crisis Watch” column is a regular department in ACG.

John Sutherland is an operations and intelligence analyst at the Joint Center for Operational Analysis. His influential article “iGuerrilla: The New Model Techno-Insurgent” was published in the May 2008 issue of ACG, his web article "iGuerrilla Version 2.0 – The Terrorist and the Guerrilla Converge at Mumbai" appeared on this ACG website in December 2008, and his article “War on Terror: A Global Update” will be published in the May 2010 issue.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Sutherland’s views and opinions are his own and do not represent official Department of Defense policy or opinions.]

Click map for larger image.Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Current Status: The U. S. has around 70,000 troops now in Afghanistan as part of OEF. About 29,000 are part of the NATO International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF – total strength around 64,000). The remaining approximately 48,000 U. S. troops are not part of ISAF; many are helping to train the Afghan National Army (ANA). ANA strength currently is about 100,000, but plans have been proposed to expand ANA to between 134,000-260,000 over the next five years. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) began in October 2001 and continues today. After stunning initial success against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in which their remnants were driven into rugged mountain enclaves on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, a resurgent insurgency ensued that has allowed the Taliban to regain influence in many parts of Afghanistan. The fighting and terror attacks have spilled over into neighboring Pakistan, threatening the stability of that nuclear nation. Over 900 U. S. military personnel have died in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) began in 2001. Nearly 600 non-U. S. coalition troops also have died. In 2009 alone, over 250 Americans have been killed; October has proven to be the deadliest month for U. S. personnel since OEF began.

Three Possible U. S. Policy Options for Afghanistan and Expert Comments:
ACG asked the experts to answer this question for the following three proposed U. S. policy options for an Afghanistan strategy: “If you were advising President Obama as he deliberates, which option would you recommend and why?”

Option 1. Lean and Mean: An “anti-terror” option featuring a reduced “boots-on-the-ground” footprint, extensive intelligence assets, and limited conventional forces for raids and security that makes heavy use of Special Forces and airstrikes/drones to focus on a largely Anti-Terrorism objective. The main goal of this strategy is to simply prevent Al-Qaeda from reemerging as an international terror threat while shifting the focus away from countering the Taliban and its largely regional threat.

Option 2. Status Quo+: This option maintains approximately the same U. S. troop count (or only slightly elevated, say an additional 10K-15K more troops) and would be a "hold on for now” strategy as current U. S. nation-building and counterinsurgency efforts continue. This permits U. S. leadership to see what the coming months/years deliver in terms of opportunities for new Afghan policy while making incremental improvements on the ground in Afghan Forces, local government functions, etc.

Option 3. Double Down: A "Go-Big" option along the lines of the much-publicized General Stanley McChrystal plan for a full Counter-Insurgency policy involving 40,000+ additional U. S. troops and a potential multi-year commitment.

Our Experts Respond With Their Strategy Advice
RALPH PETERS: Option 1, Lean and Mean, is by far the best. We need to remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place (it wasn’t to modernize a medieval country). We must return to a focus on destroying our terrorist enemies and their supporters, who are now in Pakistan, as well as in Yemen, Somalia and various other hellholes—but not in Afghanistan. We must extract ourselves from direct-fire participation in the decades-old Afghan civil war, while training and arming those factions with whom we share enemies and who are willing to fight.

Option 3, Double Down, is a program, not a strategy, but it’s a distant second-best choice. The worst is the second option, a tweaking of the current muddled approach that has empowered the Taliban.

Any serious strategy must begin with three elementary questions that we’ve neglected: What exactly do we seek to achieve? Can it be achieved? And will the return on our investment of blood and treasure be worth the cost? No one in the White House or the Pentagon has asked, let alone answered, even one of these questions.

Our troops are brave, but their senior leaders, civilian and military, are intellectual cowards who’ve succumbed to political correctness. Those leaders refuse to face up to the following dilemmas:

  • Why is it that, after eight years of our engagement in Afghanistan, the Taliban find it ever easier to swell their ranks with volunteers ready to sacrifice their lives fighting the most-powerful military in history, while the Afghan military and police we’ve trained and funded won’t fight (or even show up)? The answer isn’t, “The Taliban pay them.” We pay better. And nobody sacrifices his life purely for the Afghan minimum wage. Most Afghans may not approve of the full Taliban program, but, in the clinch, they’re choosing the Taliban over us.
  • We just can’t make the Afghans want what we want them to want. It may be inconceivable to us, but, apart from the urban intellectuals, Afghans prefer their primitive lifestyles to what we offer. The same held true when the British and then the Soviets attempted to modernize Afghanistan—and the Soviets didn’t just send in twice the number of troops we have on the ground, but spent more in constant dollars on extensive aid programs, while deploying tens of thousands of civilian advisors, many of whom spoke the local languages (the Soviet interagency process worked, since Moscow could order its civilians to go). A few years back a friend of mine participated in a briefing for our then-commander in Afghanistan. We were struggling to improve and complete the “ring road” connecting Afghanistan’s key cities. The Taliban kept blowing it up. Our general angrily asked, “Why do they keep doing this? The road’s for their own good.” When my friend suggested considering the situation from the Afghan point of view, he wound up in the dog-house—but, to Afghans, the road benefited us more than it did them.
  • Our much-vaunted counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine is bogus and doesn’t apply to Afghanistan. General Stan McChrystal, our four-star on the ground, is a superb special-ops soldier, an accomplished tactician and an effective operator. But he’s not a strategist—our Army doesn’t produce them anymore. Our entire Army experience is geared to produce great two-star division commanders, and we do. But they don’t make visionary four-stars. Bewildered by the environment, McChrystal turned to our COIN doctrine, which holds, essentially, that protecting the population and treating them well will lead to strategic success. That’s nonsense. No matter how many wells we dig, we will not turn pro-Taliban villagers against their own sons, brothers and cousins in arms who are fighting us. True to our inept doctrine, McChrystal’s analysis ignores religion as a motivating factor (although it’s crucial to the hardcore Taliban); plays down tribal rivalries and traditions; and assumes that Afghans can be persuaded that they really want to become third-rate Americans. We are trying to nation-build where there’s no nation to build. It’s madness.
  • Our COIN doctrine stresses the importance of government legitimacy. Yet, our troops are dying to defend a wildly corrupt Afghan government that has no legitimacy and for which Afghans themselves won’t fight. Our troops are bleeding so thieves in government ministries can enrich themselves, while the people view the government as their enemy. Our leaders pretend that the Kabul government is magically going to get better. It won’t. Why should a single American soldier die to protect a government that couldn’t survive a month without our guns?
  • Partisan voices in Washington warn that, if we don’t double-down and send more troops, Afghanistan will again become a haven for al Qaeda. First, the Taliban aren’t going to return to power in Kabul. Second, even if they did, Taliban leaders wouldn’t welcome a return visit by al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden’s antics caused them to lose power in 2001. They don’t want a replay. The Taliban’s Mullah Omar had been trying to get rid of bin Laden for over a year before the September 11th attacks. Osama kept making excuses why he couldn’t leave “yet,” and then the wrath of America came down. The Taliban are savages—but they have yet to attack our homeland. And no, they’re not the same thing as al Qaeda.
  • More US troops don’t spell more security for Afghans, but more occupiers. In their eyes, we’re the Redcoats (complete with German Hessians). Many Afghans welcomed us, when our numbers were small. Now we’re just another offensive occupier.
  • Our Army’s wearing out. We speak of sending 40,000 more troops as if they were just 40,000 widgets. But we now have service members who’ve spent half or more of the past eight years deployed—and not just special operators. Troops wear out, too. The performance of our men and women in uniform has been superb, but we’re finally starting to lose the crucial mid-career leaders essential to maintaining a quality force. Even the most dedicated soldier wants a life. Troops not only aren’t home long enough to re-master branch-specific skills, they’re not back long enough to date, let alone build a family. Those magnificent 101st Airborne paratroopers in the mini-series “Band Of Brothers” were in a combat zone for less than eleven months, part of which they spent in the rear area. I just interviewed a command sergeant major with 42 months of service in Iraq. When a general asks for more troops, it usually means that he’s out of ideas.

Even if we were to manage, miraculously, to build a modern, friendly state in Afghanistan, what would we get out of it? We’re focusing on terrain and tying ourselves down while at war with a mobile, border-hopping enemy with global aspirations. Afghan dirt is worthless. We need to pursue our enemies, not bind ourselves to meaningless real estate. We need to be more mobile than our enemies. Instead, we’ve bogged ourselves down to no useful purpose.

In warfare, the ultimate objective is always the enemy. Improving agricultural yields for Afghan villagers will not deter al Qaeda’s Arab leadership from attacking us and our interests. We’ve suckered ourselves with vague goals, inept doctrine, and that most dangerous American vulnerability, good intentions.

Get back to killing our mortal enemies, ruthlessly and relentlessly. Use Afghan bases to destroy those enemies, but stop trying to “save” a country most of whose people just want us to leave. Put an end to rules of engagement that only protect our enemies and their supporters, while murdering our troops. Forget being loved. Be feared.

JOHN SUTHERLAND: The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and, according to General Stanley McChrystal, it may become un-winnable soon. General McChrystal has been here before: Afghanistan 2009 is similar to Iraq 2006. Afghanistan isn’t Iraq and every counterinsurgency is unique but there are commonalities that apply when adjusted for local idiosyncrasies. I recommend Option 3, the Double Down approach or "the surge." A surge is the raising of troop levels and, like raising taxes, no one likes it. It is temporary and designed to create a desired effect like a stimulus package. A surge is not a strategy; it’s a component of one in support of a whole government approach.

Strategic Reasoning: The U. S. cannot allow the Taliban to regain Afghanistan and restore a terrorist sanctuary. Change is necessary to build a government that can fend off the Taliban, and thus, Al Qaeda. This is impossible without security. Now is the time to act: politically, militarily, and operationally.

U.S. Army Soldiers navigate across a creek during a dismounted patrol in the Nerkh Valley, June 4, 2009. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Richard Roman.Politically, we’ve never had such broad support both domestically and internationally. The experts support the surge: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Generals McKiernan, McChrystal, Petraeus, and Zinni; Senator McCain; UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown; French President Nicolas Sarkozy; Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his challenger Abdullah Abdullah. We can add noted authorities David Kilcullen and Frederick Kagan and a slight public majority plus the 28 NATO Defense Ministers. Consensus doesn’t mean correct but it does provide leeway.

Militarily, we have experience and expertise throughout the chain of command. Generals Petraeus and McChrystal commanded during the Iraqi surge and most of our junior leaders have served somewhere in theater before. Unlike in 2006, we have an idea of what works.

Operationally, time is running out. Pakistan has launched an offensive against the Taliban that could compliment operations in Afghanistan. We have the support, the leadership, the experience, and the situation demands action.

Dual Strategy: The Afghan mission must include two mutually supporting pillars: counter terrorism and counter insurgency. It is not viable to separate the two. To offer the Taliban a seat at the table and assume Al Qaeda will not be under the table is naïve.

Operational Environment: The troop numbers now force us to pursue the path of clear-and-hold and return to the FOB. We need to clear-hold-build while training the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) in order to clear-hold-build-and handoff.

What is the Upside? Surge equals commitment and can spark an "Anbar Effect." In Al Anbar the tribes started out as neutral, became hostile and sided with the insurgents, then found they had new masters whose harsh vision alienated them. They then turned to the less intrusive Americans. We’ve got a jump on this in Afghanistan—most Afghanis don’t want the Taliban back.

The most important lesson of the Iraqi surge was that nothing happens without security. We must secure the neutral majority, isolate the resistance, and reconcile the willing while killing those who aren’t. Security buys political maneuver space for the host nation and enables reconciliation, which only works when the insurgents are on the ropes. The conventional surge troops focus on the population while reinforcing Special Operations Forces FID and enabling SOF counter-terror. The best intelligence sensor comes from troops on the ground, among the people. This enhances the SOF mission through sharing, collaboration and ops/intel fusion as seen in Mosul 2004. It also enhances ANSF training and facilitates joint operations that build teamwork, trust and experience.

The Iraq surge triggered a decline in violence. As troop strength goes up, civilian casualties go down, reducing propaganda opportunities. Unlike events caused by Tomahawks, Predators, bombers, or Special Ops, ground events have someone present for key leader engagement and Bomb Damage Assessment verification. Boots on the ground means we get the truth out before the lie.

What has to go right? For an Afghan surge to work the ANSF has to gain confidence, corruption must decrease, and the tribes must join in local defense. The pace of reconstruction has to speed up while projects and money have to move out of Kabul and into the countryside.

How long will it take? The timeline should be condition-based, not politically driven. Benchmarks are established, tracked, and used as "off-ramps" triggering reductions. I assume a 20-month commitment with an option to reduce or extend based the benchmarks. When the Iraq surge achieved the desired effects the drawdown began almost immediately.

Afghan national army soldiers and U.S. Marines with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, return fire after Taliban insurgents ambushed their patrol Aug. 13. The six-hour fight was the longest since July 4 here. Photo by Marine 1st Lt. Kurt Stahl.How will we know if it’s working? The first sign of success is peace: attacks go down and tribal partnerships go up. The locals provide the U. S. and ANSF with tips and reject the Taliban. We reach the tipping point when our incentives outweigh Taliban intimidation in battle for popular support. In Iraq we knew we were winning when the tribes came to us instead of the insurgents.

What are the downsides / risks? There will be an initial spike in violence that will make things seem worse. The early reads during the Iraq Surge were pessimistic. The troop increase and the rough terrain means there will be more opportunities for an LZ X-Ray or a Dien Bien Phu (to use Vietnam War analogies). We’ll probably have to re-focus the counter-drug effort exclusively on insurgent-connected dealers. We may have to allow the Afghan government to tackle the bigger problem later.

What could go wrong? Any successful large-scale insurgent attack could be disastrous although the Taliban have not demonstrated the ability to form groups of 100 men or more. They generally fight in 20- to 25-man teams. An ANSF “Saigon-style” public execution could also be a disaster – the famous 1968 photo of Saigon Police Chief Loan executing a Viet Cong terrorist became a public relations disaster for South Vietnam. The biggest danger is for a U. S. ground force to create a large civilian casualty event. More troops in close proximity to the population and the enemy is always risky.

Pakistan. The most important event to avoid is an Afghanistan/Pakistan role reversal whereby Afghanistan becomes the safe haven for Taliban forays into Pakistan. With a volatile population and nuclear weapons to boot we need to keep Pakistan secure. Pakistan is having its own Taliban problems and has launched an offensive of its own. A surge might create dual pressure on the Taliban and put Al Qaeda on the run with no place to hide. We’ll have to step up U. S./Pakistani cross-border coordination and help them coordinate strikes on the Taliban in Pakistan.

Iran. Iran doesn’t want a direct confrontation with the U. S. They watched us defeat the Taliban in a few months in 2002 after seeing the Soviets lose earlier. Then they saw us defeat the region’s largest army in a matter of weeks. Next they watched us turn the Iraq insurgency back with the surge of 2007–08. Why hand them hope by allowing Afghanistan to flounder? If we show weakness it will open up an opportunity for the aspiring regional hegemon.

Iran never liked the Taliban. They even were quietly supportive of OEF in 2002. Although they back them now, they would not like to see a Wahhabi regime on their doorstep supporting the anti-Iranian Sunni’s of Baluchistan.


RALPH PETERS’ REPLY TO SUTHERLAND’S STRATEGY RECOMMENDATION: While John’s position is sincere and thoughtful, he’s fighting the last war. Afghanistan just isn’t Iraq. A temporary surge, even of 20 months’ duration, would be insufficient: we’d need to go to stay (and 40,000 troops still would not be a sufficient occupation force). Any remote hope of building a modern Afghanistan would require at least—at least—a generational commitment. Even if it worked, would it be worth the cost?

In Iraq, al Qaeda was a foreign invader whose atrocious behavior ultimately made the organization’s terrorists less appealing than the other “foreign invaders,” so the Iraqis jumped sides for their own self-interest. In Afghanistan, the Taliban’s the home team, whose appeal is increasing, not diminishing, as evidenced by its expanding presence throughout much of Afghanistan and its soaring appeal to young recruits.

John writes of buying time for the Afghan government, but the current Afghan government is the problem. Our COIN doctrine stresses legitimacy. The Karzai government is not viewed as legitimate by Afghans. Its corruption empowers the Taliban. Meanwhile, we subsidize and protect and rationalize away drug kingpins, such as Karzai’s brother, the governor and thug-in-chief in Kandahar. Our talk about democracy, development and the rule of law just sounds like hypocrisy to Afghans—who may be uneducated, but aren’t stupid.

Soldiers prepare to walk to the remote village of Balik during a patrol in the rugged Titin Valley, Nuristan province, June 2007. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Michael Bracken.Our troops are dying to protect thieves, drug lords and scoundrels in Kabul government ministries. Is that truly what we want our men and women to do?

John also claims that the Taliban cannot muster significant tactical forces. That just isn’t true. In one recent attack on a U.S. outpost, the Taliban, supported by locals, deployed several hundred warriors. Almost a dozen U.S. soldiers died (although they killed over 140 of the attackers). The Taliban are feeling more confident and growing bolder. Meanwhile, “our” Afghans won’t fight.

The Taliban is growing rapidly, despite our eight years of commitment to Afghanistan. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why?

Nation-building efforts are folly in a fractured, hate-ridden and violent tribal society. Let’s get back to a focus on killing al Qaeda, instead of “protecting” Afghan villagers against their own relatives. We don’t need more troops in Afghanistan. We need more intellectual integrity. No soldier or Marine should die because Washington was too cowardly to ask the tough questions.

JOHN SUTHERLAND’S REPLY TO PETERS’ STRATEGY RECOMMENDATION: Ralph’s Option 1 discussion told us what Lean and Mean is not but not what it is. Lean and Mean is a counter-terror (CT) approach where SOF and air (UAV, TLAM, USAF…) execute surgical strikes to kill or capture terrorists. This is an enemy-oriented approach and our CT guys are the world’s best. Their former boss is General McChrystal and he rejects a CT-centered approach. We can whack-a-mole all day long, but it’s no more a strategy than a surge is.

Why CT won’t work alone. When man-hunting is the only approach you manage to kill the leaders but do not decrease the manpower pool. Given Afghanistan’s warrior ethos, this approach "disrespects" the tribes, displays lack of will to fight and generates "chaosistan." CT is only as effective as the intel—an aspect that is enhanced with more eyes on target. CT generates collateral damage and civilian casualties that angers local non-combatants. Just look at this October 30 headline: Clinton Faces Pakistani Anger at Drone Attacks.

CT + COIN + USG = a Strategy. CT is one leg of a three-legged stool: COIN, CT, and USG. The Lean and Mean troops kill bad guys while the COIN troops secure the neutrals and the diplomats engage the government in a comprehensive approach. Afghanistan is a tough nut but so was Al Anbar.

US Strategic Musts. We must:

  • Address our infantry shortage.
  • Take USG economic engagement out of Kabul and into the countryside.
  • Partner and focus on the locals.
  • Get our NATO partners to get out of their bases.
  • Accept an Afghanistan confederation versus an American clone.

What we want. We want a government that works for Afghanistan and is not a threat to the U. S. homeland. We don’t want it to be a terrorist Petri dish. We want terrorists dead or captured and a host nation that allows us to operate from their territory.

What we don’t want. We don’t want to become the Soviets flattening civilians, mining roads, while forcing a government on them. We don’t want a stateless state (Somalia) where we hand out aid while killing bad guys. Terrorist don’t need a sponsor when there’s no government.

Weigh-in on this discussion!

Now that you’ve seen what our two experts have to say about this subject, Armchair General invites you to weigh-in and join the discussion on this important national security strategy issue by offering your own comments and opinions. Click here to go to the ACG World Terrorism and War in Afghanistan Forum thread on America’s Afghanistan strategy options, share your comments, and read what others have to say. Or, you can simply leave a comment below.


  1. Good article on both sides. Too bad we can’t take the best of both to form a strategy. We can not pattern our response on what the Soviets did. How can we get rid of the present bunch of crooks? The Soviets tried and look where it got them. Can we find a better guy than Karzai? Can we find a way to recruit the Pathans?


  2. While both contributors raise interesting and important points, Sutherland ultimately makes the best case. His suggestions possess a refreshingly neutral tone and prove more sensitive to the situation on the ground. His is the proscription made by one who’d like to see results. While sympathetic in his decrial of the loss of American lives—Peters offers little but a series of questions. (“What are we trying to achieve?” “Is it achievable?”) He complains that both administrations have been too “cowardly” to ask/answer these questions but offers no answers himself. Infinite deferral will solve nothing. Sutherland, on the other hand, does that which is both more difficult and potentially incendiary: he offers a positive, proactive, bona fide Plan. It’s not risk-free, but it might be the only catalyst strong enough to turn the tide in what has become a somewhat stagnate situation. His comparison to the Iraq War is compelling, as is his point that the surge has the support of a good deal of international leaders. In a time when America could use (though need not compromise for) some popularity in the global community, such considerations are not easily dismissed. His point that casualties drop as troop numbers rise makes a great deal of sense. The question is: does the United States government have enough foresight to see that this will be the case? The Vietnam analogy need not persist. Both Peters and Sutherland are right in that we absolutely should not continue on in a half-hearted manner, accomplishing little and suffering much. In his consideration of Pakistan, the dynamics of a tribal society (which might end up finding us more powerful allies than the Taliban), and the cultural elements specific to Afghanistan (the “warrior ethos,” etc.), Sutherland offers the more nuanced and compelling view.

    Peters’ main argument consists in ‘waving the bloody flag,’ a gesture to which it is unpopular not to concede. He relies on heady, emotionally-charged rhetoric to appeal to Americans’ impatience and constant appropriation of ‘the troops’ for partisan debate. Every American loss is a profound tragedy, but perhaps a sense of proportion would be good. If we compare the losses in Afghanistan to those in pre-Desert Storm wars, we might wonder what our ancestors would think of our lack of fortitude. Peters frequently makes blanket statements without supporting them with any evidence (“40,000 is insufficient,” this would be a “generational commitment,” etc). Perhaps this is just the inevitable result of the fact that both men’s proscriptions are, in the end, unavoidably speculative.

    Most disturbing about Peters’ rhetoric, however, is the tone he assumes when discussing Afghan culture. While no American probably feels 100% benign toward a country that is making it difficult for us to conclude this bloody conflict—we have to take into consideration the fact that current state of Afghanistan has arisen out of a political and cultural context diametrically opposed to ours, and to most states’ in the West. Sutherland acknowledges that making things work there requires serving/reconciling two masters: “We want a government that works for Afghanistan and is not a threat to the U. S. homeland.” “Works for Afghanistan” is the key phrase, and Peters seems to think that, since turning them into “third-rate Americans” hasn’t worked, we shouldn’t bother. He says revealingly that “Nation-building efforts are folly in a fractured, hate-ridden and violent tribal society.” I don’t hear any answers there—just cultural prejudice and an insensitivity for the fact that many of these Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and African ‘states’ are completely artificial. They are “fractured” and “tribal” (and, thus, “hate-ridden”) because Western powers have historically carved them up and used them economically for centuries. Our efforts there are not the unfortunate result of, as Peters puts it, “that most dangerous American vulnerability, good intentions.” Rather, they are an attempt to contain the damage of the social fragmentation and fundamentalism that are at least partially the result of years of colonialism. By referring to Afghanistan as “primitive” (a bad word in the Academy, and one that should at least be qualified by considering cultural, economic, and political context) and “medieval,” Peters betrays an imperialist attitude more dangerous than an increase in American presence in Afghanistan would seem. He has passed judgment, lost hope, and washed his hands.

    We should just bite the bullet on this one and get something long-lasting done. And if we need incentive, let’s look to the Democratic Peace Theory.

  3. The problem I have with this “surge strategy” is we don’t have properly trained and acclimatized troops to carry it out. We can get away with a surge in Iraq because the area of operation is low level and our troops only need to get used to temperatures and lack of humidity. Afghanistan is not Iraq.

    Afghanistan is mountainous. Preferably we need troops trained to work in mountains. The only troops we have that have experience there are Rangers and some Marines that trained in Norway. We would need at least five Light Infantry Brigades of THREE Infantry Battalions each, trained in Mountains. We don’t have them. The 10th Mountain Light Infantry Division is stationed in New York state and Louisiana. The highest hills in New York are nowhere as high as the lowest point in Afghanistan. Troops going into Afghanistan need to train in high altitudes. No Army base is located in such an area, although several Air Force bases might help.

    We need to raise some more Light Infantry Divisions and I don’t mean retraining Armor or Mechanized units for it. We need to give our combat troops more down time in the CONUS. We need to start doing things properly, instead of the slight of hand policies we got in the Rumsfeld period.

    We need to quit converting Reserve Combat Brigades into Combat Support Brigades. We need MORE Light Infantry, not MP, Engineer, Transport and other such units. If it is already Infantry, leave them so. All those Brigades we have now operating with two Combat Battalions (Armor/Infantry) need to get back to a mix of three Armor or Infantry Battalions. All infantry Brigades need three such Infantry Battalions.

    We need a strategy to lure the Pathans to us. We get along well enough with the other ethnic groups.


  4. i wonder if we should be looking to assist the pakistani army in its offensive against pakistani taliban with a concurrent offensive of our own on the other side of the border, to create great pressure from both sides at once.

    I agree with a lot of what as been said and written here, the choices in front of us arent many, and we are at fault for a lot of that lack of choice, but we must not let those who have died do so in vain, a solution must be found, and must be prosecuted with the same vigour an determination already shown by our troops on the ground. And everyone must pull their weight…

  5. There is nothing in Afghanistan worth fighting for. The average Afghan doesn’t want Western forces in their country and certainly doesn’t want the country turned into a Democracy along Western lines.
    Too many of the bravest and brightest of our troops are paying for our leaders indecission and political correctness with their lives or their health ( amongst the only people doing well out of this war are the makers of prosthetic limbs).
    Pull our troops out and make it clear that any threat to Western interests sponsored or launched by elements based within Afghanistans borders will result in swift, decisive and effective reprisals. If they want medieval, let them have it AND keep it within their own borders.

  6. The same people saying leave them all with their @$%&* mediaval state, the same explain (before or after) that usa have to blast or even nuke rogue states.
    You know in europe we don’t have this problem because we lost our power after the two world wars and the failled decolonisation. So we know the errors we have done. And so today we think.
    So usa should think about the world and think about his way of life.
    Sutherland searchs a positive solution for both, so you gat more questions after than before read. On the oposite Peters seems to have responses for all and a strong point of view, he is sure of what he think.
    So at the crossroad i could say there is an easy way, simple ; But everyone here knows that the way to the truth is hard, with lot of questions to be answered humbly.

  7. As European citizen, I’am sure that NATO troops have to leave Afghanistan . For 7 years, money was given to corrupted president and ministers. The building ou re-buildind of roads, hospitals, schools, water and electricity networks is not realized.
    Think over : by killing some hundred talibans, is that policy a warranty to eliminate social, economic, and cultural reasons giving terrorism ? Remember that most of “kamikaze” are recruited among the poorest and more desperate people.

    Just an aknowledgement : Do you no that afghani governement (ministers and people around them) is the most important producer of heroin in the world ? Could they be supported by Western countries ?

  8. and do you know there are more heroin addicted in pakistan and iran than in europe? Things are not complex but they are stratified, so we’ve gat to think.

  9. Growing up during Vietnam and barely missing the draft for that war, I can say that it is an exercise in futility to “Nation Build” corrupt governments that the indigenous people do not support. I can also say that a democratic republic does not always work well in third world countries. Afghanistan is a tribal patchwork of communities with a few larger cities. Instead of pushing a democracy, it would be better to construct a government with the local tribal leaders and war lords in on the power sharing. The King’s Peace would be imposed upon the country, but the Government should not be corrupt and provide law and security. Those that wish to favor the Taliban should be treated as Sherman treated Georgia during our Civil War, they should feel the hard hand of war. I think we need to have a Norman Medievial mentality in dealing with Afghanistan.

  10. Afganistan is a very complicated area of the world. Those who have ventured into this country who did not study the past history of the would be invaders of the past who tried to set their forms of government and ways on these peoples did not profit from wisdom. The very tribal nature, the terrain, economy and the culture of this country bears great military, political and culture history and planing. We did none of the above as well as we should have done. It would take a utterly ruthless and devastating form of warfare to get the people so beat down that they would almost have to be destroyed before you could raise them into the modern world. We need to go back to the drawing board on this one.