Michael's Dispatches

Success in Iraq

14 July 2008

The war continues to abate in Iraq. Violence is still present, but, of course, Iraq was a relatively violent place long before Coalition forces moved in. I would go so far as to say that barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What's left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it's time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.

I wish I could say the same for Afghanistan. But that war we clearly are losing: I am preparing to go there and see the situation for myself. My friends and contacts who have a good understanding of Afghanistan are, to a man, pessimistic about the current situation. Interestingly, however, every one of them believes that Afghanistan can be turned into a success. They all say we need to change our approach, but in the long-term Afghanistan can stand on its own. The sources range from four-stars to civilians from the United States, Great Britain and other places. A couple years ago, some of these sources believed that defeat was imminent in Iraq. They were nearly right about Iraq, although some of them knew far less about Iraq than they do about Afghanistan. But it's clear that hard days are ahead in Afghanistan. We just lost nine of our soldiers in a single firefight, where the enemy entered a base and nearly overran it.

The news from Afghanistan is reason for pessimism. For some more optimistic news, please look at these statistics from Iraq, and remember that if we could turn things around in that country, we might be able to do the same in Afghanistan.

 

Comments   

 
# Celebrim 2008-07-14 19:29
We've been losing Afghanistan for a long time now. I've been aware of it since at least 2005 when I started noticing that the strategic and tactical situation had gotten worse every year. That trend has continued.

As best as I can ascertain, the heart of the problem in Afghanistan is the same as the heart of the problem in Vietnam. As an aside, I find this extremely ironic, because the anti-war critics have consistently treated Afghanistan as 'the good war' while directly comparing and conflating the second Gulf War with the Vietnam conflict - even though the two wars had very little in common.

I recognize the dangers of comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam after so many false analogies of that sort have been trotted out for less than honorable purposes. But Afghanistan and the Vietnam conflict have this fundamentally in common - the military situation is being created by a political consideration which is seen as precluding the ability to take the offensive against the enemy.

In Vietnam, strategic operational doctrine was driven largely by the belief that we must not go on the offensive lest we widen the conflict and bring China and or the USSR into the war directly. And in particular, this was considered to be unthinkable because of the possibility that such a conflict would go nuclear. In Afghanistan, we find ourselves in much the same situation.

In Vietnam, no serious offenses were launched into North Vietnamese territory. This allowed the enemy to have the initiative, to dictate the pace and timing of attacks, and to fight the war as a virtually unlimited war of attrition. It also allowed the enemy to have a virtual safe haven with which to stage attacks, recover, arm, and train. Winning in this situation would have been nearly equivalent to trying to win the American Civil War while making no incursions into the Southern United States. The enemy on the other hand not only had free reign to stage offensives in the south, but showed little respect for the borders of supposedly neutral neighbors as well, giving them logistical and tactical flexibility where their movements gained security from our own political sensibilities.
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# Celebrim 2008-07-14 19:31
The situation is almost identical in Afghanistan, as the enemy has managed to establish a base of operations in Pakistan where it can draw on indigenous manpower which it can replace virtually indefinitely. The enemy is free to use this stronghold to arm, stage attacks, and rest and recover from operations virtually secure from attack. Additionally, the population supporting the war suffers little appreciable harm from doing so, and sense it is historically a martial society is unlikely to ever tire of a low intensity conflict. The enemy has essentially been given the initiative, and we are stuck trying to lure the enemy into aggressive attacks and hoping to win with counterpunching alone. As in Vietnam, we are relying on airborne operations to respond to threats rather than forcing the pace and tempo of battle ourselves. I need not tell anyone in the military that this is not the recommended manner of US war fighting. The recent example of a remote outpost coming under attack from a large, determined, and far numerically superior foe with the result of 9 US deaths is an alarming reminder of the Vietnam era.

And like the Vietnam era, the reason we don't go on the offensive is we are sacred of widening the war and fear that it will go nuclear if we do. In essence, the Taliban have taken advantage of the weakness of the Pakistani government, the incompetency of the Pakistani military, and the fact that they have significant support with the Pakistani intelligence community to shelter under Pakistan's nuclear umbrella. They have carved out a virtually independent state within terror Tory claimed to be the sovereign territory of Pakistan, and are more or less thumbing their nose at the US.

There is absolutely no way to win in Afghanistan until the Gordian knot of Pakistan's complacency with regards to the insurgency being staged from within their borders combined with their nuclear belligerency is solved. No change in tactics or doctrine is going to work in Afghanistan as it did in Iraq unless this problem is solved. No increase in force or presence will solve the problem unless the problem of Pakistan is solved. In fact, increased presence without being able to take the fight to the enemy is likely only to make things worse, in much the same way that Americanizing the war in Vietnam caused it ultimately to be lost.

Can anyone outline a credible path to victory in Afghanistan that doesn't involve military victories that are politically Pyrrhic and at the present time morally repugnant (such as turning Pakistan into a parking lot)?
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# crosspatch 2008-07-14 19:48
There are major differences in the two wars with different strategic goals. There are two things intertwined in Afghanistan. The tribes that produce the Taliban are also the world's heroin dealers. A lot of money pours into that region. While the poppy production is in Afghanistan, the processing and distribution is based in Pakistan. It is estimated that as much money as the entire legitimate economy of Pakistan flows into those tribal regions from the trade of opium, heroin, and hashish.

Until we get serious about cutting off the poppy cultivation, we are simply fooling ourselves. Those tribes will always have enough money to train and equip private armies and pay off politicians and various intelligence operators. Over a hundred billion dollars a year buys a lot.

We need to get serious on poppy eradication.
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# Mark Buehner 2008-07-14 20:01
There seems to be a fundamental lack of a strategy for the long term in Afghanistan, which very likely results from the NATO hogpog command. if only we could swap out NATO forced between dangerous Afghanistan to babysitting in Iraq, but thats not too likely.
Its never a good sign that you don't hear anything about the Afghani government and rebuilding. Per European doctrine i get the impression that we just arent doing much in the way of nation building, and doing more triage. I also agree that like Vietnam we are inexplicably allowing our enemy a safe haven. How many troops would be required to truly cut the Pakistan border while building up and then unleashing the Afghan military to take and hold and rebuild? We might turn this into an opportunity by taking the battle to the enemy's strongholds while providing some breathing room to win back the countryside.
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# Joseph Somsel 2008-07-14 20:23
Isn't part of the problem that Afghanstan has always trailed the rest of the world in fundamental civilizational development. Even Iraq has a long history of "high" civilization inspite of Saddam's attempts to brutalize it. Plus, just how important is Afghanstan to the US? Do we really have to invest the money and lives or is there some minimum protective level we can accept?

Of course any neighbor of Pakistan AND Iran is subject to catching bad viruses.
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# Clint 2008-07-14 20:25
crosspatch-

Why, exactly, do we have to eradicate the heroin industry in order to win in Afghanistan?

The flow-of-money argument makes no sense. Stabilizing Iraq not only didn't require destroying their oil industry, it required quite the opposite -- defending their oil infrastructure from terrorism. The huge influx of money into Iraq as oil prices have soared has *helped* the effort to stabilize Iraq, not hurt it.

We're never, ever, going to get the support of the Afghan tribes if we insist that they impoverish themselves.
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# Alaska Paul 2008-07-14 21:19
It seems to me that our real goal in Afghanistan is to deny terrorists like al Qaeda a base to set up shop, and to export their version of terrorism to us, and to other countries.

So, the first thing is the givens:
1. Afghanistan is a tribal society. Loyalties are bought and sold, with limited shelf life, so it seems.
2. The border between Afghanistan is really non-existent, especially in the NWFP. That is the way the Pashtuns look at it.
3. Pakistan is a big part of the problem. They are our so-called allies, but one faction is singing our praises while the other stabs us in the back. It is like trying to carry out business with someone with multiple personality disorder.
4. Pakistan has enough madarassas to crank out jihad-bots like Jack the Bear. And IIRC, these are financed by the Saudis.
5. The frontier areas are financed by the heroin trade, which the US and Europe the main markets, so we are our own worst enemies, in some ways.
6. Pakistan has nukes and an unstable government. That is why we play footsie with the Paks.

So what do we do? It is a hell of a problem. Well, coping does not work, so maybe we should do something decisive and get this thing over, instead of attriting troops and squandering treasure, which we do not have.

1. Go in and take Pakistan's nukes away or destroy them and the infrastructure. That will take care of the main threat.
2. Deal with the Saudi financiers. Make them a deal they can't refuse. Stop the jihad bots.
3. Go after the base in the Pak tribal areas. You mess with us, we mess with you. Simple, like Reagen did with Gadaffy. Use appropriate means. It does not mean that you ARCLIGHT the area, but that is one of your tools if other ones fail.
4. Once you have the tribal areas backing off or neutralized, then you can do nation building or whatever hobby you want to do in Afghanistan.

Fanatics cannot empathize. They are psychopaths, So you do not play social scientist. You show them that they will be personally hurt if they mess with you. That is the appropriate way to deal with them. You have to get into people's heads. They are tribal. They have a different outlook.

Right now, we are treating the symptoms of a disease. The source of the disease is not in Afghanistan. It is in Pakistan and the tribal areas. Treat the disease and get the job done.
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# crosspatch 2008-07-14 23:10
"Why, exactly, do we have to eradicate the heroin industry in order to win in Afghanistan? "

Because that is what is enabling the enemy. That is how they pay off the politicians in Pakistan. That is, I believe, the reason for all the "peace deals" with the tribes. When the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, they outlawed poppy production there and practically all the poppies were grown in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Then, after the US invaded Afghanistan, a deal was worked out in Pakistan where poppy growing would cease there in exchange for payments to the tribes for the money lost. The US and Pakistan began a program of paying the tribes not to grow poppies. What happened next was that the tribes simply moved the poppy fields to the Afghanistan side of the border but the processing and distribution remained in Pakistan. So now the tribes make more money than ever while they collect payments on the Pakistani side of the border for not growing poppies while poppy production is as high as it ever was but moved to the Afghanistan side of the border. The tribal area spans the border so a deal with Pakistan to stop something that can simply be moved to another part of the tribal area on the other side of an imaginary line is a joke.

The Taliban are dependent on the drug money and the tribes that supply the fighters. If you cut off the money supply, you cut off their influence on Pakistani politicians and their utility to the tribes.

Let me put it another way ... if we told them that unless they hand over bin Laden and Zawahiri, we would begin eradication of all poppies within a 1000 mile radius, I believe we would have them delivered within a week. The tribes are going to protect that drug money before they protect bin Laden. Those tribes are the world's heroin dealers and they make over 100 BILLION dollars a year at it. Last numbers I saw showed the tribes making more money on heroin than the entire legitimate economy of Pakistan. That is "tax free" money for the tribes and buys a lot of influence. If we want al Qaida, I believe we need to threaten their opium supply.
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# Peter A. Taylor 2008-07-15 01:57
crosspatch, the problem is the drug *money*, not the quantity of drugs per se. We don't need to eradicate the heroin industry, we just need to cause the price of heroin from poppies originating in southern Afghanistan to crash. The easiest way to do this is to flood the market with poppies grown in northern Afghanistan or Turkey. We could do this simply through benign neglect--work the drug problem from the demand side rather than the supply side. Treat it the way it always should have been treated, as a purely domestic problem, not a foreign policy problem. The main obstacle to this is that the politicians would lose face.
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# Richard John Stacy 2008-07-15 04:44
As the focus of the GWOT comes to Afganistan & Pakistan, finally, the empitus for establishing a real policy and positioning of forces for WWIII is now pregnant. WWIII? I admire all of your your concerns and careful analysis of the A/P front vis-a-vis the Poppy Problem, but the real problem is Iran. There must be a pre-emptive strike within the next few months by Israel aided by the US (watch the coordination meetings here in the US with I's PM next week, and then the following week between the I General Staff and its US counterpart) to initiate the ultimate conflict in the GWOT, WWIII. It will result in the doubling, perhaps tripling, temporarily, of the price of oil/gasoline, resulting in a shock to the US and world not seen since the Great Depression. the Poppy Problem will wilt in the exchange. The US must not mis-position itself too far north of the Straight of Hormuz. Afganistan is a distraction, although at least a geographically well placed one ...more later.
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# Brian H 2008-07-15 07:58
When has A-stan ever been anything else? The post-colonial national boundaries there are as much a mess as they are elsewhere in the ME, which is 'very'.

As far as tribal loyalties being "for sale", it's more like current alignments are. The essence of tribalism is that the tribe itself owns all loyalty; everything else is just deals. The smallest nearest circle gets the most loyalty, and so on out to the widest kinship clans. But national boundaries matter only if they happen to coincide with the edges of your clan's turf. And any government that happens to own or create or defend such a border that splits your clan turf is automatically an enemy.

And what fun is life without enemies?
;-)
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# Ammo Guy 2008-07-15 13:02
I remember Michael writing a couple of years ago that he expected one of our outposts in this region to be overrun - I thought he was exaggerating at the time, but it sounds like this was a "close run thing." I am reminded a bit of the Little Big Horn since apparently a number of disparate groups got together for this attack...the difference being, of course, American airpower - it's nice having a Bone on station overhead to call upon. I am also reminded of a SNL skit from the 70s entitled, "what if Custer had a Sherman tank?" Now we know. And, if this unit was the Lion Brigade out of Vicenza - good shooting guys and your KIA will be in our prayers....God bless you all.
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# Celebrim 2008-07-15 13:45
Alaska Paul: Your plan sounds like a recipe for turning Pakistan into a failed state. Pakistan has a population of 167 million souls. There has never been a failed state that large. By comparison, Somalia has less than 10 million. Afghanistan has about 33 million.

If we hit Pakistan and disarm them, then any arrow we don't collect is broken from the moment the manure hits the whirling object. Like it or not, we'd be at war with a nuclear power with an intelligence agency that has strong sympathies for the Taliban and Al Queda. Frankly, I think we should consider conflict with Pakistan to be nuclear from the onset. This was a country all prepared to engage in a nuclear war with india before we intervened. But lets say we somehow avoid going nuclear in the early hours or days of the conflict, and miraculously come up with a full inventory of thier stocks and all 80 or so weapons. This would be incredibly fortunate to say the least - especially considering that we some how must stage this operation with complete surprise to keep warheads from being dispersed to our enemies before we ever begin.

I do not think we can stage military operations in Pakistan without turning the country against us and collapsing the government. I have no love or trust for Musharaff, but he's not going to risk our wrath (at least until he has complete nuclear deterance).

Pakistan is a borderline failed state as it is. But if the whole thing hits the fan, you are dealing with a nation of 167 million souls where Osama Bin Ladin has a 46% approval rating and 80% of the population opposes US military action in Afghanistan.

If things fall apart, we have to be ready to kill directly or indirectly 5-20 million people, many of them innocents, just to reach the point where the shock and horror of war settles in and the native population decides maybe to stop fighting. We have consider a nation with a population half that of the USA a failed state and a permenent breeding ground for terrorism and to face the fact that we might not have the resources to turn a nation that size around. It would be more than twice the size of post-war Germany, lacks equivalent cultural and educational resources, and we are no longer the world's sole economic and industrial power.

Do you really want to be the person that makes that call?

This is no time for bluster. Or we willing to accept that outcome?

We may get there whether we like it or not, but I vote for trying literally everything else until our hands or forced. To be honest, I'd rather face a nuke on American shores than initate a process that has 30 million dead Pakistani's as a possible outcome. Remember, this is a population that polled just a few years ago as supporting a nuclear war with india even though projected casualties were in the 10's of millions. This is a population that is ill-equipped to understand exactly what is at stake and is likely to act irrationally suicidal if pressed.
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# Tanker J.D. 2008-07-15 17:33
Michael:

Is the complete slide show with the statistics available at a Government or Military website? I don't doubt them, but I need an official citation if one is available for a project at work

I'd appreciate what ever information you can provide. Thanks
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# Joe215 2008-07-15 19:56
This A/P deal is a cluster f@#$ of epic proportions. There is no clear path to resolution. Very Scary.
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# debra schreiner 2008-07-15 23:05
Do you have any more updates on the location of the remote base that was hit yesterday? Or names of those killed in Afghanistan?
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# Therapist1 2008-07-16 03:26
Mr. Yon, I thank you for going over to both these countries and reporting. You were one of the few sites I frequented to get the real report on how things were going. I read your second book and found it quite enjoyable. Keep your head down and watch your 6 in Afghanistan.

Thanks again
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# celebrim 2008-07-16 13:28
debra schreiner: Very little has been disclosed at this point. We don't even know the unit, but I suspect it was an element of the 10th Mountain Division. The battle occurred at a FOB in Nuristan province in roughly the NE corner of the country (but not quite up to the border with China). Based on the description, it appears to have been basically an observation post on a mountain side for watching the Pakistan border. It appears to have housed a platoon sized or smaller unit, plus some Afghani interpreters. So roughly 40 soldiers. Of those, 9 were killed and 18 were injured (some reports have said 15 injured). In any event, the unit suffered nearly 75% casualties.

My understanding is that they were attacked by roughly two irregular companies (~200) of Taliban sometime just before sunrise. The Taliban must have succeeded in some measure of surprise, because I've seen reports that suggested that thy overran the base at one point. About that time though, US air support showed up and between that and the resistance provided by the remaining defenders the Taliban was forced to flee.

The US has abandoned the base. My guess is that this is because they've decided that the placement of the base is somehow flawed. I don't see how the Taliban could attack a dug in US force across open country, so they must have found a way to get within a few 100 yards unobserved. Based on reports I've heard, the likely explanation was that the base was a few hundred yards from a small village (probably the focus of some good will mission), and the Taliban succeeded in inflitrating the village and attacking from there.

But however it happened, we came a hair from losing an entire unit for the first time in either war. We had a couple of moments that almost got this bad in Iraq, but I don't recall any time we lost 9 members of the same unit in this sort of small conventional battle.
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# beebs 2008-07-16 20:42
"a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs."

Then it is time to leave Iraq and Afghanistan. Now. Before another soldier is killed.
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# ben_j 2008-07-16 21:59
Your point: "The war continues to abate in Iraq. Violence is still present, but, of course, Iraq was a relatively violent place long before Coalition forces moved in."

The general point that the strategy of the past year appears to be working is will supported by the evidence. But you may alienate some readership with your fast and lose comment that "Iraq was a relatively violent place long before Coalition forces moved in." This simply isn't true, locals and visitors did not have to fear random violence, robberies, check points and kidnappings in 2002. I have plenty of Jordanian friends that would go shopping there all the time in the late 90s to before the war, the sanctions made the Iraqis poor and the prices cheap, and they had no problems One thing dictators do get right is order. The memories of Saddam's crack downs on dissent in the 80s and his crushing of the Shia uprising in the early 90s was enough to keep everyone in line. To believe that the current level of violence is an Iraqi norm is simply not the case.
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# imdrake 2008-07-16 22:24
Hopefully our success is stable enough to withstand the inevitable back-stabbing by that morally repugnant cretin Obama. We'll see. We've never had an anti-American President before. It's unfortunate that decent people will likely have to endure the consequences of someone like Obama and his hard-left fellow travelers. Obama: a new Benedict Arnold for a new century!
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# DRJ 2008-07-17 01:59
First, Mr. Yon, thank you for the years you have spent reporting the facts about Iraq.

Second, now that al Qaeda has lost in Iraq, its leaders may have largely retrenched to the Afghanistan/Pak istan border. Whether by luck or design, that means they are cornered in that region. Of course, the region has served as a sanctuary for centuries and it will obviously be very hard to dislodge anyone hiding there. Nevertheless, it seems to me Afghanistan may potentially be both a difficult task and a golden opportunity.
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# Don Meaker 2008-07-17 02:09
One approach to the Heroin problem is to buy a certain amount of Opium legally, as we do from Turkey and India.

A legal opium trade would stabilize the country. Purchasing the license to grow opium from the central government and export it legally would be a great blow to the illegal traders.
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# waterboy 2008-07-17 15:49
How is it that NO ONE has questioned Michael's tiny little assertion that, you know, we have WON the war in Iraq!!!!????

Until the next elections are held, don't you think it's a bit early to be declaring victory?
-Based on Maliki's use of the ISF to degrade rival political groups with wide popular support (the Sadarists) what makes you think this election will go smoothly? There is no election law yet in place and the date has already been pushed back. Would it be an unexpected development then if it did not go smoothly and major groups felt disenfranchised and resumed fighting the GoI?

Until the oil law is passed, couldn't that cause the civil war to reignite?
-Kirkuk's fate has not been decided. Many expect that could result in a civil war. The Awakening groups and the IIP in Baghdad are not in any way convinced that that the ruling Shiite coalition wants to distribute oil revenues in an equitable manner.

Until the SoIs are integrated into the IA, might they return to fighting us and the Shiites?

We have not even negotiated a SOFA or SFA with the GoI yet. If we do not even have a formal long term relationship in place with their government how can you say that it is expected to proceed favorably when several groups are calling for it to include a hard deadline for our withdrawal?

Iraq is a lot better than it was but we still have a long way to go before declaring it a success.

[insert picture of Mission Accomplished banner]
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# Glbrt 2008-07-17 15:58
To Waterboy: You really need to read all of Michael's work over the past several years before you start commenting on his observations. If you took the time to read prior to commenting you will find that Michael has better than average foresight. Also I would say that A person who is on the ground making observations has more credibility than someone who is not.
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# waterboy 2008-07-17 16:56
I have been one of Michael's readers for years. I rarely post here. I bought an advance signed copy of his book. Then I moved and forgot the book was still coming to my old address. In lieu of contacting the publisher and figuring out whether it had already been shipped or not, I went to the store and bought an unsigned copy and chalked it up as a contribution. Regretfully, I have been very busy and have yet to start it.

I have an enormous respect for Michael and really enjoy his writing. That does not affect my judgment of the situation in Iraq, however.

It is a very bold claim that he made, one which few others have gone on the record with. My initial post may have been filled with a bit too much sarcasm but I wanted to get the point across that victory is far from certain.

Michael is correct to assert that the level of violence in Iraq could possibly warrant saying that Iraq is not currently 'at war' but that is not the same thing as saying that the war is over or that we have succeeded in Iraq.

If the war has stopped but many of the things that caused it in the first place have not been resolved then I would say it is decidedly uncertain whether it will start again.
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# mary g 2008-07-17 17:39
Wasn't the civil war as waged in the south a war of attrition?
Is total warfare a moral, just way to wage war?
Isn't that a bit like comparing amputation of both legs and arms to laser surgery on an abscess on each limb?

It is more mentally challenging to fight the new way - but it is definitely more just, leaving less opportunity for "spoils of war" opportunism and , by the way, it will be harder for AQ or Taliban or Iranian forces to access the 550tycu now that it is no longer south of Baghdad.
It seems that the set backs suffered in Iraq (while tenaciously sticking to strategy of fewer, but more highly qualified troops, with the superior kind of training developed over the past four years rather than the outdated "overwhelming force"), did not prevent a victorious result which has already changed the world in an incredibly good way.
And Michael Yon, by his unswerving support of the troops on the front line, has been an indispensable part of this victory.
While things look bleak in Afghanistan right now, I have confidence in the ingenuity of our military and the noble people of Afghanistan.
And Michael Yon's reports.

God bless them, their friends and their allies

And, of course, their friend, Michael Yon.

a soldier's mom
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# MAJ L.W. Robinson, Student, U.S. ARMY, ILE, CGSC 2008-07-20 23:26
Given the notion of Clausewitz's Fog and Friction of War notion, do you think the exploitation of technology (ie: robots, UAVs, etcƒ??) within an the asymmetrical environment of the Global War on Terror renders Clausewitz's notion still relevant or obsolete?
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# Mike 2008-07-21 12:22
Pretty bold move declaring victory in Iraq Mr. Yon. Let me just point out that your view on the ground is primarily from small unit imbeds. Things may be going well on a tactical level, but in the broader strategic assessment - IRAQ IS FAR FROM OVER. Please do not arbitrarily declare victory. It is not your place.
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# Daniel Sides 2008-07-21 19:21
Michael,

I'd like your view of the new HBO series, "Generation Kill". It only portrays the early days of the war but I'd like to know how realistic you belief it is.

Keep the faith.
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# AVN 2008-07-21 20:50
Obamaƒ??s Op-Ed in the New York Times said: ƒ??Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has beenƒ?? I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading [Iraq]ƒ??ƒ?

But the central front in any conflict is not defined unilaterally: the enemy gets a vote. AQ's key leaders made it clear they regard Iraq as a central front in the war on terrorism, and regard Afghanistan as little more than a side-show drama. This could change as AQ realizes it has taken a major setback in Iraq, forcing them to refocus on Afghanistan even though their own propaganda has been saying Iraq, not Afghanistan, is the central front in their war against the West for many years now.

But donƒ??t take my word for it. Read the words of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is Osama bin Ladenƒ??s chief strategist and ideologue. Zawahiri wrote an important letter to the (now slain) Jordanian-born Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in July 2005. Al-Zarqawi had pledged his allegiance to Al Qaeda. The United States captured this letter, and later released it to the public in October 2005. (Source: http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/library/report/2005/zawahiri-zarqawi-letter_9jul2005.htm) 3+ years after the letter was made public, most Democrats still refuse to understand AQ and how it sees the GWOT.

Ayman al Zawahiri wrote: ƒ??It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet [i.e., a Caliphate] in the heart of the Islamic world, specifically in the Levant, Egypt, and the neighboring states of the Peninsula and Iraq; however, the center would be in the Levant and Egypt...

As for the battles that are going on in the far-flung regions of the Islamic world, such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Bosnia, they are just the groundwork and the vanguard for the major battles which have begun in the heart of the Islamic world. We ask God that He send down his victory upon us that he promised to his faithful worshipers.ƒ?

This passage lays out the strategic context of both Iraq and Afghanistan in the eyes of Al Qaeda. AQ's goal is establishing a fundamentalist Islamic caliphate in the "heart of the Islamic world." Zawahiri then lists countries constituting ƒ??the heart of the Islamic world.ƒ? Iraq is on that list. Then Zawahiri lists other regions and conflicts he regards as ƒ??far-flung.ƒ?  He lists these as being of no particular importance apart from them laying the ƒ??ground workƒ? for the ƒ??major battlesƒ? to be fought ƒ??in the heart of the Islamic world.ƒ? In other words, these other places are little more than a side-show for the main event in Iraq. Afghanistan is on that other list. This is an absolute refutation, in Al Qaedaƒ??s own words, of Senator Obamaƒ??s entire argument that Iraq is the sideshow and Afghanistan is the ƒ??real war.ƒ??
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# nananha 2008-07-22 00:49
you've linked to my local paper before. they had an article recently with a local journalist embedded.

http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2008/jul/21/reporting-iraq-violence-still-flourishes-diyala/
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# Paul46 2008-07-22 13:07
Your declaration of victory really rings hollow. How exactly do you define victory? A stable democracy in Iraq? Well, to paraphrase a great British statesman: before you push democracy around the world you better make sure you can live with the election results.

We pushed the Israelis to allow elections in Gaza and a terrorist group won. We removed Iran's greatest enemy in the region and replaced him with a democratically elected pro-Iranian government. Did we fight this war so that Iran can have another friend and ally in the region. We did for Iran what it couldn't do in ten bloody years of war. We got rid of Saddam and Iran's influence in the region has grown ever since. Not only is the new Iraqi government pro-Iran, it has also openly supported Hamas and Hezbollah. How is this a victory?

Finally, you allude to a "pluralistic" "stable" Iraq, yet you fail to mention the continuing persecution and murder of Christians. Thousands of Christians have fled Iraq. Hundreds have been killed. Those who have been left behind have been driven underground. All of this is the product of a reign of terror that is supported by many members of our democratically elected Iraqi government. Others in the government just look the other way.

In sum, we have fought a war that has made Iran and its terrorist proxies stronger just so we can install a government that has given a green light to the persecution of Christians. Sure sounds like victory to me.
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# John Galt 2008-07-22 20:46
If these Pashtuns are making more money from the poppies than the entire GDP of Pakistan, what are they doing with the money and how come they're still all living in mud huts and illiterate? I would challenge someone to produce factual figures to support that assertion (not that I doubt there is significant money being made, I just question the assertion that it's more than Paki GDP).

War will continue to be waged until you break the will of those who support the warriors. In this case it is Pashtun who "own" the area on both sides of the artificial borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The only way to end Pashtun support for both the Taliban and al Qaeda is to show them the personal cost of supporting them.

When you think about the American Civil War, what ended it was breaking the will of the Southern secessionists. Sherman did this by showing the civilians there was a cost to supporting Confederate troops in terms of burned crops (sources of income), burned farm homesteads, and destroyed rail lines (means to transport the source of income and transport troops and supplies).

The way to end this is to make it too costly and demoralizing for the Pashtun to continue their present actions.

WRT Pakistan, we simply tell them we are making war on the Taliban and al Qaeda and that we will do so wherever they are. If the Pakis are wise, they will stay out of the way or get run over.
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# mary g 2008-07-24 02:29
in Afghanistan?


a soldier's mom
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# John Galt 2008-07-24 19:00
No, I don't believe the Russians tried that. The Russians were more interested in installing a communist puppet government in Afghanistan to give them an ally against the Chinese.

My point is that Pashtun don't recognize a distinction between Afghanistan and Pakistan as concerns borders. Their tribal areas cover both sides of the border and they are the ones harboring and supporting the Taliban and al Qaeda (indeed Pashtuns created the Taliban movement, if my memory is correct). If we are to crush the Taliban and al Qaeda, the Pashtun must pay a steep enough price to make them stop that support.
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# Abraham Isaac 2008-07-27 23:09
Dear Michael,

I write to you with great respect and admiration for the courage you embody in your world travels and open dialogue about the situation on the ground. As an American soldier deploying to Iraq in September, it is with great hope that your words may prove true and that indeed the "war is over." While I might argue that your assessment is somewhat premature from a strategic standpoint, nonetheless, it is enlightening, and adds another voice to the debate, but one that in my opinion carries a great deal of weight. YOU, unlike the majority of our political leaders had the courage to put yourself on the ground and find out for yourself what is going on.

I am linked to your blog, and a fan of your writing. Please visit www.deathcanwait.blogspot.com

PFC Hawkes
United States Army
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# Montag 2008-07-29 00:46
If the war were won, there would be no need for 50 bases in Iraq. We have had bases in foreign countries where (1) the foreign country was a defeated enemy ( eg. Japan post WW II), or (2) there was a war which was not conclusive (eg. South Korea).
The Cold War was an inconclusive struggle for years, and there were bases in Europe. However, even when the Cold War ended, the bases did not disappear, for the enemy was re-defined.

The war is not won, for the enemy will constantly change. Enemies will rise and fall. Beyond this, the USA will define and re-define who the enemy is. This process will allow us to never achieve what is considered a standard "victory", but we do not want that type of final victory anyway.

Since we do not wish a clear cut victory, the statement that the war is over can mean nothing more than the enemy is meeting the "surge" by taking a "breather".
In fact, the Iraqi people can look forward to nothing more than being a battleground between the USA and the newly re-defined enemy, whoever that may be.
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# Jim Nelson 2008-08-15 17:33
More blather from Galloway. I could point out everything wron he said but I don't feel like rewriting his whole article. This blog is just not worth reading anymore if it mainly consists of his articles.
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# Telephone Answering Service 2010-05-27 01:04
They won't define success because they don't want us to know that success for them means more money for Halliburton, more money for defense contractors like Blackwater, more money for American petroleum companies and more money for Bush's owners, the Saudis.
http://www.frontlinecom.co.uk/
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