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Losing By "winning": America's Wars In Afghanistan, Iraq, And Syria

Cordesman Iraq Afghanistan Syria The Great Game Losing by Winning

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#1 Panzermann

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Posted 14 August 2018 - 1743 PM

something to read for the evening:

 

 

 

Losing by "Winning": America's Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria
By Anthony H. Cordesman

 
August 13, 2018

The U.S. has now reached the point where the third Administration in a row is fighting wars where the U.S. often scores serious tactical victories and makes claims that it is moving toward some broader form of victory but cannot announce any clear strategy for actually ending any given war or bringing a stable peace. Once again, a new Administration seems to have focused on the tactical level of conflict and called this a strategy but has failed to have any clear strategy for ending the fighting on favorable terms.

....
Once again, a new Administration seems to have focused on the tactical level of conflict and called this a strategy but has failed to have any clear strategy for ending the fighting on favorable terms.

More than that, the new Administration seems to have accepted the legacy of the previous Administration by largely abandoning the civil side of each war. It is dealing with major insurgencies and civil war as if they were limited terrorist movements. It has no clear civil-military strategy, plans for stability operations, or options to create the level of governance and development that could bring a lasting peace. It has no grand strategy and is fighting half a war.
(...)
Seventeen years on, the U.S. has no real strategy in Afghanistan other than hoping that the Taliban will be exhausted first and be willing to negotiate on the governments terms, or somehow be willing to split the country, and accept a division that gives it control over a substantial portion at the governments expense.

 
https://www.csis.org...-iraq-and-syria

 

€dith sayeth go read the whole thing, it is more extensive than this snippet.


Edited by Panzermann, 15 August 2018 - 0633 AM.

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#2 rmgill

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Posted 14 August 2018 - 2024 PM

I think the problem is that these regions need repeated doses of force to pacify. Did the British ever 'win' in North West India/Afghanistan? Did the Mughals? 


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#3 NickM

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Posted 14 August 2018 - 2207 PM

I think the problem is that these regions need repeated doses of force to pacify. Did the British ever 'win' in North West India/Afghanistan? Did the Mughals? 

 

Somebody once said it would probably be cheaper in money & lives to just go in, smash the baddies in the face & wreck their shit & just leave; then come back again in a decade or two if they got too 'restive' & do it again.


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#4 Roman Alymov

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 0134 AM

Somebody once said it would probably be cheaper in money & lives to just go in, smash the baddies in the face & wreck their shit & just leave; then come back again in a decade or two if they got too 'restive' & do it again.

 

It is not working this way. If it is known right from the beginning your forces only invade for short stay, they will get zero support from locals (except, may be, those who plan to flee with your retreating army after expedition is over) and maximum resistance (as social status of local man after the war will depend on how many of your soldiers he have scored). By your next invasion, they will be more prepared (imagine IEDs placed under roads permanently, for example).


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#5 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 0159 AM

I think the problem is every lesson about COIN ever learned has been willfully forgotten by successive administrations. The way to do it was visible as long ago as Malaya. You put in enough troops to stabilize, get order, build up the local forces and over 10-15 years, slowly withdraw when they get a handle on it. Simples.

 

In Afghanistan we went in determined ot have a 'win', got sidetracked by Iraq and started pulling out troops, doubled up on Afghanistan when it started to go south, lost interest under a new administration and pulled out too quickly, started to go south again, put in more troops, then started to get disinterested again. There is no consistency, and no plan that can be passed across multiple administrations. Even the early military sweeps and battalion outposts seemed to be an attempt to emulate the failed policies of the Soviets, whom never had enough troops to do the job they set themselves either.

 

With all that, im really surprised we are doing as well as we are actually.


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#6 lastdingo

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 0254 AM

The problem is extremism. Western expectations from warfare are extremist.

 

The Afghanistan mess was initially a punitive expedition against AQ and the TB got mauled because they stood in the way.

 

The hostilities against the TB (which never left Central/South Asia) after 2002 were pointless and unsupported by any rational motivations. It was their civil war, and there was no reason for us to be there after AQ in AFG dwindled to ~50 people.

 

It's the extremists in the West who dream up nonsense like installing a government form of our choice and not just suppressing, but eliminating the Pashto rural conservatives a.k.a. TB as a group.


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#7 Stuart Galbraith

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 0530 AM

Well the logic was, not unreasonably, AQ had setup in Afghanistan because it was lawless. So if you left it lawless, they would just come back. And quite clearly major sweeps like Operation Anaconda were largely useless a wiping them out or capturing them. Like Bin Laden, they just went over the border into Pakistan..

 

If nothing else, the Afghan mission has denied AQ a safe territory to set back up and lick their wounds. Ditto the African missions. Its difficult to believe AQ would have gone to pieces the way it did if we had gone into Afghanistan, cracked heads and left.

 

 

 

Our main failure as I see it, is completely over estimating our patience and willigness to take casualties. Post 911 I suppose that was an understandable mistake.  It may even have worked, if we hadnt got side tracked by Iraq.


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#8 seahawk

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1019 AM

First people need to understand that a communist insurgency is something completely different to a religious motivated insurgency. Communism is a Western invention and therefore it is not totally alien to the western world in its core values. The driving idea is still about the distribution of wealth and the living standard of the people, but apart from that it is quite progressive when it comes to human rights, women rights or education. The ideology was never based on centuries old traditions of the local people and was always a new "imported" idea.

So you can beat it by controlling the military side and improving the living conditions of the people, as you can reduce the motivation for a person to join the insurgency.

 

A religious based insurgency is different. They have no interest in improving the living conditions on earth, they have no interest in values like human rights or women rights. They do not have to achieve anything for their followers, as rewards will be granted in paradise. They are deeply connected to the old traditional culture of the local people. Wealth or education do not necessarily  influence the support for the insurgency in a negative way. Imho you can not beat them from the outside, only when the local population is sick of them and that way of living, they can be overthrown, but a forgein force in the country telling the locals what do do, is probably the least likely way for success.

 

The only way to victory is the Syrian way, where you need a large enough force, strongly opposed to the religious forces and willing to exterminate them and all their followers with unlimited force and cruelty. No western country can afford to support this though. (yet)


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#9 lastdingo

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1020 AM

Our main failure as I see it, is completely over estimating our patience and willigness to take casualties.

 
 
It's the exact opposite. Nobody would have guessed back in 2000 or 2001 that the West would have the patience to participate in an Afghan civil war for 18 years and suffer more than a 3,000+ dead in the process.
The very idea was INSANE.
 
What you're writing here is unhinged IMO, bizarro world-ish.


And that "side tracked by Iraq" stuff sounds eerily like "job not finished" Gulf War talk.

A myth in the making, TOTALLY free-floating from any contact to thinking about what, when, where, why going to war makes sense. Kindergarten-level intellectualism.


Edited by lastdingo, 15 August 2018 - 1023 AM.

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#10 Josh

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1039 AM

I think the failure was getting involved in these places to begin with. Afghanistan arguably was a moral imperative to hunt AQ and unseat the Taliban, but once they were kicked out it wasn't worth holding on to. IIRC the administration at the time specifically said we were not there to nation build. That situation warranted a punitive action but not a force left behind to sort it out. It would mean the US would be back there again eventually but it still probably would cost less resources.
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#11 JWB

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1057 AM

 

 

 

 

Our main failure as I see it, is completely over estimating our patience and willigness to take casualties. Post 911 I suppose that was an understandable mistake.  It may even have worked, if we hadnt got side tracked by Iraq.

 

 

That is a description of Vietnam.

 

The biggest problem in Afghanistan is Pakistan. Think China and the Khmer Rouge.


Edited by JWB, 15 August 2018 - 1057 AM.

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#12 glenn239

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1105 AM

First people need to understand that a communist insurgency is something completely different to a religious motivated insurgency. Communism is a Western invention and therefore it is not totally alien to the western world in its core values. The driving idea is still about the distribution of wealth and the living standard of the people, but apart from that it is quite progressive when it comes to human rights, women rights or education. The ideology was never based on centuries old traditions of the local people and was always a new "imported" idea.

So you can beat it by controlling the military side and improving the living conditions of the people, as you can reduce the motivation for a person to join the insurgency.

 

A religious based insurgency is different....

 

Communist or religious, underneath you'll still find all the same tribal and haves vs. have nots crap as in every other such conflict.

 

For us the most significant difference between communist vs. religious opposition is probably the fact that during the Cold War communist opposition identified with the Communist Soviet Union, which then proceeded to arm the opposition.  Religious rebels these days do not associate with either Russia or China, so do not receive the same level or quality of military support.  (Both the wars in Iraq and A-stan would have been, IMO, unsustainable if the Cold War doctrines of armed support been in play).  

 

For example, in talking to my cousin on the weekend he said in A-stan that they had set up a check point to search culverts for IED's.  Some cars approached and were ordered to stop, and did so.  But one car came over the hill at a distance, stopped, then turned around and left.  A while later it came back, approaching gradually and ignoring orders to stop.  So they opened fire on it - one of the occupants in the car was found to have had a suicide vest.  I said that if they'd had anti-tank missiles, they'd not have bothered with that, they'd have just popped over the ridge concealed and hit the Canadian position from some distance.  He said they couldn't because didn't have anything like that type of weaponry - a lack of Great Power support from the fact that these are religious groups and the Powers tend to get along better these days.  But all that may be changing.


Edited by glenn239, 15 August 2018 - 1111 AM.

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#13 Brian Kennedy

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1217 PM

I think the failure was getting involved in these places to begin with. Afghanistan arguably was a moral imperative to hunt AQ and unseat the Taliban, but once they were kicked out it wasn't worth holding on to. IIRC the administration at the time specifically said we were not there to nation build. That situation warranted a punitive action but not a force left behind to sort it out. It would mean the US would be back there again eventually but it still probably would cost less resources.

 

In retrospect, the craziest part is how many people (including experts from all sides of the political spectrum) thought that invading and occupying Iraq in order to make it be nice and spread democracy throughout the Arab World was a really good idea. With the benefit of hindsight it looks like sheer madness.


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#14 lastdingo

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1353 PM

The problems were quite the same in Iraq and Afghanistan: The Western-style democracy wasn't (and isn't) capable of peaceful stability there because the people think in factions, not ideologies. They don't vote left, right, green - they vote my faith/ethnic group, your faith/ethnic group.

 

In Iraq this doomed Sunni Arabs into being dominated (=oppressed, exploited) and this provokes violence which flares up again and again.

In Afghanistan the Pasthu are about 40% and 'should' rule in such a system, but the others were in control and ensured that despite elections the Pashtu would not rise easily to dominate, and were dominated instead.

 

A more complicated constitution that guarantees different ethnic / religious groups their share of power regardless of elections could have helped, but this was far beyond the level of competence of the 'advisors' who pushed for the nonsense wars.


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#15 glenn239

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1415 PM

Drilled down to one thing, it was probably failing to hire and pay the 'clean' members of the Iraqi army and Republican Guard that was the fatal mistake.


Edited by glenn239, 15 August 2018 - 1415 PM.

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#16 rmgill

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1427 PM

In retrospect, the craziest part is how many people (including experts from all sides of the political spectrum) thought that invading and occupying Iraq in order to make it be nice and spread democracy throughout the Arab World was a really good idea. With the benefit of hindsight it looks like sheer madness.



It worked with Japan and Germany.

Building them back up was an alternative to total destruction of the nations.

Edited by rmgill, 15 August 2018 - 1428 PM.

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#17 Panzermann

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1431 PM

Drilled down to one thing, it was probably failing to hire and pay the 'clean' members of the Iraqi army and Republican Guard that was the fatal mistake.

 

The most fatal indeed, but only one of many. Invading a country the size of Iaq, dismantling all government structures, only bringin comparably a handful of soldiers left a big power void. Which was of course filled by the now unemployed former soldiers and policemen. That weirdly enough knew where explosives and weapons had been horded by Saddam. Just giving them paid holiday wouldhave been so much cheaper.

 

But the bigget mistake was to start the shitshow un the first place. Then continuing with bad planning and  rose-tinted ideas about freedom and democracy springing up spontanously only made it worse.


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#18 Panzermann

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1437 PM

 

In retrospect, the craziest part is how many people (including experts from all sides of the political spectrum) thought that invading and occupying Iraq in order to make it be nice and spread democracy throughout the Arab World was a really good idea. With the benefit of hindsight it looks like sheer madness.



It worked with Japan and Germany.

Building them back up was an alternative to total destruction of the nations.

 

 

 

The allies went in with plans how to control both countries and keep public order. In both cases jaanese and germans were japanese and german and carried on with their orderly societies, so the MP divisions that had been stood up were effectively not needed. Also the cold war stabilised the situation. Us or the bolsheviks? certainly helped to stabilise the situation.

 

Whereas in Iraq they dreamt of fucking it all up and dismantling all state structures like civil admin or police and out of the chaos peace love and happines  were to arise or something.

 

 

 

 

I think the failure was getting involved in these places to begin with. Afghanistan arguably was a moral imperative to hunt AQ and unseat the Taliban, but once they were kicked out it wasn't worth holding on to. IIRC the administration at the time specifically said we were not there to nation build. That situation warranted a punitive action but not a force left behind to sort it out. It would mean the US would be back there again eventually but it still probably would cost less resources.

 

In retrospect, the craziest part is how many people (including experts from all sides of the political spectrum) thought that invading and occupying Iraq in order to make it be nice and spread democracy throughout the Arab World was a really good idea. With the benefit of hindsight it looks like sheer madness.

 

 

 

In hindsght? Back then more than enough people had said that this was going to happen. But those around GWB chose not to listen, because it did not fit their delusions.

 

 

Heck for the very same reasons daddy Dush left Saddam in power, because they did not really have a plan what to do after Saddam.


Edited by Panzermann, 15 August 2018 - 1440 PM.

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#19 Panzermann

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1439 PM

another book review to think about:

(or read the book)

https://warontherock...-future-of-war/

 

"Why We Get It Wrong: Reflections on Predicting the Future of War"
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#20 Brian Kennedy

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Posted 15 August 2018 - 1440 PM

Made me think of this quote in the review of Chivers's new book:

 

 

 

Of course, all wars are messy in the bloodiest and worst ways. What can redeem them for the combatants is only strategy, so that their ordeals contain a larger purpose within a realistic context.

 

https://www.nytimes....s-fighters.html


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