Gringo Lost

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This is your counterinsurgency. This is your counterinsurgency on drugs.

with 6 comments

Mission Creep keeps expanding in Afghanistan. In an almost perfect marriage of two un-winnable wars, the US wants to fight a prolonged counterinsurgency in Afghanistan while simultaneously dismantling the regions opium trade.

Now there is an undeniable connection between the Taliban and drug profits.  But should it really be our mission to delink and destroy the two? First, maybe we should ask is this really a problem that we have the capacity to address.  If the answer is yes.  Then that means 5-15 years in Afghanistan with a deployment of, at least, 60000 US troops (~100000 ISAF troops).  The US is set to spend $60 billion in Afghanistan this next fiscal year – this amount will have to stay steady for the duration of a counterinsurgency campaign.

If that’s not enough, the US will need near-perfect execution to accomplish a mission which includes “disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaida” while also defeating a Taliban insurgency and reducing opium production (in a country that produces some 90% of the world’s total).  We’d have to accomplish all these tasks while training Afghan military and police forces and aiding Afghanistan’s political-economic development through our alliances with the Karzai government and various regional warlords.  And, oh yeah, we cannot let our relationships turn into cronyism filled with corruption.

Ok, so now to my broader point: Is the US wailing in the wind in Afghanistan?  A military hammer in search of an insurgency nail 7,000 miles away.  Are drugs and the Taliban such an existential threat to the US that they deserve so much of our time and attention, blood and treasure?

Why did our counterterrorism mission morph into counterinsurgency, which then morphed into counterinsurgency on drugs?

Even more ridiculous is how we are carrying out a counterinsurgency on drugs.  We have paid crop farmers to plant nothing.  We have bombed bagel toppings.  And now we are not targeting the reasons for a drug trade but instead those who profit from it.  These “nexus targets” which have been added to the military’s kill or capture list are said to be Taliban financiers and to destroy them will help destroy the Taliban.  While this may hurt the Taliban, is it really true that killing or capturing 50 drug dealers will end Afghanistan’s drug trade?


6 Responses

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  1. I was talking to my dad about this the other day. I don’t know why the US is attempting something so foolhardy. I mean, we think we are going to be able to end the opium production/sale that has been going on for thousands of years? This attempt will be expensive and disappointing, much like most government action.
    I thought the idea of this war was to prevent something like 9/11 from happening again. Does all this really do that?


    August 11, 2009 at 7:18 am

  2. Whether or not this going to prevent another 9/11 from happening is a strategic question. But, this strategic question is not even being asked in Washington, let alone answered.

    The only thing that has come close to a dialogue on the strategic merits of a large scale state-building operation in Afghanistan is happening right now at the Abu Muqawama blog.

    Although it looks like some other publications are starting to jump on board the dialogue. The NY Times is also putting out a blog post on the strategic costs of such a mission.


    August 11, 2009 at 12:24 pm

  3. I think when it comes to state-building, mission creep is almost inevitable. I mean you’re rebuilding a whole state and in some cases there was not much to rebuild from in the first case. There are so many aspects to any given society that organizations will have little experience in certain areas.

    And it seems that the insurgents (or whatever you want to call them) have diversified their capital raising endeavors:

    An excerpt:

    Now administration officials have launched a search for Taliban sponsors. Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a press conference in Islamabad last month that drugs accounted for less of a share of Taliban coffers than was previously thought.

    “In the past there was a kind of feeling that the money all came from drugs in Afghanistan,” said Holbrooke, according to media reports. “That is simply not true.”

    The new feeling is that less than half of the Taliban’s war chest comes from poppy, with a variety of sources, including private contributions from Persian Gulf states, accounting for much of the rest. Holbrooke told reporters that he would add a member of the Treasury Department to his staff to pursue the question of Taliban funding.

    But perhaps U.S. officials need look no further than their own backyard.

    Anecdotal evidence is mounting that the Taliban are taking a hefty portion of assistance money coming into Afghanistan from the outside.

    This goes beyond mere protection money or extortion of “taxes” at the local level — very high-level negotiations take place between the Taliban and major contractors, according to sources close to the process.

    A shadowy office in Kabul houses the Taliban contracts officer, who examines proposals and negotiates with organizational hierarchies for a percentage. He will not speak to, or even meet with, a journalist, but sources who have spoken with him and who have seen documents say that the process is quite professional.

    The manager of an Afghan firm with lucrative construction contracts with the U.S. government builds in a minimum of 20 percent for the Taliban in his cost estimates. The manager, who will not speak openly, has told friends privately that he makes in the neighborhood of $1 million per month. Out of this, $200,000 is siphoned off for the insurgents.

    and see here:,2

    I even have a newspaper article from the Gulf News about how the Taliban has taken over a marble quarry near Ziarat, Pakistan last summer.

    If only somebody could have convinced the Taliban to invest in those bundled subprime mortgage packages…

    Todd MacDonald

    August 18, 2009 at 10:30 am

    • The fact that some of our profligate foreign aid money is being channeled to the insurgency should be no surprise. It seems like it is always the case that foreign aid is used more as a political tool to gain allegiances than it is to actually “develop” a country. In Afghanistan, our reckless disregard for how money is spent just comes back to haunt us in particularly bad ways.

      And since we are talking about money and the insurgency… let me drop this link about how many of the Taliban insurgents are simply insurgents-for-hire and how maybe a jobs program could help reduce their numbers.

      The Truth Behind the Insurgency

      Let me also say that my Afghan views are beginning to take the shape of “quality over quantity”, i.e. spend only what we must, deploy only those who are essential, and concentrate on programs that have the most benefit with the least amount of costs.


      August 18, 2009 at 12:34 pm

  4. And with the existence of job programs, security would be needed. To quote Kilcullen’s book The Accidental Guerrilla:

    “Securing the people is fundamental to effective counterinsurgency….Population centers need to be secured 24 hours a day; otherwise, the enemy reinfiltrates the area and intimidates or co-opts the population…” (p. 94).

    In this quote, Kilcullen is referring to a road building project in Kunar that the community had a vested interest in.


    Now, let’s take your comment about “quality over quantity” and compare that to the current elections in Afghanistan. I find it hard to comprehend how a legitimate election can occur when citizens are not given the needed security to go and vote. Obviously, this will skew the end result of the election. Elections should be one of the latter stages in state-building. There might be an election occurring across a county (quantity), but the end result (quality) will be… well, easy to poke holes through.

    Todd MacDonald

    August 19, 2009 at 9:40 am

  5. […] Enduring Freedom (OEF) is morphing into an attempt to address these issues together. (*With the results of this countering strategy being […]

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