What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Lately, it has become fashionable in the discourse over Afghanistan to use the term "surge" a lot. It is used to describe the necessary addition of more combat troops on the ground, so that the "resurgent insurgents" (rather in-surgent resurgents I'd say) can be inhibited more in having fun in district centres or martyring themselves in human wave attacks getting perilously close to overrunning combat outposts - and the like. The problem with the term "surge" is that it was a PR invention in the first place, so it was kind of stupid to parrot it so much even in the Iraqi context, which serves as the analogy now fuelling speculation over the need for a surge in Afghanistan.

Have an urge to call for a surge? Think of how that would sound from Cow's mouth...
But parroting in itself is not the only problem, as fnord has drawn attention to it in a recent comment. The other problem is that after you add more combat troops, although it would be necessary, you will still have to feed them, supply them with ammo and fuel etc. That gives the already nagging logistics issue centermost significance. The piece pointed out by fnord at Moon of Alabama is a good one - "b" has done the math others have to (have) do(ne) as well.
Trucks could, of course, come in from the direction of Russia and Central Asia and down the legendary Salaang Pass (rather: first up and then down there), too, but then - I again forgot! - we're all Georgians, so that's not the right thing to think of. As long as the U.S. is not willing to pay any of the Russian or Iranian price for Afghanistan, this problem will persist and will likely grow even more serious in the future.
Btw, I'm hearing now that in Karachi, a flashmob turned up at a port terminal, to put some NATO APCs to flames (thx for the link to Misanthrope)...
For a finish, the concept of the surge in its troop level-centric current form deserves yet another refining blow. Here is a good example of what else could be surged, besides the number of troops on the ground.
"On June 30, 2008 President George W. Bush signed a bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through late 2009. The bill, known as the Supplemental Approriations Act (H.R. 2642), was passed by the U.S. Senate on June 26 and by the U.S. House of Representatives a week earlier. It provides $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the case of Afghanistan, the bill will provide Afghan security forces with $3 billion through September 2009, the Economic Security Fund with $859 million, and $65 million for anti-narcotics campaigns. The measure also provides $479 million to the Commander’s Emergency Response Program."
The $162 billion sum includes an emergency fund for countries hit by disasters - Afghanistan could be kind of eligible in my view. Look at the difference between spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alright, you actually won't know the true extent of the difference, as major contractors active in both theatres can blur the boundaries in practice. Nevertheless the figures are indicative. (No, European, Canadian, Australian, Japanese, Saudi and other spending doesn't at all make up for the difference.)


fnord said...

First, thank you for mention, though the credit basically goes to Ghost of Alexander who wrote about it first.

Second, the issues of logistics to Afghanistan is one wich I have seen very little mention of in any medium, mainstream or blogosphere. Being a bit rude, I guess this is because it is so much nuts and bolts and so little interesting academic theory. Exactly how many servicable trucks are available to do the Karachi - Kabul run? That has got to be a definite number, as does the number of drivers both willing and able to make the run. Who owns them, and where do they park? Who supplies them with fuel? How are these chains protected? If Pakistan goes boom, or at least erupts into turmoil, what is plan B? Is there a plan B?

I shall admit openly to being a pessimist, but ever since the US invaded Iraq it has been like watching highly skilled professionals improvising furiously, trying to hide the fact that they are flying by the seat of their pants.

"Oh, shit, we have invaded Afghanistan, better get some anthropologists on that problem ASAP. Quwam, you say, thats... interesting. What does that mean?"

I wonder if the russians went in and had the same learning curve, if these exact discussions were held by frustrated soviet war-geeks. (And they had a direct resupply-route.) Geopolitically, Putin must be laughing his arse off; "See how you like Afghanistan, mr. Bush, hoho. Treat me like a peasant, would ya?" Its an amazing thing that all the problems we see emerging as obvious right about now have been lying out in open sight for the last five years, yet noone has had the time to draw up something approximating a sound engineers plan, a bluedraft and say "This is how we are going to do it." You have to give Petraeus in Iraq that, he went in with a damned project wich kind of functioned (on the military side). In Afghanistan the western effort is just plain embarassing.

fnord said...

Oh, and Ill revert to qawm, just to make it easy on all.

Péter MARTON said...

Well, whether some of the Soviet discussions may have been similar - of course they can't have been exactly the same, ever, Soviet decision-making, institutional system, political culture and all else being very different, but there indeed are some more or less interesting similarities:
- the Soviets tried the ink blot approach themselves, in the north, for example - they were just a lot more violent than ISAF (though massive troops-in-contact air strikes may get us near where the Soviets were, in the end)
- the Soviets estimated 600,000 soldiers would have been necessary... then the RAND Corporation claimed a 2:100 force-to-population is the ideal one, which is funny if you reckon with 30 million Afghans. Count it...
The Russian re-supplying route was not exactly comfortable, either. The connecting artery was the road through the Salaang Pass. That route crosses tunnels, was vulnerable enough, was attacked frequently, and the Soviets were happy if they could keep it unblocked.
As to the logistics issue - I myself have been covering it since a long while now, GoA was kind enough to link to some of my earlier stuff. No self-promotion intended, it just goes for the record. Here are some links, not only to my posts.
1. http://statefailure.blogspot.com/2008/08/logistics-on-my-mind.html
In my view, more troops could help, if they can be resupplied. Without that, discussing more troops is a no-starter, of course. If they can be resupplied they can make a difference. There are the districts that wouldn't then fall repeatedly back to the Taliban, with insurgents then bombed out of those areas. Bombing destroys people's houses in the best of cases, and kills civilians in the more regular, worse cases. I've made this point before.
The problem, in the end, is that one usually doesn't win a "small war," if one doesn't have a permissive regional context of politics to facilitate that.

Péter MARTON said...

Plan B? That's the problem, sure. No plan B right now. Iran could have offered one but post-2001 they just wouldn't agree to providing a corridor. Two sides to every story, certainly, but I do think the Iranians missed a useful opportunity there. Now Iran is too unreal a candidate, and U.S. policy to fixed to a track. Even the Obama-Biden combo wouldn't change that much with regards to this.
Russia - that's the less valuable possibility, yet the more probable one, yet even so in danger now with Saakashvili's Ossetian plans gone pear-shaped.

fnord said...

Thank you for the ft-piece, hadnt read that one before. My gripe above was in no way personal, indeed you seem to be just about the only one who has covered this aspect in any depth. Wich was sort of my point.

One point in your reply puzzles me: That the Iranians were the ones who blew it. As far as I remember, the White House turned down a Iranian offer for cooperation on Afghanistan in the heady days postinvasion. I dont have the links here, but it was discussed fairly substantially over at Pat Langs a couple months back. This was in Rumsfelds hubris days, when it all would be over before christmas, and so it seems to me that this situation rising now is yet another part of the slo-mo trainwreck Rummy set in motion.

What really puzzles me is that NATO seems to be walking into a disaster wideeyed-stupid, as can be seen with the whole Georgia/missile-shield/Kosovo fronting. Georgia didnt just erupt out of blue air, no matter what the historical revisionists try to say this was a conflict provoked by western forceprojection, and signalled by Putin 8 miles wide. I quite simply do not understand the US urge to piss off everyone at the same time, especially in the face of a rising Afghan resistance. Now Karzai is calling for a SOFA-agreement, will be interesting to see if he gets it. In that case, the US force-presence both in Iraq and in Afghanistan seems to me to be reduced to a mercenary army fighting on behalf of warlords without much on-the-ground legitimacy. News that the Taleban are back as judges outside Kabul because of government corruption seem to me just a indicator that the western ploy of backing the warlords is backfiring... once again. It just makes me want to go Argh.

Péter MARTON said...

I'm not blaming the Iranians in the way you might think.
I'm referring to that early moment post-9/11 when they could have forced the Rumsfeld-clique on a different track by some embarrassingly "normal" diplomacy. Perhaps.
Here's a link regarding what I'm thinking of:
Of course it would have been counterintuitive to do that, with OEF origanally called a crusade by Bush Jr. Of course it's hard to realistically expect such things. Of course it didn't happen, you could say.
Then, after talk of an invasion of Iraq started, it would have been beyond "not realistic" even to expect Iranian permission for use of their territory and airspace - even though they were quite helpful in the beginning, as James Dobbins recalls, too:
Soon came the Axis of Evil speech, though, shortly after the near-idyllic Bonn conference, and that put an end to the mere conceptualisation of a fantasyworld of US-Iranian relations.
Otherwise, the best summary of US-Iranian relations post-2001 I've read is this one:

Guy said...

Afghanistan strikes me as being unlikely to be solved by a Surge- 7 years in and:
1. No consensus on the reason behind the war (re-branding definately required), the way it should be fought (see 2.) or any other benchmark.
2. Rather than a united network Coalition forces (ISAF, ANA etc.) are composed of multiple networks the intersect only briefly (i.e. different command structures, vehicles, logistics, weapons, support, rules of engagement etc.)
3. Failure to control and influence information or force- troops frequently enter areas then leave them due to overstretch, no communal Press Office or similar form of influencing multi-national media.
4. Failure to enlist locals in the cause.

Simply the war is like playing 20 CD's simultaneously and hoping for music rather than mixing them through one desk.

The Surge idea seems to be to be part of the cultural impact of the Surge term- associated with Iraqi success (despite that mostly being the work of the Sons of Iraq and other militia alliances)- rather than a sensible plan.

Quite often Afghanistan reminds me of the Russian Civil War: multiple local and national factions fighting a war in which the foreign factions, despite their training, experience and equipment, are crippled by their lack of strategy, ability to influence and domestic politics.

Gods I'm depressing.

Péter MARTON said...

Of course what you're saying is depressing because it is true. That is another reason I don't like the surge term. It is the idea that the sole key variable is the addition of troops, providing a visible increase by a t1 point in time, to look relatively better than things looked at t0.
No assessment of even around and about how many soldiers could accomplish the task - just believing in an increase itself with no absolute markers, Markers are not perfectly easy to identify, of course, but even 100,000 soldiers plus the number of ASF, as many as there are at any given moment, will not be enough yet.
And certainly they won't be enough without a well-devised, well-coordinated, well-sequenced strategy.