Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Endless Afghanistan

Here’s a post about a subject that doesn’t directly involve the Navy to any great extent but contains lessons directly applicable to naval operations.

From a Military Times website article we learn that air strikes in Afghanistan are near peak levels.

For July, strike metrics saw highs across the board as the result of a surge in operations post-ceasefire, according to AFCENT.

“The U.S. flew 749 strike sorties, 88 of which included a weapons release. Both are monthly highs this year," according to the AFCENT press release accompanying the monthly statistics. "Also, the U.S. employed 746 weapons in July, the highest monthly total since November 2010.”

The total number of weapons released this year, which includes both manned and unmanned platforms, tops out at 3,714. That number is higher than every year’s total going back to 2013, with the exception of 2017. (1)

How many years have we been in Afghanistan and what have we accomplished?  At best, we’ve achieved a stalemate that continues only due to our continuous military involvement.  In other words, the stalemate we’ve achieved is not even a stable one. 

More realistically, we’ve wasted the lives of too many servicemen for no lasting gain, ravaged our readiness, spent countless dollars on strikes that accomplish nothing, and forged a military that is now ill-equippped, trained, and experienced to carry out its primary function which is fighting peer wars.  Afghanistan, Iraq, and the like have devastated our military in so many ways.

Worse, there is no end in sight and even the stated objective is nebulous and unlikely to produce a permanent positive outcome.

 U.S. aircraft continued to pound Taliban positions across Afghanistan to convince the insurgent force that negotiating with the Afghan government is their only option, according to a press release and statistics provided by U.S. Air Forces Central Command this month. (1)

That’s our goal???  To pressure a ruthless, evil, terrorist organization to negotiate with a corrupt government with the absolute certainty that the moment we withdraw our military support the Taliban will renege on any agreements and attempt to re-conquer every territory they’ve lost?

This is what we’re dying for, crippling our readiness for, and spending our budget on?

This is the perfect example of ComNavOps’ philosophy of war:  in it to win it or don’t get in it.  We shouldn’t be in this one if those are our goals.  We have no compelling national interest in Afghanistan or, at least, none that we’ve enumerated.  A case can certainly be made for a compelling interest in crushing a terrorist organization, the Taliban, but we’re not attempting to do that so the case is moot.

Lacking a compelling interest, we need to leave.  More, we need to learn the lesson that it’s idiotic to keep jumping into minor conflicts where we have no compelling interest and no intention of winning decisively. 

Returning our focus to the Navy, the Navy’s Freedom of Navigation exercises, for example, serve no purpose other than, perversely, reinforcing the legitimacy of China’s territorial claims and increasing tensions in the region.  We have no intention of “winning decisively” so why are we doing them?

The Navy’s patrolling off Yemen and the claimed attacks on US warships are another example of getting involved in a dispute that we have no elucidated compelling national interest in and no intention of “winning decisively” so why are we there?

Consider the Navy’s endless patrols of the Persian Gulf region.  A case can certainly be made for a compelling national interest there but we’re utterly failing to deal with the issue decisively.  We should withdraw from patrols and back away while clearly telling the Iranians that if they cause an incident that affects the US, they’ll be punished severely.  If the Iranians cause an incident (and they will) then we should hammer them hard – meaning, wipe out their laughable navy and air force and decapitate their military so that they can cause no further trouble.

The combination of limited involvement and decisive action when we do get involved preserves our forces by not wearing them out conducting useless patrols, deployments, and operations and maximizes their effect when we do take action.  Taking decisive action also significantly reduces the need for such action since potential miscreants will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that crossing the line will result in death.

Afghanistan is an object lesson in the folly of jumping into conflicts with no compelling national interest and no intention of “winning decisively”.

In it to win it or don’t get in it.


(1)Military Times website, “US airstrikes in Afghanistan continue to climb this month, highest this decade”, Kyle Rempfer, 28-Aug-2018,


  1. The Taliban is the ISI's way of keeping the Indians out Afghanistan, the US has not offered the Pakistanis another path to accomplish their goal.

    Bobs Baradur

    1. What do you see as the benefit to the US by assisting Pakistan in keeping Indian influence out of Afg? Conversely, what are the benefits to the US with increased Indian influence in Afg?

    2. I never did get the Indian connection to Afghanistan. India is not contiguous to Afghanistan, and Hindus and Muslims aren't exactly buddies; therefore, how does it exert influence there to counter Pakistan?

    3. Pakistan is worried about India using Afg as a base to attack Pakistan, using proxies. Pakistan and India have a nasty long running proxy war against each other in Jammu-Kashmir. Nice old fashioned State vs State conflict, the Pakistanis don't want to surrounded by Indian allies. The Great Game goes on, as Lurgan Sahib said long ago.

      Bobs Baradur

    4. @Tim
      Pakistan and Afghanistan have a disputed border, the Durand Line.
      Afghanistan considers it an unfair border imposed by British force of arms.

      Its not so much that India would deploy an army to Afghanistan invade, but that in the event of a major war between India and Pakistan, Afghanistan would invade Pakistan, or at the very least, the Pashtun Tribal areas and Baloch province would riot/secede

  2. Afghanistan (and later Iraq) only ever had two goals: provide an easily attackable and politically acceptable scapegoat for the War On Terror, and launder billions and billions of tax dollars into the pockets of the Military Industrial Complex or any other unscrupulous friend in need of a kickback. It has been an astonishing success.

  3. Pakistan probably has more nuclear devices than Israel. The warheads are in one base and the delivery systems are in another and never the two shall meet. Being in Afghanistan has certain advantages for the above. Otherwise I agree its a stupid sporting war which appears endless. As an aside I notice you never mention

    1. Nulka? You mean the decoy? What aspect of it did you want to discuss?

  4. I was just surprised to not see any reference to the program in your blog. I discovered this site only recently. Its a gem. I hope our adversaries read it and weep in despair as we intelligently
    debate our capabilities. I have participated in presentations
    where we argue that the Alaskan ANG can "do" the PLA conventionally in six weeks. But, I am out of my field of expertise here.

    1. Peter, thanks for the kind words. I hope you find it entertaining and educational.

      Regarding posts, you've probably noticed that the posts analyze some aspect of the Navy as opposed to simply describing a ship or piece of equipment. With that in mind, I have not done a post on Nulka because I have no performance data on which to base an analysis. There are manufacturer's claims but those are always exaggerated and unrealistic. If I come across some actual performance data I'll offer an analysis. Sorry, but that's the best I can do at the moment. Do you have some special interest or knowledge about Nulka that you'd like to share? Or some aspect of its use that you'd like to comment on?

      Regarding the Alaska ANG single-handedly beating the entire Chinese military in six weeks, I think someone is having some fun with you!

  5. Off topic and not much of a surprise, but the Navy realizes they won't have enough ships to support sealift operations in a major war against Russia or China.

    Defense News: ‘You’re on your own’: US sealift can’t count on Navy escorts in the next big war

  6. I ride a desk so keep that in mind with my comments. How can we have a major war with China in the first place? They claim to have a strategic petroleum reserve. I don't believe a word they say. If a single oil tanker is sunk insurance rates would skyrocket and shipments would end? Would not the "war" end on the first day?

  7. I would hazard a guess that the sinkings would occur near the Chinese ports.

  8. Yeah. I have to generally agree with you. Alexander came to the same conclusion 2400 years ago..Same with the Romans and the Brits...and then the Soviets..

    However, as long as "Bad Mujh MFs" (Islamic killers) are being whacked regularly you wont hear me saying to pull out. I don't have another idea either...

    As soon as the Taliban fled or were killed in 2002, we should have left. Same in Iraq after toppling Saddam's statue in 2004... Let the UN put 'em back together...

    Yessir CNOPS, this purple fingers, women's rights, push for western style democracy is unachievable.

    Afghans are simply cavemen who do not want to change and have been down through the millennia, even before the prophet came along... The only ones to truly subjugate them were the Mongols and they used some rough tactics to do it.. Tactics we would never adopt.


  9. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Great post.

    I remember being a High Schooler in Gulf War One. Agree with the war or not, we seemed to be much better at defining very specific goals, and then achieving them with overwhelming force.

    I would have been fine had we gone into Afg, utterly destroyed the camps (I'll leave it up to more educated people to decide how), then leave, saying 'If this happens again, we'll be back.'

    But nation building... jiminy Christmas. We're terrible at it. And we are picking the worst places to 'nation build'; places that often literally have *zero* history of a western style democratic government.

    Our military is a tool. A tool like a knife or a hammer. Use it for knife and hammer things and it works well.

    Use it for glasswork or sewing and it's going to do poorly.

    We've spent money on these useless actions, trained our military to do them instead of fight a war, and deferred real maintenance to finance these things.

    It's time to stop. And in the future, if we can't define clear winning conditions, and aren't willing to pay the price in blood and treasure to win, then we have to avoid the action.

  10. ComNavOps your commentary is excellent and defensible. You and we are up against this: "[I'm] not going to be the first president to lose a war" [Lyndon Johnson]

  11. A punitive expedition is where it should have ended. Definitely when Osama bin Laden was killed. Instead, we armed ethnic minorties that had been fighting a civil war, installed a puppet government, then were shocked when the Afghan people didn't support it.

    How about another "ask me anything" post? The last one was interesting and a while back.

  12. trump told it best - the answer to afghanistan is pakistan

    1. Most of the Pakistani Taliban factions operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan have sanctuaries in Pakistan’s North and South Waziristan, located in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

  13. If Pakistan really stops support that will be a sever blow to them, then you can negotiate with the moderate fractions.

    1. So what does the US need to do to change Pakistan's behavior?

    2. pressure - and sanctions threat

    3. Sanctions haven't done much to change NKorea or Iran's behavior! Not sure they'd be any more effective here.


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