Sunday, December 2, 2018


It once was famous.  It had been a center of Buddhist learning.  There are over 3000 caves in which lived thousands of Buddhist monks and mendicants.  There are oil paintings in those caves, perhaps the oldest in the world, that predate oil painting in Europe by 600 years.  It was also a way-station for the Gautama’s missionaries on their way north to China to proselytize and spread the seeds of the Middle Path.   And it was a rest stop, a mountain oasis, for southbound merchants on the old Silk Road.   

An early American traveler described it as no longer bustling, a serene and comfortable place.  The valley, he said, is rich in grains, clover and beans.  Poplar and mulberry trees predominate.  Another traveler, US Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas, visited there in 1951.  He described it like a Shangri-La in his book ‘Beyond the High Himalayas’.  Infamous now of course because of the Taliban dynamiting the statues of Buddha, and Buddha’s wife and child in 2001.  Even though those monuments had survived the previous 12 centuries under Muslim rulers.  

Bamyan is in the news again for religious reasons.  But this time it is a different religion.  It has become a Sanctuary City for thousands of Hazara, who are predominantly Shia and not accepted as fellow Muslims by the Talibs.  They are considered apostates and are a despised ethnic group by the Pashtuns.  They have just last week fled their villages seeking safe asylum from Taliban attacks.   The Afghan National Security Forces are not able to stop these attacks.  And neither apparently can the 10- to 14000 American troops who are training and advising Afghan forces or engaging in counter-terrorism missions.  Nor can the 6000 NATO soldiers and the 26,000 military contractors that are there.  In my humble opinion there is no possible unconditional victory over the Taliban in this ‘Forever War’.  Not without the complete and continuing cooperation of Pakistan and other neighboring countries.  Which is not going to happen anytime soon, at least in Pakistan where there are powerful elements allied to the Taliban.    

I sympathize with those Hazara victims who will end up forcibly converted, or worse.  And I commiserate with those Afghani women who will again be incarcerated in the burqa and will again be denied education.  And certainly there will be revenge killings in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, or Mazar-i-Sharif if the Talibs take over.   But what is our role?   Why does the US and NATO have to be the policeman here?  It is not in our precinct. 

My solution?  I have none.  You cannot save the country.  Keep on negotiating with the Talibs?  I don't think so, they know we are leaving and will outwait us?   We have been there for 17 years.  But the Afghan Civil War has been going on for 40 years straight since the start of the Saur Revolution in 1978.   

Perhaps allow the country to informally partition itself?  Give support and weapons to the Northern Alliance?   China has interests in the north.  They have signed contracts for developing oilfields near the Amu Darya.   And the Chinese also have a three billion investment in Afghani copper mines.  Sounds to me like this brouha is in their precinct.  Or we could stay out of the way of Iran if they send in troops to support their co-religionists in Bamyan and other parts of the Hazarajat – and also in the Persian speaking districts of Farah and Herat Provinces?   Not only stay out of their way, but perhaps actively encourage them by ending Trump’s attempted barricade of the Iranian economy?  Why not?  They provide weapons and support to Shia militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Yemen; and in some cases they provide IRGC Special Forces.  General Soleimani and his Qods Force should be next door in Bamian instead of on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Photo by Alessandro Balsamo


  1. I've got a solution but it isn't a good one. We bail out of there as fast as possible and take all the reporters with us. In about 20 years we let the reporters creep in and find out what happened.

    There's only one way this is going to end, with the Taliban in control. The only real question is how many people have to die before that happens. There is nothing we can do to make the situation better and we can make it a lot worse if we continue down this path.

    1. Pluto - Good idea!

      Although I don't think the Taliban will be in control of the entire country 20 years from now when the reporters go back in. They will find Afghanistan broken up into a Talib contolled area and several other warlord controlled proto-states. There are too many other factions that will not put up with Taliban ideology. The Northern Alliance started reforming under a new name years ago when Karzai (and the Coalition) openly started negotiations with so-called moderate elements of the Taliban. The Northern Alliance is now the National Front of Afghanistan (NFA) or Jabh-e Melli. There are other groups that will resist the Taliban on their own or join up with the NFA. These are not just ethnic Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Tajikis. There are also Shiite Pashtuns in the south and west.

      And even if the west does not give weapons to those who resist the Taliban, they can get them from Iran. There is also no love for the Taliban in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Those countries do not want the Taliban on their borders coming across to proselytize. I don't believe the Taliban will agree to settle for half a country. They already control much of the Pashtun rural areas, and may eventually take cities, but I do not believe they can take it all.

      I would bet that even Pakistan does not want a strong unified Afghanistan under Taliban control. The risk for Islamabad is that then the Taliban could turn on them and incite a Pashtun/Talib uprising in Pakistan. They will hold back if the Taliban gets too strong.


    2. PlutoDecember 4, 2018 at 5:27 AM
      Thanks, Mike, although I didn't say that the Taliban is going to control the country in 20 years (I've noticed that people like the Taliban tend to spawn coalitions of resistance very quickly once they get into power), I just said that it is inevitable that the Taliban will get into power and there is nothing we can do to prevent it, period. Voluntarily leaving the country will reduce the number of terrorists we have to deal with 20-30 years down the road, which is a nice plus in my opinion.

      My only real concern is for American citizens who are far too emotionally invested in stopping Communism/ Terrorism/ Whateverism who will stop at nothing (especially the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) to live out their fantasies of saving the US from itself.

      In my opinion they represent the single biggest threat to our country's continued existence. Not because of their numbers but because they tend to gravitate towards political roles and their hapless misadventures can cause a lot of damage before they are identified and neutralized. To a large extent, I count Dick Cheney among their number and look at how much damage he did in 2001-02 before Bush Jr. realized what was going on and took back the Presidential power he'd loaned Cheney.

      (Although I do have to admit that the Presidency is getting to be too big for a single person to handled and in concept I liked the idea of a domestic and a foreign policy president, which is what they had for that 2 year stretch)

    3. Pluto -

      Your opinion is right on! Those Americans determined to stop Whateverism do "represent the single biggest threat to our country's continued existence."

      As FDC has slapped into my head many times, we are our own worst enemy. But it is nothing new:

      "So the eagle, pierced by the bow-sped shaft, looked
      At the feathered device and said, “Thus, not by others,
      But by means of our own plumage are we slain”."

      Aeschylus - 5th Century BC

      And I bet Aeschlus borrowed it from a predecessor. That same scene of harming your own self/group/tribe/nation was probably witnessed at the dawn of the genus Homo.

  2. The current set of problems in A-stan started with the U.S. adoption of the "Northern Alliance", which was a congeries of smaller clans, Tajiks and Hazaras, who have always lost against the larger Pashtun that is overrepresented in the Taliban.

    It continued when the new Kabul government made nice with India. Pakistan has always feared an India-friendly regime behind it; they tolerate the Talibs not so much because they are "allies" but because their enemies are the same.

    Overall, tho? I agree; there's no real way to "win" for the West here without an immense, unsustainable commitment of blood and treasure. The best that can be hoped for is some sort of managed loss. How that is "managed" I have no idea, but getting some sort of accommodation with Iran wouldn't hurt. Good luck getting the Mustache of Stupidity to go in on that.

    We - and they - are just pretty much fucked.

    1. FDC - I agree with your point regarding India.

      See the wiki entry:
      I note in that entry they claim that "India aided the overthrow of the Taliban".

      Plus Indian and Canadian mining outfits are reportedly investing $14-billion in the Hajigak iron mine. And the Indians are said to be prospecting near there for Lithium and Cobalt. If they are in fact hoping to mine cobalt in Afghanistan it will drive the Pakistanis crazy. Perhaps to the point of upping the hostilities even more.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. There's no obvious way to divide Afghanistan - that was much more feasible in iraq than in AFG:

    The Pashtuns are naturally dominant there, along with their customs and beliefs. This emphasis on "Taleban" is really pointless; the TB are the main representatives of the Pashtu faction and 17 years of Western meddling have failed to establish a more tolerable political group as the main Pasthu representatives.

    The Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara could in theory get their act together, do some ethnic cleansing (when Westerners are gone) and keep the North. That doesn't happen anytime soon given their divisions, the corruption of their elites and so on. So they (and some non-mainstream pashtu) keep milking the West while controlling drug production.

    1. Sven -

      I would never suggest that the US or NATO should divide Afghanistan. That would be a guaranteed way for the opposite to happen.

      But I suspect it will happen on its own. In their best days in the late 90s, the Talibs controlled less than 75% of the country. And at the time they took over in the 1996 many Afghan people only accepted them because they were tired of two decades of civil war. When taking over they benefited from extensive al-Qaeda, Saudi, and Pakistani support. And Ronald Reagan supported their predecessor Mujahadin organizations. But they still never got full control. I doubt they will this time either.

      And yes, you are right that the Pashtuns dominate. But even so they only represent 42% of the population per the World Factbook. Add the Hazara, Uzbek, and Tajik percentages together and they total 45%. And all the Pashtuns are not Sunni. So add in those Pashtuns that are Shia Muslims plus some other small groups of Persian speaking ethnic groups and and you have an outright majority. You are right though that they would need to get their act together.

      As for drug production, that was used by Mullah Omar also. He ruled it out originally. But when in a tight spot financially the money from the ISI and bin Laden was not enough. So the Taliban took control of the country's poppy fields. And they exported it to us Kafirs in the west via middlemen in guess where? Pakistan.

  4. There is nothing we can do there any longer to achieve our chimeric goal of a friendly, whole, peaceful, centrally-governed "country." There really was never any hope for that. Afghanistan has been ungovernable except when the stars aligned to bring about temporary circumstances. I don't see anything changing going forward regardless of what the US does, so we should get the fuck out.

    We've tied ourselves to a failed premise - that opposing AQ and Islamic transnational terrorism requires that we build competing governance structures. That has proven to be false, yet few in the natsec establishment can see that or are willing to admit it.

    Leave Afghanistan for the people there. Grant our allies asylum in the US or a third country. If the Hazara are under existential threat, then consider giving them the means to defend themselves.

    Be ready and prepared to blow the shit out of any transnational threat that might reemerge there. I would much rather play whack-a-mole with semi-annual drone or B-52 strikes than continue to subject our blood and treasure to a pointless cause.

    Hold Pakistan accountable and condition our support for their government on the prevention of future transnational threats. Yeah, they are afraid of India - it's high time we use that as leverage. They might go running to China in which case, good riddance.

    There is talk that Trump wants out. I hope that is right. Our current political class only seems to support withdrawal when they are no longer in office. It's clear Afghanistan is a domestic political hot-potato. Politicians don't want to catch any blame for "losing" so they kick the can, knowing the reality. Trump is a shit-show, but maybe that's what we need to finally GTFO of there.

    1. I think that hoping for Donald the Dove to pull the U.S. foreign policy status-quo's head out of it's fourth point of contact is a pretty grasping-at-straws kind of hope. It's not that I don't agree that he's SAID he wants to be done with farkling about the place. It's a loss-leader at best and a potentially catastrophic bankruptcy at worst, and if there's anything The Donald understands (and there's not a lot...) it's going bust over poor management of bad initial investments. you point out, the bottom line is that nobody wants to be the one standing when the music in SW Asia stops. Throw in the utter lack of geopolitical brainpower housed above Bolton's shoulders and the sunk-cost grip on Mattis and the orange one is not going to hear anything as sensible as what you've written.

      AND the other part of that bottom line is that this sort of low-grade colonial war is effectively infinitely sustainable for a Great Power. The trickling loss in lives and treasure is infinitesimal, and the stalemate can be prolonged indefinitely short of outside intervention. Sure, every so often there'll be something that makes the news and the arm-waving and bloviating will roil the airwaves for a bit. But then the next twerking scandal or idiotic social media thing will divert the 24-hour cable news cycle and business can return to usual...

      Call me cynical, but the British spent a century or more dinking around northwest of the Khyber Pass. I see no reason why, what with global power projection and less geopolitical intelligence than the best the Colonial Office had to provide, the U.S. can't spend as much or more time and trouble fiddling with the same place for worse regions. At least the Brits shared a border with those troublesome rascals...

    2. The British weren't really interested in exploiting the region ro pacifying it; they were interested in keeping it free of Russian influence. They didn#t want the Russians next door to india, the real British Empire's crown jewel.

    3. The long-term geopolitical aim of the "great game" was to keep Russia penned in, yes. But the tactical reasons the Brits kept sending troop units into Afghanistan was simply to knock down the threat level to the Northwest Frontier. You're right in that no governor-general kidded himself about "pacifying" the Afghan tribes. But sending columns to kill Black Mountain Hazaras didn't have anything to do w Russia. It was to remind the Hazaras of the danger of raiding into British territories. That sort of bloody raid and counter-raid seems to be analogous to what the Western forces are doing today, and with no better chance of deriving any military conclusion from it. The Kabul "government" isn't going to be anything more than a money pit, so the chance that "slaying Afridis where they run" will produce anything but dead people is about zero. That will not change anything; the cost isn't high enough and the political danger of being the one who "lost Afghanistan" is too high..

    4. WASF

    5. Andy - Thanks for that link.

      You would think a freaking four star would have better advice than "muddle along". McChrystal is a clown. What else could we expect from the mentor of the 24-day wonder National Security Advisor Mike Flynn? What else could Pompeo expect out of this arrogant buffoon. I'm sure he made a good platoon leader and even a competent Ranger Company Commander, but after that he seemed to be a ticket puncher, a perfumed prince.

      He seems to want to muddle through because he claims "if we pull out and people like al Qaeda go back, it’s unacceptable" No sh!t Sherlock. ISIS and the Taliban are there now in spite of 14000 US and 6000 NATO troops. And al Qaeda is in the Yemen and Syria plus the Maghreb, the Sinai, Mali, Malayan Archipelago, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Northern Caucasus, the Indian Subcontinent, Somalia, plus ten or 12 more locations.

    6. Mike, I was going to respond to the first half of your comment but then I saw that you stole my thunder with the second half of your comment. Well done!

      I wish the Milpub could have a quiet little "discussion" with McCrystal and the other "perfumed princes." I'd love to see the expressions on their faces when they realized that they weren't dealing with the usual tame puppies we call "investigative reporters" these days. But they don't give away anything with their faces, they just give away our soldier's lives with their actions.

      I've thought about moving to Australia more than once lately but I'm not sure that it is far enough away to do any good when the US finally implodes. In the meantime I'm fighting the good fight regionally and mostly winning, which feels good. Hopefully my work will mean something when the you-know-what hits the fan. At the moment the you-know-what feels pretty far away from the fan.

      It's amazing how well the Prez has unified this part of the country against him. Off hand, I can't think of another person who could have done the job so quickly and so thoroughly.

      Andy - Not even Trump knows what he wants day to day other than to be the loudest and most quoted person in the current room. Pity the idiot and pray he continues to divert himself in that way.

    7. Pluto -

      Regarding the soldier's lives that you mention: McCrystal appears to forget that soldiers there are being assassinated by the same Afghan Army troops they are there to train. My main beef is with those insider attacks. They even murdered a Major General a few years ago.

      US and NATO instructors in Afghanistan now have to have bodyguards when they are teaching Afghans. As a WP commenter said a month ago after the another fratricidal shooting by our Afghan allies: "I'm beginning to think the Afghanis don't want us in their country. Or am I mistaken?"

    8. Insider attacks almost reminds one of the 'fragging' murders in Nam. But despite the hype there were only two documented cases that I know of. And that was over a period of more than ten years and an approximate 2.7 million Americans that served there.

    9. FWIW, these "green on blue" events are an Afghan tradition; read the history of the 1844 "First Afghan War". Basically the Brits lost an entire army because they THOUGHT they were providing "military assistance" to a proxy government in Kabul. Turned out that the locals liked them waaaayyy less than the Brits presumed. One guy - literally one - got back to British India alive.

      Like so many other idiotic oversights that have bit DoD in the ass during Dick n Dubya's Excellent Middle Eastern Adventure these events were not just predictable but inevitable. It took an impressive degree of ignorance not to have foreseen them.

  5. "worse REASONS", not "regions". Derp.

  6. As a sort of "something we thought was terribly important that turned out to be a whole lot of nothing", John Kelly got the sack today. Fred Kaplan has a pretty good summation of the man's work for the Fraudulency Administration (

    The bottom line that Kelly represent is that, as discussed above (except in context of another star-warrior, Bill McChrystal), it exposes the intellectual and moral problems that have sunk deeply into the American officer corps. Kelly should have been the "adult" in an administration largely characterized by childish greed and moral immaturity. He wasn't. Instead, like all too many general officers, he refused to stand for what he should have known was right and against what he knew was wrong, dangerous, and stupid.

    His "reward" was to be canned like one of the hapless stooges on Trump's reality show.

    Kelly seems to have recognized what a dumpster fire Trump's white nationalism represents for a nation that is supposed to be about "equal justice under law"; his early moves to push out the loathsome Bannon and Gorka testify to that. But he was unable to remove the equally foul Miller, and when Trump finally got his dreamboat, John "The Mustache of Idiocy" Bolton in as NSA Kelly should have immediately, loudly, and publicly resigned in protest over the placement of such a fool - the man STILL thinks that Dick and Dubya's Most Excellent Middle Eastern Adventure was a good idea! - in a position of such influence.

    But that has been the story of Kelly's tenure. When he needed to stand up to the worst ideas of his boss, he cowered like a little rabbit. When he should have stood for the things that we're told are military virtues, instead he adopted his boss's worst ideas.

    Kelly is more than simply a flawed man. He is a living testament to the sump of sycophancy, corruption, cravenness, and intellectual vacuity that has come to dominate the American senior officer ranks.

    We are poorly served by those we have entrusted with that high honor.

  7. Did he jump, or was he pushed? I understand he had some knockdown cursing contests with Bolton. And as bugshit crazy as Bolton is, he knows bureaucracy and how to work around someone or get them out of the way. Plus Kelly was said to have had a a world class physical shoving match with Corey Lewandowski over access to the oval office.

    His most famous quote referring to his boss was: "It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in Crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had,..."

    1. Trump canned him. IMO the backstory doesn't matter, tho I tend to agree that Bolton outmanuevred him. The Mustache may be a geopolitical moron but he's an expert bureaucratic knife-fighter.

      Doesn't change my overall assessment of Kelly. He could see from the get-go that Orange Foolius was hopeless. He was in the same position as Isoroku Yamamoto was in 1941; the political leader of his country was a fool who had no idea of the gravity of the dangers he risked running. He could have sacrificed himself in an attempt - admitted probably in vain - to awaken his nation to the dangers. Instead he chose to salute and move out smartly. For that cowardice I hope he will be judged harshly. It is a shame and a disgrace on his oath to defend the Constitution from ALL enemies, foreign and Trumpkin...

    2. Looks like General Milley will be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I thought Dunford had another ten months to serve, but maybe he wants out early? Or maybe he is also being pushed? As Chairman he must have had a full up proportion of Bolton's idiocy.

      I expected along with many others, including SecDef Mattis, that CSAF General Goldfein would get the job.

      Did you serve with Milley in Panama?

    3. He was after my time; I DEROSed in 87', he was there for the invasion in '89.

      I note that he's one of these got-lots-of-meritorious-service-gongs type GOs, suggesting that he's spent a lot of his career working for the Fice-sided Fool Farm. Not much surprise that a bureaucratic infighter gets the Big Casino.

    4. I notice the rabid commenters over at Breitbart are slamming him.

      And IMHO hockey players can't be all bad. Although I fess up to knowing next to zero about him.

    5. Ugh. More power to you for risking the wingnut fever swamps. I don't have the stomach.

      I don't know anything, either. IMO there's no particular reason for hope or fear. I can't think of a CJCS who's been anything but a reliable timeserver in all my adult life. No reason to assume this guy will be anything special.

  8. offtopic:

    I won't blog about it, but maybe you guys want to lend it some attention (it would be kinda urgent):

    1. I like the concept, and might even sign up.

    2. They just reached their fundraising target.

      I wonder why and how the concept succeeded in the Netherlands. That country is tiny and the concept appears to call for a larger critical mass. How could the economic support and opportunity be large enough in such a (relatively) small country, I wonder.

    3. I kicked them a couple of sawbucks. Seems like a good idea, but so did the New York Times. We'll see if they fulfill their promises.