What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? (part 13) – Conclusions

Picture of area of the missing statue of the Buddah, destroyed by the Taliban government when they were in charge, near Bamiyan, August 2006 (photo by Nicholas Klapmeyer).

Continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from pages 269-270 of America’s Modern Wars (2015):


One cannot but help to compare Iraq to Afghanistan. In the case of Iraq, we faced a regional or factional insurgency mostly based upon the minority Sunnis, we installed a government from the majority Shiite faction and then backed that with force ratios sufficient to suppress a regional or factional insurgency. We then bought off the Sunni insurgents by the tens of thousands bringing the violence rapidly under control, while at the same time conducted a surge. The end result was to create a very favorable situation on the ground, allowing us to withdraw and leaving behind trainers in a much more stable environment, and then withdrawn entirely in 2011. Still, the effort has been far from perfect, and the insurgency appears to be now renewed.

In the case of Afghanistan the government is under control of the majority ethnic group, with minority representation. The insurgency is also drawing mainly from that same majority ethnic group. The insurgency primarily appears to be domestically based. As the United Nations noted September 2006: “The insurgency is being conducted mostly by  Afghans operating inside Afghanistan’s border. However, its leadership appears to rely on support and sanctuary from outside the country.” The attempts to buy off the insurgents have not met with much success. The current surge has create a force ratio that should be sufficient to control a regional or factional insurgency, given sufficient time.

On the other hand, if this insurgency is broadly based, then we do not have a sufficient force ratio regardless of time. So, in that case, if we cannot buy off the insurgents, then our only option is to add another 100,000 to 200,000 troops to the war and invest several more years, with the attendant casualties and costs, trying to turn the war into our favor. Obviously, this precludes meeting any set withdrawal date.

Still, in all reality the current administration is not going to commit another 100,000 to 200,000 troops to Afghanistan for the next five or more years. This is not in discussion. It does not appear to be in consideration by the U.S. opposition party either.

Given our unwillingness to step up our commitment, then the only questions is whether a slower withdrawal will provide more tangible benefits than a fast withdrawal. This we have not examined. Still, this is not “winning” the war in any sense of the word winning. It is withdrawing with the situation on the ground unresolved and a government that is far from democratic or stable. We will be leaving behind trainers and other support people, but limited combat troops. If history is a guide, then this government will be replaced one way or the other several years after we withdraw. What will replace it is hard to determine, but will probably include a return to some extent of the Taliban, or perhaps with them leading the new government. It is also distinctly possible that the country will return back into civil war. None of this fulfills our objectives.

This was written in early 2015.  That ends my excerpts from Chapter 21: Relating a Force Ratio Model to Afghanistan, pages 253-273 (there were three pages of endnotes to the chapter). 



(to be continued) 

What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? (part 12) – Political Will

U.S. Army near Kunduz, 5 May 2008 (photo by William A. Lawrence II).

Continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from pages 266-269 of America’s Modern Wars (one table and the footnotes are not included):


The United States has lost 499 killed from all causes in Afghanistan in 2010. Compared to Vietnam, this does not seem like much, but when compared to all insurgencies; it is enough losses to favor the insurgents.

As we point out in Chapter Seventeen, the Burden of War:

It appears that when the average intervening forces killed [per year] exceeds more than 0.0001% of the population of the intervening country (more than 0.12 per 100,000 home population), then the counterinsurgency, intervention or peacekeeping operations fails in over two-thirds of the cases.

Furthermore, it appears that if the average intervening forces killed exceeds more than 0.00001% of the population of the intervening county (more than 0.01 per 100,000 home population) than the chances of failure rises to around 50% (p-value = 0.0006).

The average intervening forces killed data basically falls into three groupings:

                                         Blue Wins       Gray Results           Red Wins

0                  18 cases         16                    0                               2

0.01-0.09     17 cases           8                    2                               7

0.12-4.08     14 cases           3                    1                             10

                                           —-                  —                             —-

                                           27                      3                            19

Or to put in another format:

                                              Percent Blue Wins        Percent Red Wins

Low intensity cases              89%                                  11%

Medium intensity cases        47%                                  41%

High intensity cases             21%                                   71%


A nation with a population of 300 million would produce thresholds of 360 killed a year for .12 per 100,000 and only 30 killed per year for a value of .01 per 100,000. The U.S. population is a little over 300 million. As such, we were at the medium level of intensity for Afghanistan since 2002, and as of 2010, have crossed over to join the high intensity cases. Just for comparison, the U.S. in Iraq during 2004-2007 was between 0.22 to 0.25 killed (KIA) per 100,000 population. The U.S. peak in Vietnam was over 7 killed per 100,000 population (population as of 1968).

Does this mean we will now lose? What it means is that in the 14 cases we have where losses were so high, the counterinsurgents only won in three of them. Let us look at the data for a moment, just the cases where more than 0.12 were killed per 100,000 home country population:

…(skipped table)

Where are the three counterinsurgent wins? They are Angola Civil War, Tanzania in Uganda, and Yemen, with Iraq still unresolved. An examination of each of those cases provides cold comfort. In the case of the Angola Civil War, the Cuban army was heavily supplemented by Soviet aid, as was the entire nation of Cuba. Part of the reason they were getting such aid was to allow them to intervene in Africa. So while they were paying the cost in casualties, they were not paying the rest of the cost of the wars. Furthermore, Cuba kept the losses hidden from most of their population. Tanzania in Uganda was a successful intervention and overthrow of the government of Ugandan strong man Idi Amin and then stabilizing the government against his limited and furtive attempts to return to power. Perhaps they could even be considered to be the insurgents. Regardless, they did withdraw a year later and the Ugandan government seized power in violation of the election results. That government was later overthrown by insurgents lead by the legitimate head of state. Yemen was an Egyptian intervention, which by 1967 was already withdrawing and hastened that withdrawal when they became embroiled in a war with Israel. The war [in Yemen] continued for several more years after Egypt withdrew and the government eventually reached an agreement with the rebels in 1970 and effectively defeated the insurgency. 

The U.S., has now stepped over the threshold of 0.12, although one could easily argue from the data above that the threshold should be higher (0.38 or greater) or lower (0.06). But, regardless of the exact break point, we are now at an uncomfortable threshold where the insurgents win in 70% of the cases. This does not mean that this is the case for Afghanistan, but it does indicate that we are now at a level of losses that forces nations to evaluate their levels of commitments to these wars. In some respects, this harkens back to the point made in Chapter Three, that the track record for winning large wars is not very good. Afghanistan is at the lower threshold of being a larger insurgency.

Now, the current administration has been withdrawing since July 2011. This has dropped our loss rates in 2012 down to 310 killed from all causes, or down below the threshold point (assuming it is not as low as 0.05). Losses in 2013 were much lower (127 killed from all causes) and the levels of commitment and losses in 2014 are even less. So, it appears that the issue of U.S. losses has been resolved by lowering the level of commitment, but it does not resolve the concern as to whether there is now sufficient force to suppress the insurgency. 



(to be continued) 

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 11

Afghan police in training, near Jalalabad, 15 August 2010 (photo by William A. Lawrence II)

Continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from fragments of text from pages 264-266 of America’s Modern Wars. 



There are five final lessons or observations that we wish to make about this war [Afghanistan]…

Finally, one must ask the question, did the United States almost loose the war in Afghanistan, or at least seriously compromise its position there, with its gross under-commitment in 2001-2004? Did we simply “mis-estimate” the situation and because we were not taking casualties, fail to commit the energy and effort required to secure the area and keep an insurgency from developing? As noted in Chapter Twenty-four on recommendations for the future, we need to understand better the early stages of an insurgency and how they develop, and how to recognize a developing insurgency. Usually by the time we realize we have a problem we have a big problem, not a little one. Did we make the same mistake both in Afghanistan and Iraq? 



(to be continued) 

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 10

The Tora Bora Mountains (photo by William A. Lawrence II, 14 February 2011).

Continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from fragments of text from page 264-266 of America’s Modern Wars. 


There are five final lessons or observations that we wish to make about this war [Afghanistan]…

The fourth observation concerns the issue of rules of engagement. Even under the tightly controlled rules of engagements the U.S. was using, the United Nations was reporting over 1,500 civilians killed in 2007. In 2008, we had a determination from the UN as to who was responsible, with their claim being that there were 2,188 civilian casualties in 2008, of which 55% of those killed were caused by the insurgents and 39% of those killed were caused by the counterinsurgents… This is actually very good on the part of the counterinsurgents, as in most insurgencies, the majority of civilian deaths are caused by the counterinsurgents….

But the U.S. and other international forces did tighten the rules of engagement, and for 2009 the UN reported 2,412 civilian deaths, with now 675 accounted for by the insurgents and only 25% account for by the counterinsurgents… This only got better in 2010… The Secretary General notes that they are “…the result of a significant decline in deaths and injuries caused by air attacks.”

It is clear they were getting favorable results from the tighter rules of engagement although it is harder to determine how much these tighter rules are helping to actually win the insurgency. Still, our own work (see Chapter Nine) points to tighter rules of engagement helping the counterinsurgents win in the long run, so this is an effort we support wholeheartedly. 



(to be continued) 

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 9

Camp Lonestar, near Jalalabad, 7 October 2010 (photo by William A. Lawrence II)

Continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from fragments of text from pages 264-266 of America’s Modern Wars. 



There are five final lessons or observations that we wish to make about this war [Afghanistan]…

The third lesson concerns the value of these “little surges” that the U.S. did in Iraq and is doing in Afghanistan. Whether or not the surge in Afghanistan succeeds or fails may be determined by whether they can buy off, negotiate a settlement with, or otherwise co-opt significant numbers of insurgents. So while the increased troop strength obviously helps, it clearly drives home the point that the actual surge, by itself, did not resolve Iraq and a similar surge, by itself, will not resolve Afghanistan. It was a reduction in the number of insurgents that resolved Iraq. For a “surge” to be truly effective, it would have to be more in the order of 100,000 or more troops, not just 30,000. And, if no significant insurgent forces were co-opted, then this would have to be a long-term commitment or at least a commitment until such time as a large number of insurgents stood down.



(to be continued) 

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 8

Afghan police in training, 20 July 2010 (photo by William A. Lawrence II).

Continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from fragments of text from pages 264-266 of America’s Modern Wars. 



There are five final lessons or observations that we wish to make about this war [Afghanistan]…

Second, we question the wisdom of concentrating and giving priority to developing the Afghan police forces ahead of the Afghan army. Some of this appears to have been inspired by the British example of counterinsurgencies, which leaned heavily on using police as part of its counterinsurgent forces. This worked in part because they also had sufficient ground troops (usually 25-to-1 or greater ratios) and were facing very small insurgencies. When we did our analysis of insurgencies, including the logit regression model, we did not count police forces in the counterinsurgent forces in the data or the model. We felt that most police were not dedicated to the task of counterinsurgency most of the time and had many other duties and tasks to perform. As such, we did not count the traffic cops in Saigon as part of the war effort against the Viet Cong. Now, if there were portions of the police force clearly set aside with a primarily counterinsurgency mission, we did count those, but in most of our cases, we did not include them in our data and our calculations.

As such, we did not include them in our analysis of Afghanistan, and we still believe that this is the best representation. But, the U.S. by focusing on building up the Afghan police, and there were more Afghan police than army from 2004 through 2006, probably did not provide the government with the tools it needed to secure the country side. Isolated police stations simply do not establish government control. As such, we believe that the U.S. learned the wrong lessons from its review of UK counterinsurgency doctrine because they did not properly and fully understand the context in which they were conducted: which was with the UK having overwhelming military force. We therefore tried to substitute police for army. We also did the same thing early in Iraq also.


(to be continued) 

Afghan police in training, 20 July 2010 (photo by William A. Lawrence II).

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 7

Incoming Students, 30 July 2010 (photo by William A. Lawrence II)

Continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from fragments of text from pages 264-266 of America’s Modern Wars (2015). “Part 6” of this discussion was my blog post “Dueling Surges.”



There are five final lessons or observations that we wish to make about this war [Afghanistan].

First, it is clear that the new government did not establish control of the country-side in 2002 through 2004.  The Northern Alliance and other armed groups totaled only around 60,000 people, at best. U.S. and international commitment remained at lower levels, below 30,000 troops. The Afghan National Army was slowly developing, also reporting only 8,000 operational troops in December 2004 and the Afghan police forces had less than 30,000 police in 2004, almost all of them raised that year. Both the Afghan Army and Afghan police were newly raised and poorly trained. Part of the reason the reported level of violence against these forces were low up through 2004 was that there was not a whole lot of forces in the countryside to commit violence against. As the Secretary General of the United Nations noted in August 2005: “From 2002 to 2004, powerful commanders and their militias, dominated the security environment. Narcotics trade and related criminal activities also expanded rapidly. More recent, there have been troubling indications that remnants of the Taliban and other extremist groups are organizing.”

In 2005 the Afghan police expanded to over 50,000, and their losses went from 9 in 2003, to 92 to 2004 to 138 in 2005. In 2006 the Afghan police continued to develop and expand and their losses grew to 412 in that year. We see the losses ore than doubled in 2007 (925 killed) and have continued at even higher levels since then. It is clear that police force presence led to increased police force losses, indicating that significant parts of the country were never under control of the central government.


(to be continued) 

Dueling Surges

Suicide bomber in Baghlan Jadid, April 2009. The bomber was walking down the road trying to set of an explosive device as the photographer passed by in a truck. The bomb failed to explode. The bomber was found later by the local Afghan police still wearing the harness, but with no explosives. They released him (photo by William A. Lawrence II)

This is effectively “So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 6. It is continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from fragments of text from pages 262-264 of America’s Modern Wars:


Afghanistan shows that a surge and good tactics alone do not win insurgencies. It is claimed by some that this is what turned around Iraq, but in fact, what was most important to correcting Iraq was buying off of the insurgents and forming the Iraq Sunni Awakening Councils. Without a successful buy off in Afghanistan, the surge and good U.S. tactics have not turned the situation around and by itself, will not. In the end, you still need to have sufficient troops on the ground to control the terrain, protect the population, and contain the insurgents. There are few shortcuts that allow you to avoid the basics.

….[skipped several paragraphs describing how the surges worked in Iraq and Afghanistan]…

…So, 36 months into the start of the strength increase done by President Obama [in Afghanistan], there is no drop in the level of violence. Only in 2012, after it was clear that the U.S. and coalition forces were withdrawing, does the level of violence drop. In contrast the surge in Iraq achieved a measurable result in nine months.

The difference between the two is striking and clearly makes the point that the whole strategic situation needs to be fully addressed and these problems cannot be solved by simply applying a technique from one war to the next. The surge in Afghanistan is simply larger, more sustained and has achieved less dramatic results when compared to the rather limited and brief surge in Iraq.

(to be continued) 

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 5

Unexploded Ordinance from the police station in the city of Baghlan, 30 miles south of Kunduz (photo by William A. Lawrence II, 1 April 2009)

Continuing the discussion on Afghanistan drawn from fragments of text from pages 260-262 of America’s Modern Wars:

The 2013 figure of 20,093 incidents a year does argue for a significant insurgency force. If we use a conservative figure of 333 incidents per thousand insurgents, then we are looking at more than 60,000 full-time and part-time insurgents. The number of security incidences has declined slightly since 2011. This would indicate that either we are slowly bringing the insurgency under control or that they are simply waiting until the U.S. leaves before they get more serious. Still, the level of violence is higher than it was in 2009, before the surge started, and the level of violence in 2013 is not significantly less than it was in 2011…. It certainly appears we are a long way from getting the situation under control, and leaves open the question as to what will happen once the United States completes its withdrawal.

We still do not know for sure if Afghanistan is a regional or factional insurgency or whether it is broadly based. But if it is a regional or factional insurgency, then according to our regression model, we should be winning. Yet we only appear to be winning during the surge…

…[skipped several paragraphs]

With the insurgency able to threaten and kill more civilians, the government riddled with corruption and bribery, opium poppy cultivation expanding in the areas currently being fought over, and large numbers of people displaced and continuing to be displaced, this all paints a picture of an insurgency that is not only not under control, but is actually expanding its influence.

If this is a broadly based insurgency then at the current force levels our chances of winning still appear to be low. To push the ratios up to a level where we have a good chance of winning it would require another 100,000 or more troops (almost certainly from the U.S.)  plus the commitment of time and losses for several more years while it is turned around. In effect, we would have to go back to the force levels we have in 2010.

…[skipped several paragraphs]

If our model is correct and the insurgency is indeed broadly based, then it is going to take more than time to defeat it. It is going to take more force than we currently have. Theoretically this can come from the Afghan Army, but they do need to be raised, trained, motivated, and made effective. 

If this insurgency is broadly based, then the surge we did up to 100,000 U.S. troops in 2010 and the building up of the Afghan army was probably good enough to turn the tide. The fact that incidents appear to have declined in 2012 indicates that this may have been working, but incidents are back up for 2013. The problem is if the insurgency is broadly based, then those surge forces needed to stay in place for the next ten years, with the expected continued losses and expenses. [bolding added for this post]


(to be continued)