- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By LTC Kevin D. Stringer, Ph.D., USAR
Best Defense guest book reviewer
Robert Cassidy’s War, Will and Warlords, (PDF will soon be made available for free), a study of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a must read for all scholars, policymakers, diplomats, and military practitioners seeking to understand the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus. Cassidy provides a number of salient points concerning uneven U.S. involvement in the region, the contradictions of Pakistan, and the counterinsurgency (COIN) approaches implemented on both sides of the porous region between the two states.
For the United States, Cassidy offers insights into how short-term and ill-advised American policies — the support of the mujahedeen and Pakistani President Zia to name just two — created the conditions that spawned Al-Qaeda and provided the Taliban on both sides of the Pashtun frontier a popular support base. Cassidy further demonstrates how U.S. financial aid underwrites Pakistan’s military expenditures against India, which destabilizes the entire region.
Concerning Pakistan, the author explores its security policies, and how they contradict American strategy. Pakistan is Janus — one “face” grudgingly supporting the United States with the Pakistani Army conducting operations against the Taliban on its side of the border, while the Pakistani intelligence service “face” promotes and supports the Afghan Taliban as a proxy against the Karzai government and India on the other side.
In his discussion of counterinsurgency, Cassidy illustrates that both the American and Pakistani militaries struggle in these operations because of embedded institutional and structural propensities for conventional war. For legitimacy, the insurgents challenge the Afghan and Pakistani administrations in the outlying tribal regions given low governmental presence and high levels of endemic corruption. For this theme, I would have liked to see the author engage in a more detailed critique of the quality of Afghan forces being trained by the United States for pacification efforts — are they “shake and bake” or competent troops? Similarly, Cassidy’s sober assessment of the capacity building projects executed to date would have added greater insight to campaign progress. These omissions left me with an uneasy feeling that Coalition and Afghan government efforts may not be as positive as described in the text.
The book is well-researched, and the author’s soldier-scholar credentials are impeccable. Colonel Cassidy is a military professor at the U.S. Naval War College with both scholarship and experience in irregular warfare and stability operations. With a PhD from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, he has served as a special assistant to two general officers, a special operations strategist, and published two previous books, one on peacekeeping and the other on counterinsurgency.
My one major concern with the book is the chosen publisher, the Marine Corps University Press, whose marketing capacities may limit its wider dissemination. This book definitely deserves a broad readership given its relevance to U.S. policy-making in the region and future military campaigns.
Kevin D. Stringer, PhD, is an associate professor at Webster University, Geneva campus, and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.