Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

19 true things generals can’t say in public about the Afghan war: A helpful primer

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on November 9, 2011. As a public service, Best Defense is offering this primer for generals on their way to Afghanistan. Here ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on November 9, 2011.

As a public service, Best Defense is offering this primer for generals on their way to Afghanistan.

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on November 9, 2011.

As a public service, Best Defense is offering this primer for generals on their way to Afghanistan.

Here is a list of 19 things that many insiders and veterans of Afghanistan agree to be true about the war there, but that generals can’t say in public. So, general, read this now and believe it later-but keep your lip zipped. Maybe even keep a printout in your wallet and review before interviews.

My list of things to remember I can’t say

  • Pakistan is now an enemy of the United States.
  • We don’t know why we are here, what we are fighting for, or how to know if we are winning.
  • The strategy is to fight, talk, and build. But we’re withdrawing the fighters, the Taliban won’t talk, and the builders are corrupt.
  • Karzai’s family is especially corrupt.
  • We want President Karzai gone but we don’t have a Pushtun successor handy.
  • But the problem isn’t corruption, it is which corrupt people are getting the dollars. We have to help corruption be more fair.
  • Another thing we’ll never stop here is the drug traffic, so the counternarcotics mission is probably a waste of time and resources that just alienates a swath of Afghans.
  • Making this a NATO mission hurt, not helped. Most NATO countries are just going through the motions in Afghanistan as the price necessary to keep the US in Europe
  • Yes, the exit deadline is killing us.
  • Even if you got a deal with the Taliban, it wouldn’t end the fighting.
  • The Taliban may be willing to fight forever. We are not.
  • Yes, we are funding the Taliban, but hey, there’s no way to stop it, because the truck companies bringing goods from Pakistan and up the highway across Afghanistan have to pay off the Taliban. So yeah, your tax dollars are helping Mullah Omar and his buddies. Welcome to the neighborhood.
  • Even non-Taliban Afghans don’t much like us.
  • Afghans didn’t get the memo about all our successes, so they are positioning themselves for the post-American civil war .
  • And they’re not the only ones getting ready. The future of Afghanistan is probably evolving up north now as the Indians, Russians and Pakistanis jockey with old Northern Alliance types. Interestingly, we’re paying more and getting less than any other player.
  • Speaking of positioning for the post-American civil war, why would the Pakistanis sell out their best proxy shock troops now?
  • The ANA and ANP could break the day after we leave the country.
  • We are ignoring the advisory effort and fighting the “big war” with American troops, just as we did in Vietnam. And the U.S. military won’t act any differently until and work with the Afghan forces seriously until when American politicians significantly draw down U.S. forces in country-when it may be too damn late.
  • The situation American faces in Afghanistan is similar to the one it faced in Vietnam during the Nixon presidency: A desire a leave and turn over the war to our local allies, combined with the realization that our allies may still lose, and the loss will be viewed as a U.S. defeat anyway.

Thanks to several people who contributed to this, from California to Kunar and back to DC, and whose names must not be mentioned! You know who you are. The rest of you, look at the guy sitting to your right.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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