The famous/infamous RAND Corporation, oracle to the US government and the Pentagon, has passed judgment on our Afghan War and declared it a dead loss.
When it comes to success or failure in counterinsurgency warfare, it's a function of doing more things right than wrong. That's the conclusion of a fascinating RAND Corporation report analyzing 30-recent guerrilla wars. Of those 30, the "government" side was successful or mainly successful in just eight. The insurgents won the other 22.
RAND has worked up a list of counterinsurgency "do's and don'ts" which it claims can be used mathematically to perfectly predict the outcome of each of the 30-conflicts. When the "don'ts" outnumber the "do's" it always results in a win for the insurgents. Only when the government side has a positive balance of "do's" does it have any chance of success.
So, what are the "must do's" of counterinsurgency warfare, the pluses? Here are some of the factors:
- The government established and maintained legitimacy in the area of conflict
- The government was at least a partial democracy
- COIN force intelligence was adequate to support effective engagement or disruption of the insurgents
- The COIN force was of sufficient strength to force the insurgents to fight as guerrillas
- The government/state was competent
- The COIN force avoided excessive collateral damage, disproportionate use of force, or other illegitimate applications of force
- The COIN force sought to engage and establish positive relations with the population in the area of conflict
- The majority of the population in the area of conflict supported or favoured the COIN force
- The COIN force provided or ensured the provision of basic services in areas that it controlled or claimed to control
- The perception of security was created or maintained among the population in areas that the COIN force claimed to control.
And what are the "don'ts," the negatives? Here are some of the factors:
- The primary COIN force was an external occupier
- COIN force or government actions contributed to substantial new grievances claimed by the insurgents
- Militias worked at cross-purposes with the COIN force or government
- COIN force collateral damage was perceived by the population in the area of conflict as worse than the insurgents'
- In the area of conflict the COIN force was perceived as worse than the insurgents
- The COIN force failed to adapt to changes in adversary strategy, operations or tactics
- The COIN force or government had different goals or levels of commitment.
By my calculation, of the 15 "good practices" identified, Western forces in Afghanistan and the Kabul government have succeeded in just two and have been partly successful on two others (.5 points) for a total of three points.
In the 12 "bad practices" listed, Western forces in Afghanistan and the Kabul government have committed six and have partly failed on three others (.5 points) for a total of negative 7.5.
Subtracting the bad from the good scores results in an overall negative 4.5 points. In case you think I'm unduly negative, the RAND assessment of the current Afghan War is just half a point better. They score two pluses for the government side and 6-negative points for the insurgents. That's minus 4 overall, in the RAND Corporation's evaluation, a clear loss.
In other words, all the King's horses and all the King's men; all their numerical superiority; all their technical superiority, all their absolute firepower superiority; have failed miserably against a homegrown gaggle of rebels armed with Korean War-vintage rifles and grenade launchers.
The RAND analysis reveals that no force can hope to defeat an insurgency on behalf of a failed central government such as Karzai's. It can't be done. There's nothing salvageable to save by force of arms. Due to what Washington (Bush/Cheney) allowed to be created in Kabul, this whole thing has been a waste of time and an awful waste of lives and treasure. The Afghan War reveals what the Soviets discovered before they left, what the Americans ought to have learned from Vietnam but forgot - our forces can't be defeated but they can surely lose. The Soviets were never defeated in battle in Afghanistan but they lost. The Americans were never defeated in battle in Vietnam but they lost. We have never been defeated in battle in Afghanistan but we've lost.
How can we lose when we're winning every battle? Easy. It's because, like the Soviets and the Americans in Vietnam before us, we're winning our war, the military war, but not the war that counts, the political war. It's the political war that always decides the issue. If you can wrestle the insurgents to a standstill in the political war it will remain an insurgency. However, if you can't achieve a standoff in the political war, the insurgents come to control territory and establish their own political, administrative and judicial systems in place of or parallel to the government, and then you have allowed the insurgents to morph into rebels in a classic civil war. That benchmark was realized in Afghanistan at least three years ago. The Taliban know it, Karzai knows it, those of our leaders who know it rarely speak of it although you can tell when these former fierce warriors reverse their bravado and come to support talks with the rebels. That's the sound of powerful arrogance wincing and yelling "uncle."
You can find the entire report, Victory Has A Thousand Fathers, Sources of Success in a Counterinsurgency, by following this link.
If the RAND Corporation report isn't enough, I invite you to read this fascinating background article exposing the actual legitimacy of our cause in Afghanistan and why the insurgency we're fighting today is one very much of our own making. You may think you understand what's going on there. Don't count on it.