That's the title of a report just released by the controversial Rand Corporation. The authors researched 89 major insurgencies over the past century. Here's the bottom line - at least as far as Afghanistan is concerned. A weak government stands just a 10% chance of defeating insurgents. That means there's a 90% chance the Karzai regime isn't going to win this, no matter how long it takes.
As written here for some time, insurgencies reach "tipping points" where the issue is decided long before anyone realizes it. The military war just keeps rolling on well after the political war is decided. That's because the political war is the one that matters. The military war is simply dropping bombs and firing artillery which are sort of meaningless to an insurgency.
"How Insurgencies End" is available free in PDF format at this link. At 270-pages it's a bit of a grind. There are some interesting sections such as this one which is an observer's checklist for when a government is losing to an insurgency:
• progressive withdrawal of domestic support for the government
• progressive withdrawal of international support for the government
• progressive loss of government control over population and
• progressive loss of government coercive power
• capital flight and increasing rates of “brain drain”
• “parking” of financial assets and families of government personnel
in safe havens abroad
• increased military desertion rates, particularly among senior
• increasing rate of “no-shows” among civil servants, business leaders,
and civic leaders
• “drying up” of “actionable intelligence” and other useful information
previously supplied by the civilian population.
Another point worth mentioning is that the authors find the government side almost inevitably loses when it strays from established counterinsurgency doctrine. Unfortunately, that's exactly what we've done, time and again, in Afghanistan. Because we went into this on a "cheap & dirty" basis, with a fraction of the force strength required to secure the civilian population and a decidedly counterproductive reliance on heavy firepower. We've pretty much thrown the playbook out the window and we've reaped the rewards of our foolishness.
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