SNAFU is right: we’re not winning, and we can’t win by doing it the same old way yet again

Solomon, a former Marine writing at his SNAFU blog, posits that the current counter-insurgency strategy, tactics and training of the US armed forces is fatally flawed.

This is about our wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, the Philippines and other places I don’t know about.

It ain’t working.

We’re wasting lives and money.  Don’t get it twisted.  Anyone that dons the uniform to carry out the policy of the United States IS NOT wasting his life. But leadership pursuing a failed policy CAN!!!

It should be beyond obvious to anyone watching this thing that Afghanistan is spiraling out of control.  We’re looking at a Saigon #2 if that can’t be stabilized. Syria is a dog’s breakfast.  Africa is a confusing morass of ethnic, religious and tribal violence that is so deep rooted I can’t even begin to get my arms around it.

What I find curious and almost funny (people are dying so that’s not the write phrasing but I can’t think of anything better) is that we keep reusing the same playbook.

The war is being lost?

Surge.  Bribe.  And when that doesn’t work then we do a modern day “Rolling Thunder” and try and bomb them back to the negotiating table.

The strategy doesn’t work.

Want to know what’s particularly infuriating?  Ya know all those penny packets of embedded Marines and Soldiers?  Ya know that new Security Forces Assistance Brigade? The partnerships with the Afghans? The recent idea of unleashing airpower to deal with the sudden gains that the Taliban are making on the battlefield?

All of the above is from the Vietnam War  playbook.  Amos and Petraeus struggled mightily to rewrite a manual that in essence reworded the document but left things in tact.

We’re losing Afghanistan because we’re fighting it like Vietnam.  The results will be the same.


Throw out the playbook.  Give it to the Army/Navy War Colleges and let a few Colonels and Majors (I guess Captains promotable too) give it a turn with the only caveat being that preconceived notions are off limits and that everything they’ve learned up to that point can be considered irrelevant.

What to do in Afghanistan now?

This applies across the board.  We’re out of money so it’s time to get smart.  We need to modernize for the coming fights.  Afghanistan and other spots we’re fighting in are just money pits.  This issue needs to be raised to a national level decision.  Maybe even put it before Congress.  If war is what the American people want then a special “war tax” needs to be applied with the caveat that it expires every two years and need to be reauthorized (that way it doesn’t become enduring and another source of revenue for govt graft), and it MUST ONLY go to the Dept of Defense.

If the American people approve then we continue the fight.  If they don’t then we simply pull out.

Is that brutal?  Will our allies hate us?  Maybe but we will put our country on the right trajectory…plus we’ll get a national consensus one way or another.

There’s more at the link.

I agree with Solomon.  I’ve said on several occasions that there’s no military solution to Afghanistan.  The British found that out the hard way in the days of the Raj.  Heck, Alexander the Great found that a couple of millennia ago!  It’s been that way forever.  Nothing’s changed.

I also have up-close-and-personal, halitosis-range experience of counter-insurgency warfare.  I spent eighteen years, off and on, experiencing that, both in uniform and as a civilian.  I saw it from the grunt’s point of view, and the terrorist’s point of view, and the victims-of-terrorists’ point of view, and all levels in between.  I learned the hard way that there are two solutions to the terrorism problem.  One is to turn the population against the terrorists, so that they no longer have the “cover” of a society in which they can hide (Mao’s “fish in the sea” analogy).  The other is to kill them all, and every one of their sympathizers and supporters, so that there are no terrorists left.  The latter works . . . but it’s very hard to make it work, because almost always there will be some left who’ll continue to fight.  It also can’t be done by any remotely civilized nation, because it would make it a monster.  We remember those who tried with revulsion and horror.  (See Hitler and Nazi Germany, Stalin and the Soviet Union, Mao and Communist China, Pol Pot and Cambodia, and so on and so on ad nauseam.)

Given that, in the conflicts Solomon mentions, we can’t do the first (simply not possible), and don’t have the necessary ruthlessness and mercilessness to do the second, we’re left on the horns of a dilemma.  It can be argued, very persuasively, that we shouldn’t have gone in at all:  or that, if we did, we should have cleaned house and then left, not hanging around for years as we have done.  We didn’t, due to very misguided national and military policies.  We’re now left to extricate ourselves from the mess as best we can.  This cannot and will not be done through victory, because victory is not possible under the constraints set for us by our civilization.  So . . . how?

Solomon is right.  We need a new approach.



  1. We sure can win. It's easy:
    1. Massive military and police presence
    2. Total control of the government and courts
    3. Mandatory education controlled by us.
    3. Commitment to do this for at least 30 years.

    This will permanently change the culture and will work.

    Too expensive? Anything less is a waste of blood and gold.

  2. We lack a clear objective in Afghanistan short of the constant: Fighting terrorism. That we can do from afar.

    No Objective, no exit strategy equals Vietnam.

    If it were up to me and I am grateful it is not, I would suggest a planned withdrawal done in such a way to maximize our retention of strategic assets and minimizing the cost in terms of casualties. This needs to be done in secret as much as possible and as rapidly as possible to minimize casualties.

    Much like 'Communism' we could not slow or otherwise affect the rise of communism by the sacrifices of over 58,000 lives in Southeast Asia and we are not going to stop the rise of terrorism by losing more precious lives in the Middle East and Asia.

    Nation building as an objective is a myth. You can only grow a nation that is stable and peaceful with people who are evolved enough to appreciate and protect it. The vast majority of the people in the regions we find ourselves mired in still live in tribal enclaves which makes unification as a nation in any way other than by tyranny almost impossible. I know that there are many who call labeling people this way racist or some other criticism but the truth is the truth.

    I repeat my suggestion. Get the hell out of the middle east and Asia.

  3. We've been in Afghanistan a generation now and I don't know why… I suspect someone(s) are making a lot of money off our being there… why else would you continue to do something that you know doesn't work?

    Follow the money….

  4. Reading this commentary and harking back to years ago while on active duty; coupled with the approach of Veteran's Day, I am reminded of the old adage, "There are no noble wars, just noble warriors".

  5. As an ex military man one thing about counter insurgency wars that always annoyed me was the emphasis on massive force,columns of tanks,massive sweeps of infantry,firebases full of artillery,a big slow target that the enemy can take his time planning their attack against.I`ve always believed that the way to defeat guerrillas is to play them at their own game but be better at it, small-ish teams of highly mobile lightly armed infantry,fast to react and fast to move backed up by rapidly available air power and the best intelligence you can get and use their own tactics against them,hit and run, never let them know where your guys are and make them afraid to set foot outside their front door carrying an AK lest a sniper put a bullet through them.
    When its their friend or brother on the floor with his brains blown out they might think twice.

  6. What andy said. Do it right, or don't bother at all. Half-assed is way stupid, and we have been doing it wrong since the end of WW2.

    It must be the money involved, since any study of history will show that we are NOT doing it right, but we sure are good at spending treasure.

  7. The Carthaginian Solution is unsurpassed in efficacy, and A-stan more than deserving of such an application.

    The gene pool will not miss them.

  8. I'm sure all those places have something to do with whatever freedoms we allegedly have here. Well, not really. Damn shame decent people have to die for nothing. And the money that could spent here on Americans. The real enemy is the federal government.

  9. Too many refuse to acknowledge the reality of islam and terrorism. The fundamental fact is islam is totally incompatible with all other form of religion/politics. By their own open, blatant and willing admission they MUST convert, enslave or kill EVERYONE on planet Earth. There can be NO compromise with islam. The civilized west has two choices. Submit or exterminate ALL muslims. No other course of action is available. If we don't fight we die. Whether or not exterminating all muslims makes us no different from Hitler, Mao etc is academic. Islam gives us no alternatives but submit or fight…..and there is no point in fighting if you won't fight to win, an do the only way to truly win into eradicate Islam. Islam is not the only group that thinks this way. The hardcore commie left in America is just as committed to converting, enslaving or killing anyone who opposes them as islam is.

  10. As you say, Peter, winning this sort of war isn't conceptually difficult. Cordon and kill. Hold what you have. Expand slowly but ruthlessly. There are just a few problems with this i the current command climate.

    1. You have to kill civilians. All of the enemy are civilians. All of them.
    2. You have to ignore CNN and Al Jazeera. They are the enemy.
    3. You have to take the war to the enemy's secure bases. Pakistan. Iran. Syria. (North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the previous unpleasantness.)
    4. You have to breed officers with the intestinal fortitude to do what is necessary to win. Our soldiers would love to be allowed to win, not sit around with their hands tied, watching their enemies build the anti-aircraft platforms that will eventually shoot them down. (Totally mixed metaphor, but I think it works.)
    5. You have to completely ignore the protestations and wishes of the puppet government. They are an arm of the enemy. Better yet, don't create a puppet government above the city council or regional warlord level. These places aren't nation-states, and it's time we stopped pretending they were.
    6. If we're going to occupy a country, then use occupation rules. Shoot anybody who so much as looks at you funny. No authorization to shoot needed. No counting ammo. No lawyers. No trials. Mercy is occasionally allowed, and it is a valuable tool when used correctly.

  11. The US doesn't have the stomach to fight the way the war would need to be fought in order to win. The only way to actually win would be to make it so costly for the other side to step out of line that they have no will to fight. I seriously doubt we'll ever see in the US the type of intestinal fortitude required to wipe out entire villages to get the half dozen fighters hiding within. These people still take blood feuds seriously. The only way past that is to show them that they lose everything in the end if they go down that path. Make it so costly for them to continue that they refuse.

    We still have people in the US bitching about Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though all those civilians dying saved millions of lives. Our press has spent the last century calling every civilian casualty a travesty, and our politicians have turned most of our military leadership into hesitant leaders. We keep trying to fight a "civilized war" while our enemies are fighting from a completely different premise.

    We either get out or make our enemies blanche at our ruthlessness and effectiveness in dealing death.

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