Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 26-Sep-2009
American army general warns of imminent defeat in Afghanistan war

Web Log - September, 2009

American army general warns of imminent defeat in Afghanistan war

General Stanley McChrystal says more troops are needed immediately.

According to an internal army report that was leaked to the Washington Post, General McChrystal says that "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." Success is still possible, according to McChrystal, but only with tens of thousands of additional troops.

McChrystal's report is presenting a political problem for President Barack Obama and his administration.

On the one hand, Obama's rhetoric during the campaign was extremely strident and warlike towards Afghanistan. He claimed that President Bush had invested too much in the Iraq war, and vowed to retreat from Iraq, while investing more troops in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Obama's Democratic party is very wary of supporting new troops for Afghanistan, and many on the far left would like an immediate American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Obama has kicked the can down the road by saying that a complete strategy review will be necessary before any decision can be made on additional troops. However, this is going to be a growing political issue.

And that's only part of the political problem. The Afghan war effort also depends on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO force with soldiers drawn from several European countries, albeit usually reluctantly.

However, a recent Pew Research poll found significant opposition to troop increases was found in all NATO countries polled; at least half of those surveyed in Germany (63%), France (62%), Poland (57%), Canada (55%), Britain (51%) and Spain (50%) disapproved of sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan vs Iraq wars

There's a lot of discussion today comparing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, especially focusing on the "surge" that was so successful in the Iraq war, bringing an almost immediate end to most of the violence. The question is whether a "surge" of American or Nato troops in Afghanistan will be equally successful in bringing that war to a conclusion. So it's worthwhile to do a generational analysis on the differences between the two countries and the two wars.

As I wrote from the beginning in 2003, and many times since then, Iraq's last crisis war was the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s. This means that Iraq is in a generational Awakening era, and is "attracted away from" war, so that a crisis civil war was impossible. It's quite possible that the violence would have ended at that time even without the surge, but it certainly would have ended before too much longer, with or without the surge.

Afghanistan's last crisis war was the very bloody 1992-96 civil war between Afghan ethnic groups. So Afghanistan is in a generational Recovery era (the era following a crisis war and preceding an Awakening era), and Afghanistan is even more repelled by war than the Iraqis are. (See "Basics of Generational Dynamics.") One fascinating sign of this that I wrote about last year was a study by the Jamestown Foundation that showed that Afghan Taliban suicide bombers almost never kill anyone but themselves.

So if that's true then why, you may ask, is there a war in Afghanistan at all?

The answer is: There isn't an Afghan war. The Afghan war was launched shortly after 9/11, and because the country was in a Recovery era, the Taliban army collapsed almost immediately. The war ended within a few months. There's no more war in Afghanistan.

What there is in Afghanistan is a group of radical Sunni Islamist insurgents that plant roadside bombs and conduct suicide bombings. But there's no real war.

And what about those suicide bombings? I've been unable to find recent information about the background of the suicide bombers, but there's little doubt in my mind that they're recruited from Taliban and al-Qaeda groups in Pakistan -- which is in a generational Crisis era. That's what happened in Iraq: the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in Iraq was unable to recruit Iraqis as suicide bombers, and had to import them from Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

But there's another huge difference between Iraq and Afghanistan: Iraqis put their nationalism ahead of their sectarian differences, but Afghans do not. In other words, Iraqis were Iraqis before they were Sunni or Shia Muslims.

In Iraq's last two crisis wars -- the Great Iraqi Revolution of 1920 and the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, Sunni and Shia Iraqis banded together against the foreign enemy, the British in 1920 and the Iranians in the 1980s. They did not fight each other. Thus, al-Qaeda in Iraq was able to stir up sectarian violence for a while, but eventually the Iraqis themselves turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and threw them out.

The situation in Afghanistan is very different. Afghanistan's last crisis war was a very bloody civil war between different Afghan ethnic groups. The Sunni Muslim Pashtuns in the south fought against what later became known as the "Northern Alliance" -- Shia Muslim Hazaras, as well as Tajiks, Uzbeks and other ethnic groups in the north. There was no Afghan nationalism.

I described the following map in my analysis last year of the Afghan war:

Afghan-Pak-India ethnic map
Afghan-Pak-India ethnic map

Instead, after the 1992-96 civil war ended, the Afghan Pashtuns became the Taliban, allied themselves with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and governed the country until they were overthrown by the American / Nato invasion that followed the 9/11 attacks. After that, the Taliban became a group of anti-Western radical Islamist insurgents within the Pashtun ethnic group, and remained allied with al-Qaeda.

Official map of Pakistan, with the addition of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), highlighting Swat Valley <font face=Arial size=-2>(Source:</font>
Official map of Pakistan, with the addition of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), highlighting Swat Valley (Source:

Even today, things MIGHT settle down if Afghanistan weren't right next door to Pakistan, which is in a generational Crisis era. Radical Islamist Pashtuns from Pakistan, along with al-Qaeda groups from the Arabian peninsula, have set up terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Prior to 9/11, those training camps used to be in Afghanistan itself.

And so, with that background, you can see the major difference between Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraqi Sunnis asserted their nationalism and threw out the foreigners -- al-Qaeda in Iraq.

But in Afghanistan, ethnic identity trumps nationalism, and there is no motivation whatsoever for the Pashtuns to throw out either the Pashtun Taliban or their civil war allies from al-Qaeda.

As I've written many, many times on this web site, when making Generational Dynamics predictions, the only important trends are the attitudes and behaviors of the masses of people, entire generations people. The attitudes of politicians are irrelevant, except insofar as they represent the attitudes of the people.

Thus, McChrystal's report says that the strength of the Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgency is growing: "The insurgents control or contest a significant portion of the country, although it is difficult to assess precisely how much due to a lack of ISAF presence. ... [The insurgency] is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan's ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency]. ... [Al-Qaeda and other extremist movements] based in Pakistan channel foreign fighters, suicide bombers, and technical assistance into Afghanistan, and offer ideological motivation, training, and financial support."

Thus, we have this clear and growing trend among the masses of Pashtuns, and there is no chance whatsoever that a "surge" of American or Nato troops will bring an end to the Taliban terrorist threat. In fact, there is no chance whatsoever than ANYTHING will bring an end to the Taliban terrorist threat. The Taliban are not foreign intruders to be thrown out; instead, they're ordinary Pashtun people who have adopted the radical Islamist Taliban political view. In fact, it could almost be said that the differences between Taliban and non-Taliban Pashtun Afghans are no more signifcant than the differences between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S.

Thus, there is no war in Afghanistan. The war ended in 2002, and all that's left is Islamist suicide bombers acting against Western interests and against domestic enemy ethnic groups.

And if there's no war going on, then there's no way to win the war.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Afghanistan is approaching a generational Awakening era, where the major internal conflicts will be political, not military. And there is no way for the American or Nato troops to resolve political conflicts; only the Afghans themselves can do that, and they're not going to do it.

American response

In the longer run, Afghanistan is of major strategic importance. I don't think that anyone believes that Afghanistan can be a stable country if the U.S. and Nato forces withdraw. And a Taliban takeover of the Afghan government would bring about a return of al-Qaeda safe havens, and would cause further destabilization of Pakistan.

It's funny, you know, but this is what always happens. A war always seems to look good at first, and receives a lot of public support. As the war runs into problems, the public turn against the war, and forget their initial support.

President Obama must already see the writing on the wall. If he doesn't approve the additional troops, then he'll be condemned when things go wrong. If he does approve the additional troops, then he'll anger his own hard-left base, and he'll still be condemned when things go wrong.

Everything seemed so easy to Barack Obama when he was campaigning, and could just blame everything on George Bush. Now Obama is making the decisions, and that's turning out to be a lot harder. It will be interesting to see how he handles the question of additional troops.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, as well as more frequent updates on this subject, see the Afghanistan, Pakistan and India thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.) (26-Sep-2009) Permanent Link
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