Taliban Quickly Retaking Afghanistan

The collapse is coming even faster than feared.

WaPo (“U.S. officials warn collapse of Afghan capital could come sooner than expected“):

The Biden administration is preparing for Afghanistan’s capital to fall far sooner than feared only weeks ago, as a rapid disintegration of security has prompted the revision of an already stark intelligence assessment predictingKabul could be overrunwithin six to 12 months of the U.S. military departing, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

One official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the issue’s sensitivity, said Tuesday that the U.S. military now assesses a collapse could occur within 90 days. Others said it could happen within a month. Some officials said that although they were not authorized to discuss the assessment, they see the situation in Afghanistan as more dire than it was in June, when intelligence officials assessed a fall could come as soon as six months after the withdrawal of the U.S. military.


The worsening outlook comes as Taliban fighters, emboldened by the American military departure, have steadily retaken ground from Afghan government forces — including at least seven provincial capitals in a span of days. Nevertheless, President Biden on Tuesday insisted that his decision to withdraw U.S. forces is not up for debate, saying that despite the Afghans’ weak performance militarily, he did not “regret” his decision to end the 20-year campaign and he is not considering any change of plans in light of the Taliban’s gains.

“Look,” Biden told reporters at the White House, “we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years. We trained and equipped, with modern equipment, over 300,000 Afghan forces. And Afghan leaders have to come together.”

This outcome has been inevitable for quite a long time. Indeed, its inevitability was always cited as justification for keeping the American presence going for just a bit longer. But there has never been a point where we had the inclination to pour in the massive amount of forces for long enough to enact the necessary changes. Instead, we have announced one timetable and then another, signaling to the Taliban that it was only a matter of when, not if, they could return. Indeed, the phrase, “We have the watches, they have the time” has become a cliche.

We have, nonetheless, poured nearly two decades and untold billions in training and equipping the Afghan security forces. What has it bought us?

Price, the State Department spokesman, said the Afghan national security forces “far outnumber the Taliban,” with a “capable fighting force of 300,000 troops.” U.S. assessments in the past have indicated there are fewer than that due to corruption in the Afghan military that includes “ghost soldiers” — personnel accounted for on paper but who don’t show up to do their jobs. Other soldiers have fled their posts in recent days when faced with threats by the Taliban.

Price and Kirby also pointed out that the United States has provided the Afghan military with modern weaponry that includes an air force. But the Taliban has been seen in recent days using an array of weapons and equipment that it seized from the Afghan government, including vehicles that still have Afghan army insignia on them.

It’s a sick joke, really.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, World Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s a sick joke, really.

    As it has been since the very beginning.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    I have to say that TFG had the right intentions is saying that we should have gotten out, but lacked the attention span to carry out a plan. That the Afghan government would collapse was a foregone conclusion, that it may collapse within weeks and before the final US withdrawal is amazing. The GWOT and the American FP that came with it has been a grand folly. Agreed, a sick joke.

    I feel for the families that have lost relatives in Afghanistan and more so for those soldiers that have suffered debilitating wounds and those whose mental health has been destroyed by repeated deployments.

    Biden is right and the muted simpering about his decision, from those who would continue the folly, shows that there is no political gain in advocacy of the folly.

  3. Scott says:

    The rapid collapse of the Afghan government and forces in a way reinforces the correctness of the decision to just pull out. No amount of blood and treasure and time was going to work.

  4. Kylopod says:

    It’s always the same story. War hawks get us into a foreign entanglement where we never should have been in the first place, then we stay there for so long it becomes impossible to leave without apparently hastening the country’s descent into chaos. It’s a game of creating toxic dependencies.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    Have been reflecting on this collapse; this is not the first experience of this sort. It occurred to me that this is similar to what the State and Dept of War were seeing in the late 40s and Communists were getting elected in Italy and Iran was looking at ‘their’ oilfields. They were seeing a slower but similar collapse.

    Lots of bad shit was done with that as a background. We’re arguably still paying for some of it. But they did have the reflex to strengthen relationships with allies. Built NATO and etc. Made it obvious that things like the Marshall Plan could be passed as ‘anti-communist’ programs.

    Don’t thing we’ve done as well since.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Oooopps forgot where I was and posted this in the open forum:

    Two days ago I had to flee my home and life in the north of Afghanistan after the Taliban took my city. I am still on the run and there is no safe place for me to go.

    Last week I was a news journalist. Today I can’t write under my own name or say where I am from or where I am. My whole life has been obliterated in just a few days.

    I am so scared and I don’t know what will happen to me. Will I ever go home? Will I see my parents again? Where will I go? The highway is blocked in both directions. How will I survive?

    My decision to leave my home and life was not planned. It happened very suddenly. In the past days my whole province has fallen to the Taliban. The only places that the government still controls are the airport and a few police district offices. I’m not safe because I’m a 22-year-old woman and I know that the Taliban are forcing families to give their daughters as wives for their fighters. I’m also not safe because I’m a news journalist and I know the Taliban will come looking for me and all of my colleagues.

    It’s sad, but it was still long past time we got out of there.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I’m no war-monger but we were justified, I believe, in going into Afghanistan.
    However, we should have gone in with unrelenting force and leveled the goddamned place.
    Then left.
    After 2 decades and how many trillions of dollars the Afghan people won’t fight for their country? Why should we?

  8. Slugger says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: What do you mean by “leveled the place”? It is a place of 250,000 square miles much of it quite rugged. There are 32 million people of about ten different ethnicities. Destruction of cities and infrastructure would just leave a perfect setting for the ascendancy of the most savage elements among the survivors; wouldn’t it? And this appears to be playing out right now. I do agree that the US could have accomplished this in a lot less than twenty years.

  9. Not the IT Dept. says:

    We never learn. And g*d damn George W. Bush to the everburning fires of hell for taking us into this and also into Iraq. “Mission accomplished.” Yeah, right.

    We should have shut down – with extreme prejudice – the money sources of everyone associated with Bin Laden and his group, and put pressure on individuals to toss him over to us for trial. Instead we reached for the military option and attacked a country. We never learn.

    “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” Jefferson.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    That’s been my position as well. They (their ‘guests’) carried out a raid on 9/11. The correct response would have been raids that dwarfed their attack. We should have spent a couple months bombing Pashtun areas, destroying roads, bridges and dams, closing mountain passes and burning fields. Then, every time they did something annoying, we should have done it all over again. We could have fired cruise missiles and dropped B-52 loads from a perfectly safe distance ad infinitum, and lost not a single person while spending a fraction of what we ended up spending.

    We’re like a boxer with a two foot reach advantage who thinks the smart move is to get in close, when we could have beaten on them for 20 fucking years without ever taking a single casualty. It’s who we are militarily, we win wars by showing up with overwhelming technology-driven force. Alone in the world we have the capacity to hit and hit and hit again and again, day after day, week after week, year after year, all while suffering zero casualties and spending pennies.

    But no, instead of that, why not yet another fantasy of occupation and transformation to which we’d commit just enough resources to guarantee a long, drawn-out failure.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    No, they don’t have a lot of cities to bomb, but you’re trapping yourself in a first world view. For some village of 20 people scraping a living out of bad land, just losing a donkey is a catastrophe. Losing the dinky little mosque, or the mountain stream, or a poppy field, or a mountain pass, is disaster. And that is the kind of pain we could have inflicted forever.

  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Yup…you harbor our enemies, you get the stick.
    And if we need to, we’ll give you the stick, again.
    And again.

  13. wr says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: “After 2 decades and how many trillions of dollars the Afghan people won’t fight for their country?”

    After 20 years. I think we have to face the fact that a lot of the Afghan people ARE fighting for their country — and they want their country to be ruled by the Taliban.

  14. wr says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: “We should have shut down – with extreme prejudice – the money sources of everyone associated with Bin Laden and his group, and put pressure on individuals to toss him over to us for trial.”

    Sure, but that doesn’t make Republicans’ dicks hard.

  15. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Bombing North Vietnam didn’t help one bit in the end. Why would it have been different this time?

    One could argue that the US deliberately held back (which it did to some limited extent), but it’s not like the reasons for holding back would be absent this time around.

    Some context:

    The U.S. dropped over 7 million tons of bombs on Indochina during the war, more than triple the 2.1 million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II and more than ten times the amount dropped by the U.S. during the Korean War. 500 thousand tons were dropped on Cambodia, 1 million tons were dropped on North Vietnam, and 4 million tons were dropped on South Vietnam. On a per capita basis, the 2 million tons dropped on Laos make it the most heavily bombed country in history; The New York Times noted this was “nearly a ton for every person in Laos.”

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    Bombing worked quite well in Japan.

    There are different types of military conflict. Some of these are raid, invasion and occupation. A raid is a punch in the nose. An invasion is when I kick in your door. Occupation is when I move into your house and order you to make me some nachos.

    What was called for here is something the Pashtuns would have recognized: a punitive raid. A really hard punch in the nose. Would that have turned Afghanistan into Vermont? No, and that’s not the goal. The goal is simply this: you punched me in the nose, now I’m going to beat you to a pulp. Be advised: any time you punch me in the nose, I will put you in the hospital. Every single time, forever.

    Again, we are a superpower with the ability to drop massive amounts of death and destruction literally anywhere on Earth. We are a boxer with twenty foot long arms. We have the ability to hit a given place or population 24/7/365, for a hundred years without them really being able to hit back. Instead we challenged them to a wrestling match.

  17. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Again, we are a superpower with the ability to drop massive amounts of death and destruction literally anywhere on Earth. ”

    And we were essentially taken down by a dozen guys armed with box cutters. Our entire society went crazy, we nearly destroyed ourselves with insane militarization and “security.”

    It’s called asymmetrical warfare. We use our ability to drop massive amounts of death and destruction, and they use a couple of pipe bombs to take down the power grid we’re too cheap and lazy to secure.

    And yes, it is undeniably true that the vast majority of the Afghan people would be on their knees begging us not to hurt them again. Unfortunately, those were never the guys we had to worry about. You’re talking about a culture in which blood feuds go on for generations — you really think beating the crap out of them is going to make them leave us alone?

  18. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    What was called for here is something the Pashtuns would have recognized: a punitive raid.

    I don’t think so.

    While Americans see 9/11 as the reason U.S. forces deployed to Afghanistan, many Afghans see it as only part of a larger story. And that larger story, as correspondents quickly find out, can take many different and even bizarre forms, depending on who you talk to. […]

    In Afghanistan, there is a common conspiracy theory that 9/11 was a pretext for the United States to invade the country and that U.S. forces have not destroyed the Taliban because Washington needs an ongoing justification for occupation. This man does not, or cannot, say what the foreigners want in Afghanistan, but any notion they are here to help is outweighed by the continuing insecurity and lack of economic opportunities. […]

    A survey in 2010 found that a majority of people interviewed in two southern Afghan provinces — Helmand and Kandahar — were unaware of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The study by the International Council on Security Development reported that 92 percent of 1,000 Afghan men in the two restive provinces knew nothing about the attacks and that 40 percent believed the international forces’ goal is to destroy Islam or to occupy or destroy Afghanistan.

    More at the link.

  19. drj says:


    And yes, it is undeniably true that the vast majority of the Afghan people would be on their knees begging us not to hurt them again.

    This is almost certainly not true at all.

    See my previous comment.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kylopod: Yeah. Additionally, it’s important for the kids about the ages of Joyner’s younger children and older to be aware of what happened. Some of the more radical elements of my generation promised that there would be “no more Vietnams” and yet here we are again with the only thing missing being desperate people trying to cling to the landing skids of the helicopter leaving the top of the embassy.

    The sad part is that the people voting for this fiasco are people roughly my age. They all had friends, family, classmates who died or came home broken men and women from the last fiasco AND THEY COULDN’T RECOGNIZE WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING AT. All the kids coming up are going to need to stop electing people who do this type of stupid wasteful destructive foreign policy unless they want to hear the talking head on the local Fox News radio affiliate playing The Ballad of the Green Berets as “a tribute to all those brave men and women leaving to fight for our freedom” in 20 years.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: “I’m no war-monger but we were justified, I believe, in going into Afghanistan.”

    No, we weren’t. And if you believe that going there was a good idea, yes you are.

  22. wr says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: :And if you believe that going there was a good idea, yes you are.”

    Darryl is a good friend around here. Isn’t it possible that he’s just wrong*, and not an amoral psychopath?

    *And by “wrong,” I mean “holds a different opinion.”

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: You’re not looking at the bigger picture. With “PlanB” Michael and the other guys get to play tough guy at no personal cost. That’s all that matters to them. TEAM AMERICA: Global Police Bullyboy.

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: Yes. And I made my statement fully recognizing that he’s entitled to an opinion. And so am I. BTW, I don’t think you don’t need to be a sociopath to be a warmonger; you can simply be a person who thinks that carpet bombing an entire nation flat (from what I understand, this process CAN be done without loss of human live–or at least its advocates believe it can) is a good idea–IOW, stupid.

  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    With “PlanB” Michael and the other guys get to play tough guy at no personal cost.

    Yes, duh, that’s kind of the objective in war: hurt the other guy without getting hurt yourself. How do you prefer to handle military conflict?

    There was zero chance we’d do nothing after 911, so WTF do you think we should have done, you know, in the real world?

  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    you really think beating the crap out of them is going to make them leave us alone?


  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    One of the reasons conservatives laugh – justifiably – at liberals is because we tend to know fuck-all about history and instead fall back on kumbaya bumper sticker thinking when it comes to conflict.

    There’s this idealistic notion that war never works. In fact war works pretty damn well which is why people keep doing it. (How’s that Carthaginian empire doing?) Every single square inch of dirt on this planet was taken by one group from another group. How do you think we ended up with a continent-sized nation? Our entire country was taken by war or war-adjacent means. You want to give it back? No? Then you’re content to profit from war while condemning it as pointless. That’s American privilege, to loudly proclaim our moral superiority while living fat on stolen land we have no intention of giving up.

  28. Jay L Gischer says:

    I had no objection to the original invasion of Afghanistan at the time, and I still don’t. The intention was never to take out the Taliban, but instead to take out Al Qaeda, and Bin Laden. Bush failed to do this, and pivoted to Iraq, which was a misdirection (Iraq never did anything to us) and a distraction. Of course, Bin Laden probably escaped to Pakistan, and I don’t think an invasion of Pakistan (as opposed to a nighttime commando raid, which is what happened) to get him made any sense.

    We sort of stayed there because if we didn’t he’d go back. Obama could have pulled out after getting Bin Laden, except that it was likely that Republicans would attack him as “cowardly” or whatever politically. They were all in on “everything Obama does is wrong” because we are in very partisan times. We used to say “politics ends at the water’s edge” but Bush43 broke that.

    I’m glad Biden is doing this, as much as it sucks for the people who live there. We can’t fix everything everywhere.

  29. wr says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I’m just trying to spread a little peace and love around here, albeit at the same time I’m bickering with Michael. Apparently I contain multitudes.

  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: @Michael Reynolds:

    Again, we are a superpower with the ability to drop massive amounts of death and destruction literally anywhere on Earth.

    From what airbase? The ones we have in Pakistan or our bases in Uzbekistan?
    Oh, from aircraft carriers? Flying thru who’s airspace? Iran’s? How many $1.87M cruise missiles would it take to level Kandahar or Herat? Or are you saying go nuclear?

    I’m not a military guy but even I can see that it’s not that easy and short of nuclear, nigh near impossible to do.

  31. @Michael Reynolds:

    Bombing worked quite well in Japan.

    Well, only after years of all-out war and with the threat of a massive land invasion. Bombing alone did not defeat the Japanese.

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Stalin did.

    I kid you not, that was the headline of some idiot opinion piece in the Guardian a day or 2 ago.

  33. JohnSF says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Perhaps because there is, generally no Afghan people, hardly anything that amounts to an Afghan nation as westerners usually use the term.
    Afghanistan is more a label for a shape on a map than an integrated nation state.

    leveled the goddamned place.

    Punishing the Tadjiks or Hazara for the acts of the Taliban would have been absurd.

    the Afghan people won’t fight for their country

    You speak as if successful popular armed resistance to imposed rule is the normal state of things.
    It is, in fact, extremely unusual.
    A determined, motivated, sufficiently equipped and trained, minority can generally impose it’s will upon a general population simply be sheer willingness to slaughter.

    See the Nazi occupations in Europe; the Japanese in China; the Roman Empire; the European empires; the Aztecs; etc etc etc.

    Americans seem to have difficulty accepting this due to your political founding in a successful revolution; but your experience more exceptional than general.

    Usually, tyranny prevails.

    Why should we?

    Because you pledged your word to your allies?

  34. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Are you aware Bin Laden did not even read-in Mullah Omar on his 9/11 plot?

    I sincerely hope not. Collective punishment involving mass murder of an entire nation for something that a few dozen people they weren’t even aware of would be unspeakably evil. The Japanese had been mass mobilized for war for nearly a decade. Not a good analogy, as most of the Afghans weren’t even aware of the attack on NYC when we met them on those first few months.

    A lot of effort was put into conflating the Taliban with AQ in the US’s collective consciousness. Not as much as was put into conflating Saddam with AQ, but both worked splendidly.

  35. JohnSF says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:
    And if the Taliban still said “No”?
    Some people just don’t care very much about money.

  36. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    One of the reasons conservatives laugh – justifiably – at liberals is because we tend to know fuck-all about history

    Let him who is without sin, etc.

    Because, my dude, you know regrettably little about history. Not enough, in any case, to lecture others about their lack of knowledge.

    How’s that Carthaginian empire doing?

    Do you even know what happened with the inhabitants of that empire? Most of them got assimilated and, eventually, became good little Roman citizens.

    Do you propose that we kill the local leadership and turn the rest of Afghanistan into a US state? Because that would be the closest parallel.

    Bombing worked quite well in Japan.

    Maybe the atomic bombs convinced the Japanese to surrender, although there is a good case to be made that it was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria – and the threat of a subsequent Soviet invastion of the home islands – that concentrated their minds.

    “Regular” bombings started in early 1944 and killed a lot of people but didn’t bring Japan closer to surrender.

    So do you want to nuke Afghanistan and then let the Russians invade? Again, that would be the closest parallel.

    Our entire country was taken by war or war-adjacent means.

    And genocide. Don’t forget genocide. Is that your plan for Afghanistan, the diplomatic costs be damned?

    So each and every “historical” solution you propose, (unless you’re pretty insane) is just talk, talk, and more empty talk.

    There’s this idealistic notion that war never works.

    That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that your kind of war wouldn’t work in the specific case of the US vs. Afghanistan in the 21st century.

    Not least because you know shit about Afghanistan.

    What was called for here is something the Pashtuns would have recognized

    FYI: the Pashtuns only make up ca. 40% of Afghanistan’s population. So even if your pop psychology would have been correct (which, as I pointed out before, isn’t even the case), it wouldn’t necessarily get you very far.

  37. JohnSF says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    The collapse of Afghan Army resistance is not amazing at all.
    Their deployments and tactics were predicated on US logistic, firepower and surveillance support.
    Absent those lots of their positions are untenable or marginal, and the local forces have little enthusiasm for dying in defence of doomed positions.

    And I imagine their morale is shattered, by what they probably perceive as an American betrayal.

    In addition, a

  38. JohnSF says:


    “… a lot of the Afghan people …want their country to be ruled by the Taliban”

    Likely about 20%.
    And that minority is sufficient to slaughter, and cow, and rule over the 80% who don’t want to be ruled.
    Minorities are quite capable of tyrannising over majorities for indefinite periods.
    Especially when such minorities have powerful external supporters.

  39. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    That is exactly what Britain intended to do to Germany in the second world war.
    And there was certainly no belief, or intent, and precious little concern, that it could done without casualties.
    Perhaps that was a stupid plan; perhaps it was a good plan; perhaps it was the only available plan.
    But as the War Cabinet at the time was getting it’s warmongering on, the plan it was.

  40. JohnSF says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:
    You might consider how far threatening his bank account would have worked on Vo Nguyen Giap.

    He’d have laughed in your face.

    Going after the money is not always the solution to every problem.

  41. Just Another Ex-Republican says:


    Bombing North Vietnam didn’t help one bit in the end. Why would it have been different this time?

    One could argue that the US deliberately held back (which it did to some limited extent), but it’s not like the reasons for holding back would be absent this time around.

    Some context:

    The U.S. dropped over 7 million tons of bombs on Indochina during the war, more than triple the 2.1 million tons of bombs the U.S. dropped on Europe and Asia during all of World War II and more than ten times the amount dropped by the U.S. during the Korean War. 500 thousand tons were dropped on Cambodia, 1 million tons were dropped on North Vietnam, and 4 million tons were dropped on South Vietnam. On a per capita basis, the 2 million tons dropped on Laos make it the most heavily bombed country in history; The New York Times noted this was “nearly a ton for every person in Laos.”

    While it’s certain that bombing didn’t win the Vietnam war, it’s a bit simplistic to think it had no impact. For example, even your own cite points out that the vast majority of the bombing hit Laos and South Vietnam. Of course that didn’t stop North Vietnam from being willing to fight. But when North Vietnam walked away from the Paris peace negotiations we instituted a major bombing campaign on Hanoi–and the North came back to the table.

    Advocates of air bombing have pretty much always overestimated the potential impact. But just because that’s true doesn’t mean we should always ignore potential bombing impacts or decide they have no role or use either. While I don’t think bombing (or Tomahawking) Afghanistan back to the stone age (it’s barely LEFT) is the goal, I would say it’s perfectly reasonable that if the Taliban start hosting international terrorists again, I have no problem not only bombing those facilities, but also those of the Taliban government and the tribes supplying Taliban leaders, and making it crystal clear why we are doing so. It’s not about convincing the population of Afghanistan; it’s about convincing their leaders that they can shout at us all they want, but actually supporting people who attack us isn’t worth the retaliation. Of course it’s not fair to the Afghan civilians (even amongst Taliban supporting tribes) who get killed. But fairness has very little to do with it. It certainly wasn’t fair to all the people who died on 9/11 that someone decided to attack us that way.

    Obviously we agree that the whole 20 years occupation and ludicrously silly (and arrogant) attempt to remake their society in our image was a mistake. If you don’t like the “punitive raid” approach (or what I think of as simple game theory of matching your opponent’s behavior) what do you recommend we do instead if the Taliban start hosting terrorist training camps again? While I’m all for non-violent solutions WITHIN a society, Michael is right that when it comes to external opponents being violent, your only options are to submit or fight back in some manner. The overwhelming majority of history shows that if someone wants to attack you (whether for strategic, personal, or religious reasons) and thinks they can attack you without consequences, they will. And I think however unsatisfying a retributive policy is, and however much it makes me despair that humanity has evolved much if at all in the last 10000 years, it beats the bleep out of what we’ve tried and failed to do for the last two decades. Furthermore, do you think a pacifist/non-violent response is even politically *possible* in the immediate aftermath of something like 9/11? I certainly didn’t (and don’t).

    As for the expense of Tomahawks…we can build a few million of them for the TRILLIONS we’ve spent on Afghanistan and the occupation. It’s more than enough, even if we can’t use bombers due to airspace problems. And even there, realpolitik rears its immoral head. Pakistan bitched and moaned and complained when we took out Bin Laden in their territory, but they didn’t strike back. If stealth planes flew over their country that they didn’t even see, and did absolutely no damage to Pakistan or its people, are they really going to shoot back? Again, ESPECIALLY in the context of a retributive strike right after a terrorist attack? I doubt that, actually. They certainly didn’t object to us flying over their territory when we first decided to hit back. It’s only after 20 years they are grumbling about the never ending war and use of their airspace.

    I’m not arguing that retributive strikes are a moral idea, just an alternative to an occupation that has, predictably, failed.

  42. JohnMcC says:

    Well, knowledge-of-history-wise, aerial bombing has never been sufficient to win an actual war. Back in the ’20s and ’30s there was lots of planning for bombing to do just that. A General Douhet, an Italian gentleman, wrote influential books. He was sort of an Admiral Mahan for the Air Force.

    Bombing people usually makes them mad. Like the Londoners during the Blitz. Doesn’t keep them from, for example, manufacturing BF-109s. Production of German fighters actually rose during the day-and-night bombing until the transportation net was swarmed by fighter-bombers in ’45.

    Agree that Soviet activity in ’45 had more to do with Japanese surrender that atom bombings. Most of their self-justified ‘China Incident’ was at least described as anti-communist.

  43. drj says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    I’m not opposed to bombing as such. Sometimes it’s both expedient and justified. Sometimes the resulting destruction can be absolutely worth it.

    But experience teaches us that it doesn’t work well as a political tool, i.e. as a means to impose your will on your opponent.

    But when North Vietnam walked away from the Paris peace negotiations we instituted a major bombing campaign on Hanoi–and the North came back to the table.

    And what did North Vietnam in practice concede?

    Ultimately, Linebacker II was futile, which is pretty much my point.

  44. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: On the other hand, what does it matter that you are a tyrant as long as you win? For most of history the tyrants have done better than the people seeking accord, so in foreign relations, tyrant is the way to go.

  45. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: And it’s good that you do. Others of us may, but decline to reveal it beyond a limited audience. Somebody has to show it for the masses.

  46. JohnSF says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Pakistan … didn’t object to us flying over their territory when we first decided to hit back.
    It’s only after 20 years they are grumbling…

    The Pakistani government appears to have been genuinely surprised and horrified by the September 11 attacks.
    Primarily because the “clever” plans of the ISI placed the whole country in peril.
    When President Musharraf in 2001 said opposing efforts to target bin Laden and the Taliban could “endanger our very existence” and would “risk the lives of millions of people” it is widely thought this reflected both very blunt warnings from Washington to Islamabad and the need to obtain the co-operation of ISI/Army groups in a policy of submissiveness to the US.
    The pro-Taliban elements in the ISI/Army generally weren’t jihadi themselves; the just viewed the Taliban/Pushtuns as a tool to dominate Afghanistan, and jihadism as a handy cover for deniable hosting for anti-Indian militants/terrorists.
    Though there was (and is) a genuine “Pakistan Taliban” with murky connections inside the Pakistani state.

    Since Musharraf’s submission to US demands, Pakistan has consistently “grumbled”, tried to walk back, and to protect it’s proteges, while camouflaging connections. And has astonishingly frequently obtained US concessions in such matters.
    See “Operation Evil Airlift” in November 2011 for an early example.

    And there is considerable suspicion that the Taliban heroin trade running via Pakistan has operated with the connivance of the ISI since 2004.

  47. Not the IT Dept. says:

    It wasn’t the Taliban who were funding Bin Ladin’s efforts; they just gave him house-room, as it were. There was a lot of Saudi money behind him, even if the Saudis were as surprised as anyone on 9/11 (big “if” in my opinion). Also, Bin Ladin’s family and companies used banks. The point is: always reaching for the military option is short-sighted and doesn’t work.

    Being a super power doesn’t count for as much as we think it does. Our record of success post-Korean-War is pretty much limited to the operation against Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait 30 years ago. Our forces are equipped and trained for the kind of wars that aren’t fought very much anymore.

    We never learn.

  48. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Absent a solidarity of the non-tyrranical, tyranny and terror might well be a winning strategy.
    At least short-term.

    As long as it either keeps it’s head down and/or amasses sufficient power to defy external threats.
    See North Korea. Or Cuba.

    Though arguably a modern state needs more at-least-passive acceptance than a pre-modern one, where the peasants could simply be terrorised into submission.
    But some modern states have made a go of it: see Syria.
    Or the Nazi New Order of Festung Europa.

    Sometimes only warmongering can beat tyrrany.

  49. JohnSF says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:
    But how much money did bin Laden and al Qaeda need to operate?
    Relatively trivial amounts, easily within the reach of e.g. large criminal operations.
    And even if conventional bank access were to be shut down, the old fashioned mercantile credit
    networks of the Gulf/Arabian Sea regions might still be available.

    It should be noted, quite a few jihadis regard western banks as haram and won’t use the except in cases of operational necessity.

    Western governments have struggled for decades to thwart extremists by going after their finances. UK vs IRA; Israel vs PLO; Italy vs BR etc etc.
    Success, patchy.
    And drug cartels are still merrily trading away after decades of effort against them; and they are money motivated!

    Money is probably less of a lever against ideologically motivated people and movements than you might think.

  50. JohnSF says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Our forces are equipped and trained for the kind of wars that aren’t fought very much anymore.

    But quite possibly, at least in part, precisely because no one wants to walk into the path of the mincing machine that is the US military.

    Naval warships were not irrelevant from 1814 to 1939:
    but their use was probably reduced by the fact that few wanted to get on the wrong side of a shooting match with the Royal Navy.

  51. JohnSF says:

    Emphatically disagree.
    The resource diversion of the German military economy due to air attack was high and rising even before the fighter bomber.
    At the very least there were some 40,000 guns pointing up rather than pointing at ground targets (i.e. roughly ten times the Wehrmacht artillery available for the Kursk battles).

    Daytime bomber ops were mated to long-range fighter escort, devastated the Luftwaffe (when combined with the massive attrition of German air power vs Russia) and also the heavy bomber anti-oil attrition targeting was quite effective.

    Re. the Japanese surrender, the awareness that the Russians were going to come in was a massive blow to any rational basis for continue resistance.
    No so much for a direct threat to Japan itself (South Sakhalin excepted) as because the Japanese plan was that continued control of the industrial zones of Manchuria/Korea/N. China would provide sufficient resources for continued defence of the Home Islands and China, they could beat off a US invasion of the Home Islands with kamikaze forces, and make the US pay such a price in blood for an advance via China that they could compel a negotiated peace, leaving their Chinese dominion intact.

    However, even after it became clear this was impossible, both because of the Soviet moves and the US effectively cutting the Japaneses Islands sea links to Korea and China, the Japanese Army had at this point gone beyond all rationality into strategies of fantasy of a Home Islands defence.

    It took the atomic bombing to shock the more sane elements of the leadership into seizing control.
    (And the US was not even certain that “bomb shock” would work: there was good reason why some were so pleased that the Trinity Test showed that the second bomb design worked as well as the original)

  52. JohnSF says:

    Oh elusive edit button.
    before the fighter bomber should be before the fighter bomber offensive extended to Germany.

  53. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @JohnMcC: I agree that bombing alone does not win wars. But I’m not trying to win a war against another nation-state. I’m interested in convincing what is little more than a gang that hitting us comes with too high a cost.

    @JohnSF: Fair enough on Pakistan–they’ve been complaining longer than just recently. And I completely agree they aren’t really an ally and can’t be trusted. They still haven’t stopped us though, which was one of the arguments against a retaliatory strike (not a war!) I was trying to counter (that we couldn’t do so because we would be denied airspace transit). Heck, I submit your own argument about Pakistan is close to what I am saying about the Taliban. They saw AQ’s actions and the Taliban hosting AQ as a threat to them, so cooperated. I expect the Taliban to retake control of Afghanistan, but I also think they’ll be a lot more careful about hosting groups like AQ because they’ve learned the cost is too high for them personally.

    Think of Iran. They are expert at walking up to the line but not crossing it to where we invade–we limit ourselves to the occasional retaliatory strike because they are smart enough to focus on funding Lebanese groups and hitting Israel second-hand. I expect Afghanistan to do something similar. They won’t be our friend, this is not a happy ending in any measure, its an absolute tragedy for most Afghanis (especially woman and our allies who are going to be murdered because we shamefully aren’t letting them immigrate en masse–same damn moral failing we made in Iraq 10 years ago) but they (the Taliban) probably aren’t going to be so careless as to set themselves up as directly culpable in a major terrorist act on American soil for a long time. And I think we could have reached that point with a lot less than 20 years of a farcical occupation.

    @drj: Them coming back to the table and signing the agreement was not “futile.” Linebacker II was a reminder that they had the war basically won, and it was in their own best interest to let the US get out with a face-saving peace deal before we decided to drop millions of pounds of bombs on North Vietnam. No matter how flimsy the deal was in reality. Neither side made any significant concessions after Linebacker II, but they signed the deal. I would not claim the bombing is the only reason they signed, that would be ridiculous. But I think it’s equally ridiculous to claim it had no impact and was completely pointless.

  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    Sometimes only warmongering can beat tyrrany.

    Agreed. And exactly why we need to have people in charge wise enough to distinguish between beating tyranny and simply putting some other country in it’s place. And even when you decide to fight tyranny, you have to be able to win. Afghanistan and Iraq both fail on both counts. Both the Middle East and the United States would be no worse off for having done nothing in response to 9/11.

    Now, I’ll go put on my flower garland head dress and tie dye shirt and slink away again.

  55. dazedandconfused says:

    For all they knew we could make as many nukes as we could incendiaries. Waves of B29s dropping thousands each trip was game-over for them. Raised a serious question whether we would bother to land on their beaches, removing the possibility they could make invasion so costly they could, perhaps, work the Soviets and the US against each other and gain an armistice. The Japanese were well aware of the tension between the Allies regarding the post-war world.

  56. JohnSF says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:
    Maybe the Taliban/Pakistan could have been coerced into co-operation short of invasion.
    Maybe not.
    It is clear that Pakistan, though the sponsor of the Taliban, was not its controller.
    See Mullah Omar’s refusal, even after Pakistan aligned with the US, to turn on bin Laden.

    So maybe ground operations were needed to uproot al Qaeda.

    The fundamental error of the US was in then allowing, even encouraging, the ambitions of the “Afghan Government” to actually rule all Afghanistan.
    The only sane policy was de-facto partition.
    It still is, in my opinion.

    If current trends continue we may be on course for Killing Fields v.2 and millions of dead.
    A rather high price for the “Afghans” to pay to purge the sins of Washington.

  57. JohnSF says:


    game-over for them

    Rationally, yes.

    But I repeat, parts of the Japanese Army had left rationality in the dust and were accelerating fast towards pure lunacy.

    Arguably that had been the tendency ever since the decision for war with the US.

    But even after Hiroshima there were still elements denying the US could have multiple atomic weapons, and plotting a military takeover to prevent peace negotiations.
    (Best shortish recent on this IMO Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, by Richard B. Frank)

    Even after Nagasaki was hit, three key military leaders on the Japanese Supreme Council wanted to insist that surrender could only be made on certain terms: that Japan handle their own disarmament, that Japan deal with any Japanese war criminals, and that there be no occupation of Japan.
    Pure fantasy.

    And even after the Imperial Council decided on surrender, some sections of the military attempted to defy the order.

  58. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @JohnSF: I’m not sure we disagree all that much. I agree the root error was in pretending Afghanistan was a nation in the first place–said so many times in the past. Its lines on a map that contains a bunch of tribes who mostly hate each other. My goal would never have been to remake Afghani society, or get the Taliban or Pakistan to cooperate, or even have US uproot AQ. My goal would be to make the Taliban decide if the cost of hosting AQ was worth the benefit of hosting AQ. I’m implicitly rejecting Powell’s “you break it, you buy it” approach to engagements with places like Afghanistan or Iraq (or Iran).

    And I do think (like Michael Reynolds) that while the technology is much more complex, it’s actually much easier for us to hit them than for them to hit us. AQ has only caused two terrorist attacks on US soil in almost 30 years, plus a major overseas embassy attack. If it was actually easy for them to hit us over here, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of that.

    Whereas our ability to launch cruise missiles or plan a bombing raid is…routine.

    The benefits to the Taliban of hosting AQ were relatively minor. Some cachet in the Muslim community, some money, and…that’s about it. We’re into alternate history at this point, but I think if our response to 9/11 had been a bombing/Tomahawk campaign followed by throwing lots of money at the northern tribes to go fight the Taliban themselves (painfully enough, how we started) without ever progressing to invasion and nation-building, then not only would we be better off (and have wasted far fewer resources overall), but whoever was in charge in Afghanistan for the last 20 years (even if still the Taliban) would be…not “cooperative”, but also much more hesitant to allow AQ-like groups to use their territory. The Taliban’s main goal is ruling Afghanistan, not attacking us.

  59. JohnSF says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican: I think air power may often have its uses.
    But I also doubt whether it might work as well against the Taliban as a lot of people might suppose.
    You could bomb Kabul flat.
    So what?
    They hate the place and its inhabitants anyway.

    As I’ve said, the Taliban supporting population are probably around 20% of the country, and live almost exclusively in a southern-central belt; primarily the Ghilzai Pushtun.
    And most live outside the larger cities.

    You could millions of the rest of the population of Afghanistan, the Taliban would not have cared in the slightest.
    In fact, they’d have cheered you on.
    You could have tried carpet bombing the deserts and the mountains I suppose.
    But I wouldn’t expect quick results.

    Ground operations were almost certainly the only way to winkle al Qaida out.

    The mistake was trying to impose a unified “Afghan ” government in the face of the determination of the Ghilzai Pushtun to resist that, and two groups, the Taliban and a key section of Pakistan military/security establishment, determined to dominate Afghanistan and with greater patience, endurance and determination than the US has to wade through a sea of (other peoples) blood to victory and tyrrany.

  60. Franklin says:

    I think it’s natural to look at a massive failure like this and grasp for some relatively simple solution that we should have tried instead. But our hands were always going to be tied by the complexities involved. I’m actually not sure the optimum strategy, given the constraints, is extremely far off of what we did.

    We wanted to hurt Al Qaeda and catch Bin Laden. Those were appropriate objectives. We *did* target their finances, and we *did* ask the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden. When they refused, perhaps we should have kept lopping off the top until we found somebody who would. Targeted, appropriate removals – and yes assassinations would be appropriate in this case regardless of our stated policies. Regime change was reasonable to meet our objectives, but what wasn’t reasonable was the nation-building dream of the neo-conservatives.

    In other words, I’d prefer morally justifiable targeted proportional attacks (military and financial) to achieve the objective of reducing or eliminating future attacks on Americans. It would take a lot of intelligence and care, but it beats the hell out of bombing people who don’t even know what’s going on.

  61. Michael Reynolds says:

    OMG the straw men.

    Who suggested bombing was enough to win wars? I’m not talking about bombing to win a war, I’m talking about bombing as a risk-free way to retaliate and intimidate. Vietnam is not relevant because that’s not what we were doing in Vietnam, and we never had the kind of capabilities we have now. We were still having planes shot down in Vietnam. How many planes have been shot down by the Taliban? Would that number be zero? Yes, because this is not the 60’s and technology has changed dramatically.

    More broadly, do we always have to be stuck in binaries? Bombing worked, bombing didn’t work, choose one and only one.. You might as well say – and just as accurately – that infantry alone didn’t work, and armor alone didn’t work, and artillery alone didn’t work, and naval power alone etc… etc…. No shit. I wonder why we don’t have war fighting doctrines that combine all these elements. . . oh wait, we do. Have for quite a while now. Like since at least Normandy.

    I don’t know why this is so hard for people to grasp. Let me try again. We have arms a thousand miles long, our opponent has arms six inches long, we can punch the opponent in the face every hour of every day forever. That is not Vietnam, it’s not Korea, it’s not WW2, but it is what we have now. But rather than use our 1000 mile reach advantage, we chose to grapple. Which is fucking stupid, and deadly to our people, and way, way, waaaay more expensive than loading cruise missiles on B52’s and firing them from way out over the Indian Ocean.

    One other thing that does not work, by the way: a passive security approach. It’s Maginot Line thinking. You cannot sit in your castle behind your walls and imagine yourself to be secure. See: Byzantium. See: Crac des Chevaliers. See: Masada. See, oh, let’s say every castle ever. A passive approach without a ‘kinetic’ element means your enemies can focus all their time and attention on defeating your defensive measures – planning which is a whole lot harder to do when you can’t drive to the Kandahar 7-11 without getting a missile up your ass.

  62. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Certainly, definitely, without doubt air power is part of any response.

    But I honestly can’t see it prevailing against the Taliban in the early 2000’s without a ground element.
    Again: you could bomb Kabul flat twice a day and three times on Sunday, and the Taliban wouldn’t give a damn.

    You could come after them in their homes; but even identifying those is damned hard.
    And if things get to dicey in Afghanistan, they move to their other homes in Pakistan where most of the Taliban leadership families are right now. And where the actual Taliban leadership is when they fancy time off from the slaughtering biz.
    They don’t visit the 7-11 in Kandahar, more the HyperMall in Peshawar.

    Recall: the USAF was trying really, really hard to nail bin Laden in 2001/2002; they couldn’t get it done.
    Or get Mullah Omar for that matter.

    It’s difficult to destroy your enemies if you can’t find them.

  63. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Oh, sweet summer child.

    Really, you should pick a different topic to pontificate on.

    Example #1:

    One other thing that does not work, by the way: a passive security approach. It’s Maginot Line thinking.

    In reality, the Maginot Line was both a) a reasonable solution to France’s security situation; and b) did exactly what it was designed to do.

    France’s strategic problem vis-à-vis Germany was that it lacked the manpower to go toe to toe with its eastern neighbor.

    During WW1, this was solved through its alliance with Russia. Following the Russian Revolution, this was no longer possible.

    So France constructed a series of fortifications on its eastern border to conserve manpower, which allowed it to field mobile armies that could fight the Germans on more or less equal terms north of the Maginot Line, in Belgium.

    France lost, not because the Maginot Line didn’t work, but because its mobile field armies were defeated when these advanced (so no, no passive approach at all) through Belgium in order to meet the German attack.

    In fact, even when denuded of covering troops, the Maginot Line stopped the Germans cold more or less until the very end of the campaign.

    Example #2:

    See, oh, let’s say every castle ever.

    Castles worked, and that’s why people built such (and similar) fortifications for – literally – millennia.

    Are you seriously arguing that all these people were stupid? That they did not know what they were doing? That Michael Reynolds is somehow a better strategist than thousands and thousands of war-hardened military professionals throughout the centuries?

    Example #3:

    But rather than use our 1000 mile reach advantage, we chose to grapple. Which is fucking stupid, and deadly to our people, and way, way, waaaay more expensive than loading cruise missiles on B52’s and firing them from way out over the Indian Ocean.

    So what you are saying is that you are smarter or, at the very least, more versed in the art of war than droves of Pentagon planners?

    It’s not like these people are infallible, but it’s sheer, stupid arrogance on your behalf to assume that these professionals somehow couldn’t come up with the bleeding obvious, while you (of all people) could see the truth clearly.

    That’s some pretty astounding arrogance right there.

  64. Michael Reynolds says:

    The objective is not ‘success’ as conventionally understood. The objective is to inflict pain, over a long period of time, and with little to no Taliban capacity to strike back. Punishment and deterrence are the end not the means to some further end. It’s very simple: the Taliban gave AQ sanctuary and AQ used that position to attack the US. So our goals should have been two things: punishment and deterrence of the Taliban and by extension any other country that wanted to give them sanctuary.

    Look at it in Cold War terms. For decades we were prepared to slaughter a hundred million Soviet citizens. The deal was simply, if you nuke us, we’ll nuke you. And it worked. deterrence worked. The prospect of unendurable pain worked.

    And you have to look at the psychology. Any government – even one composed of religious nuts – that cannot protect its people will eventually lose support. If every time a goat herder clears the pass so he can get his goat’s milk to market, the pass gets blowed up again, sooner or later the goat herder is going to become disenchanted. Or he’s going to starve.

    He builds, we knock down. He builds, we knock down. And there’s no one to vent his frustration and rage on because guess what, the nearest American is on Diego Garcia or at 30,000 feet. So goat herder face a reality: he can’t stop the bombs, he can’t hurt the people dropping the bombs, all he can do, his only recourse, is to pressure his own government to give the Americans what they want.

    This reverses the power dynamic completely. An occupation comes with a ticking clock – the locals live there, we don’t, so sooner or later, we’re leaving and they aren’t. Time is on their side. If we did it my way there is no clock for us. There is no point when we will be unable to throw missiles at Afghanistan. So now, the tick-tock is on the other foot. How long do they want the torture to continue?

  65. Michael Reynolds says:

    Dude, just stop, you’re trapped in very conventional thinking. The Maginot Line quite clearly failed because the Germans went around it and the French were unable to stop them because rather than build a modern, capable army, they told themselves they were safe behind the Maginot Line. Don’t believe me? Ask Charles De Gaulle.

    As for castles, they worked until they didn’t. See any new castles being built? No? You know why? Because they stopped working centuries ago. Fixed positions are vulnerable positions. Hiding behind a fixed position leaves the initiative to the enemy who might do something tricky like decide, ‘Meh, we’ll go through Belgium.’ Or in the case of Masada, ‘OK, so we’ll build a ramp.’

    So what you are saying is that you are smarter or, at the very least, more versed in the art of war than droves of Pentagon planners?

    Smarter? No. Don’t you think the Pentagon knows all this? What do you think drones are for? What do you think ICBMs are for? Why do you think we’re developing autonomous fighting vehicles? They’re for hitting the other guy without getting hit back. We spend billions developing weapons whose purpose is to kill other people while keeping our people safe. Of course the Pentagon knows this. Obviously. But the Pentagon is in a chain of command that starts with POTUS, and POTUS ordered an invasion and occupation.

    2312 dead Americans, 20,000 wounded, many very severely. For what? So we can follow Marquess of Queensberry rules? We could have spent a fraction, lost no one, suffered no wounds. And in the final count, given the coming bloodbath, fewer Afghans would have had to die. Fewer dead Americans, fewer dead Afghans and much less money pissed away.

  66. Michael Reynolds says:

    On the Maginot Line:

    France was not oblivious to her neighbor’s recovery but felt the Treaty of Versailles would contain Germany’s energies. Preoccupied with her social woes, France did little to modernize or expand her army. To appease military alarmists, a series of fortifications called the Maginot Line was built at a great cost as insurance against aggression from the east. De Gaulle, witnessing the modernization of the German military, became a vocal advocate of developing motorized armored divisions. He argued that for a fraction of what the Maginot Line was costing, France could equip and field several armored divisions. His appeals fell, for the most part, on deaf ears. He did find an open mind in Paul Reynaud, a member of the Chamber of Deputies. Reynaud also saw the need for modernizing the French forces but was unable to persuade other members of the government to support his views. By the time Reynaud succeeded Edouard Daladier as head of state in March of 1940, it was too late to prevent the coming tragedy.

  67. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I think you may underestimate the willingness of the Taliban to see pain inflicted on its people, and the capacity of the people to challenge it.

    Setting aside the 80% of the country that the Taliban regards as kufr, and/or hereditary enemies to be oppressed, even the Ghilzai Pushtun have limited ability to challenge the rulers.
    “Oh mullah, my goat is dead. Can you not consider a peace with the American satans?”
    “No. Ahmed, take him away, kill him, kill his family. Next!”
    “Oh mullah, I am starving! My family starves also.”
    “Soon remedied. Ahmed…”

  68. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    FFS, just stop it – or at the very least pick better sources.

    In 1940, the French army fielded more tanks than the Germans and possessed several armored divisions. Moreover, on the whole, French divisions were more motorized than their German counterparts.

    You’re regurgitating History Channel-level nonsense.

  69. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The relationship between AQ and the Taliban isn’t that simple. Here’s some background.


    The collective punishment of the Afghan people might make sense if the Afghanis all supported AQ, or even had a notion of what AQ was when OBL broke his promise to Mullah Omar to conduct 911. Additionally, when we went at Tora Bora we had but a few of our own people there. Our ground troops were largely Afghan militias.

  70. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    On the Maginot Line you are both right.
    It actually was an effective defence on the front it covered.
    It consumed resources that, at least to some extent, might have been better used on mechanised/mobile formations.

    In some ways the aim of the original Line plan had been to constrain the German offensive into the Belgian Plain, where the mobile forces would engage it.

    As a defensive system, what undermined the Line was the politics of Belgian neutrality.
    France did not want to put Belgium on the outside of the defences.
    So the Line ended at Montmedy.
    But Belgium hated the idea of being the theatre for the main engagement (again) so tried to remain neutral until the very last moment in 1939.

    The French mobile forces could have done with more resources; but the real genius of the German offensive was to hit exactly on the hinge, just skirting the Line, in the Ardennes where the French never expected the Germans to attempt an armoured offensive.
    And where, therefore, they were deploying “second rate” divisions thought unfit for the main battle expected further north).

    The French (and British) were caught entirely off-balance by this breach.
    Their main armour/artillery concentration simply could not swing round to hit the German penetration before it was ripping into their logistic lines.

    The irony is, that if the Maginot defences had been extended some 50 miles further, the whole German plan would have been inoperable.

  71. drj says:


    It consumed resources that, at least to some extent, might have been better used on mechanised/mobile formations.

    France’s main constraint vis-à-vis Germany was a lack of manpower. Raising a larger number of mobile formations would not really solve the problem of being outnumbered.

    Since, in any case, there was no realistic scenario in which France and the UK in 1939/1940 could undertake, let alone win an offensive war against Germany, the Maginot Line made a reasonable best out of an inherently bad situation.

    Only with the benefit of full hindsight is it possible to argue that France made a fundamentally wrong choice.

  72. JohnSF says:

    Fair point.
    OTOH given the manpower shortage, French strategy might (as some argued at the time) been geared more to using the Maginot system as a shield, but adopting a super-agressive mobile approach for the field formations.

    In the same part of the world, there is also the example of the Vauban defensive belt, the pré carré, between Sedan and Gravelines.
    Designed to delay an enemy until the field army could be concentated, and very successful.
    What rendered Vauban’s fortifications obsolete was the faster moving armies with much more powerful artillery, of the late 18th century.

    Offensive power may beat defensive; but often not for centuries. e.g. military revolutions of the end of the Middle Ages and then the end of the Ancien Regime.

    And almost all sensible commander have used fortifications as a defensive shield, and base, and delaying factor, for a complementary offensive arm.

    See Byzantines: the fortifications of Constantinople were probably the worlds strongest for half a millenium, saved the city several time, but still only worked as intended when they enabled the more mobile forces to counter-punch.

    And they failed only when the whole Byzantine Empire outside Constantinople had already fallen, so the ability to counter-strike was gone.