“A Responsible Transition”

by Joshua Foust on 12/7/2010 · 22 comments

There’s a new CNAS paper out, this time talking about the transition taking place in the military campaign in Afghanistan. This is an important discussion to have, one I consider far more responsible than the Afghanistan Study Group’s empty posturing.

Now, since full disclosure is a big deal these days, I need to say up front that Andrew Exum, one of the coauthors of this report, asked for my feedback nearly two months ago. Much as he did with the Triage paper 18 months ago, he sought out some voices he knew would probably dissent from broad themes in the paper. I think this is considerate of him, though the author’s prerogative to ignore input means it can be a crap shoot if he agrees with you or not.

In this case, several of my comments and pieces of feedback went unaddressed, and several were incorporated. I agree with several points Exum and LTG Barno make, and disagree with others. So, in the interests of parsimony, and to avoid retyping things I originally wrote weeks ago, I’m going to largely copy from that feedback to highlight why this paper, while a step in the right direction, still falls short.

First off, it is important to note that Transition makes a case, implicitly, for a managerial approach to Afghanistan. It’s something I’ve been toying with for a while, unable to really express it properly. Basically, I think much of the discussion of Afghanistan is crippled by the language we use to discuss it—victory and defeat are not, in a very real sense, useful or explanatory ideas. If we transition our thinking about Afghanistan from winning a war to managing a problem, a whole new realm of political and strategic opportunities open up.

This is the implicit context Exum and Barno use to frame their paper, and I think it is a very good idea.

That being said, there remain some serious shortcomings that, I think, undermine their broader goal of responsibility in transition. For starters, this talk of “defeating” al Qaeda is, put bluntly, madness. Defeating al Qaeda is like defining porn: you can’t know when it actually occurs, but somehow you’ll know it when you see it. As much as I agree with Exum’s and Barno’s contention that al Qaeda is a very serious threat both to the region and to America, I don’t see how merely reducing the number of troops and more narrowly focusing them on CT is going to achieve a defeat of al Qaeda (since I don’t know what a defeat looks like). While they do skate around the idea of managing al Qaeda the way one should manage Afghanistan, it is left in indirect language and is not terribly persuasive.

The regional picture is muddled. While the paper is about Afghanistan, the authors argue repeatedly that meaningful, political and security progress cannot happen without Pakistan’s involvement. While this is true, they then explain in “The Regional Landscape” that it would be great for India to take a broader interest in Afghanistan. This runs up against the Pakistan problem again: so long as they irrationally obsess over India, India needs to back off in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis see most Indian involvement as deliberately provocative, rightly or wrongly, and simple American “pressure” cannot change that.

I really dislike talk of decentralized governance in Afghanistan. It rests on the mistaken belief that Afghan communities have never had to live with authoritarian, strong, central regimes—at best a distortion of history writ large, and I’d argue it misrepresents the last fifty years of history. If the 20th century is any guide, Afghans want two main things from their government: a sense of having a say in its affairs (or more narrowly a collaborative relationship with Kabul), and a sense of it being “Afghan.” While not precise, that can help us both understand both the serious shortcomings of the current government, while avoiding the romantic and vaguely orientalist of Afghans as ungovernable rural savages.

The talk of governance also rests on some assumptions worth questioning: on what basis do we want the IDLG to keep operating (that is, what are its successes we should repeat)? How should USAID, for example, “balance short-term and long-term investments that will both improve the lives of ordinary Afghans and support their traditional tribal and village leadership structures” (and what do any of those nouns even mean)? In fact, the “how” question remains frustratingly out of reach for several of the key pillars of the transition plan. The ideas themselves are not necessarily bad, but reading this gives me no sense of how we are to actually achieve them.

Finally, because this discussion is getting long in the tooth, I find it ridiculous that Exum and Barno think the U.S. can, conceivably, reduce or cancel Pakistan’s aid. It’s not just a question of Pakistan’s cooperation on logistics and counterterror measures—when the Pakistani government was mildly annoyed at a single incursion into Pakistani territory by a single U.S. helicopter earlier this year, it shut down the Khyber Pass and hundreds of supply trucks got destroyed. This is the policy equivalent of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face—no matter how much promise it holds, the Northern Distribution Network simply cannot handle the slack needed to eventually pressure Pakistan in this way. We are severely constrained by Pakistan’s position, and we cannot change that in the near term.

Lastly, some nits to pick. The force structure Exum and Barno recommend is Joint, but it is not Combined. The distinction is important: usually, a Joint command is one that encompasses multiple services, but not necessarily other countries’ services (JSOC—the Joint Special Operations Command—has elements from the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps), while a Combined Joint command encompasses multiple services from multiple countries. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but Exum and Barno seem to be tacitly admitting that, especially after 2014 when their Joint Task Force Irregular Warfare—the 25,000—30,000 troop contingent left over after their repositioning—comes online, there will be no NATO countries left to contribute troops.

Which gets at one of Responsible Transition’s fatal flaws: it is a military document with very little discussion of politics. That doesn’t make it a bad paper per se—the military component is a complex angle to the war, one that many would-be strategists write off as a black box, thinking the Pentagon can do what the Pentagon does and suddenly we have fewer troops. It is important, in other words, that Exum and Barno discuss the military transition in detail.

But I am struggling with the politics of what they suggest. I don’t know what the Afghan government is supposed to look like, post-2014. Nor for Pakistan. Spending less money is great—that is precisely what the Afghanistan Study Group Advocated, in fact—but like ASG I have no sense of what boundaries, drivers, and metrics will define this strategy. I don’t know how, in their new, less-corrupt world, they handle all the disenfranchised warlords and powerful, wealthy elite families who stand to lose inhuman fistfuls of cash in the transition to a more normal society.

And I really need to see why the Triage paper no longer applies. I could probably state why it no longer applies, but CNAS made a huge splash in July of 2009 when they wrote about how to “triage” the war in Afghanistan. Triage focused much of the challenge on Pakistan, and while Transition does mention Pakistan, considering its place as a major spoiler of any political or military arrangement we make without its input, I’m disappointed the management of Pakistan didn’t receive a more detailed treatment (for example, when you demand Pakistan go after the Taliban, you are demanding Pakistan go after its allies in Afghanistan—a complex, difficult, and possibly impossible task Exum and Barno describe as applying an unspecified quantity of “pressure”).

This isn’t an entirely fair complaint: Triage was focused on operations, while Transition is focused on strategy. But Transition is, essentially, an abandonment of the population-centric counterinsurgency advocated in Triage (and still advocated by CNAS President John Nagl). Every single metric for measuring success that was laid out in Triage has gotten worse over the last year. It is appropriate to change your approach if that happens—I fully support changing one’s mind when new evidence rears its head!—but I also think CNAS as an organization owes its readers an explanation of why their Afghanistan team has undergone such a dramatic about-face in the space of 18 months.

Now, all that being said, this is actually a very positive first step. But it should be considered the first step in an iterative process of designing a strategy for the war. There are too many holes to consider it complete, and many recommendations are too vague for us to have an idea of how they’d be operationalized. But it is important to note the growing consensus, described both here and with ASG, that the current war is unsustainable and not achieving our national objectives. That in and of itself is important, but Transition treats at least parts of the problem that consensus poses with seriousness that should be lauded.

Wishing for more details is not, I suppose, a “real” complaint (though “more details please” is not really the topic of this post). But it is an important one nevertheless. Responsible Transition is a important paper for the mere fact that it will be influential; the ideas in it, though, are important as well, and with some more refinement—for example, I still think their end force strength is as arbitrary without further explanation as ASG’s—it could be revelatory in telling us how all this will end.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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M Shannon December 7, 2010 at 6:43 pm

The report contends that preventing AQ from basing in Afghanistan is a vital US interest- but that goal has yet to be achieved. Does it actually matter which side of the border the next attack on the west is thought up? Since 2004 Taliban attacks on NATO in Afghanistan are up over 500%- which vital interest is this an indication of?

Barno and Exum may mean AQ based out of Afghanistan with the support of the central government. OK so far so good but I’d like to have an explanation of how AQ training camps, Taliban cabinet meetings and the Kabul Airport operate if the US is still hostile and the Northern Alliance is still an enemy.

I’d also be keen to understand why the authors have soured on population centric COIN. Less than 18 months ago it was the only answer and anyone who suggested a “CT” plan was out to lunch. If it’s because of the cost then “I told you so”.

Brett December 7, 2010 at 7:09 pm

If it’s because of the cost then “I told you so”.

Cost is one of the reasons, but there are other reasons. There’s no real political support for full COIN in Afghanistan in the US, and not enough spare troops to send there to do it unless we pulled out all stops and got every soldier out of Iraq (and even then, it might not be enough). There are supply issues, particularly that drastically increasing our troop presence makes us even more dependent on Pakistan to keep the Khyber Pass route open. Finally, there are probably language issues – how many translators who are fluent in both Pashto and English are there?

M Shannon December 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

You’re quite right but all of your points were well known before the last CNAS “report”. I think it’s clear that Exum et al will produce whatever report Petreaus asks for.

TJM December 8, 2010 at 12:16 am

Two things annoy me and this report hits on both: 1) top-down vs bottom-up false dichotomy; 2) “negotiate with the Taliban” – whatever that means.

First, the top-down vs bottom-up dichotomy. The problem isn’t whether we start from the top or bottom. The problem is the consistent failure to connect the top and bottom. We’ve long favored the top at the expense of the bottom. Now we want favor the bottom? How does that address the disconnect between top and bottom? That’s like buying a great computer, realizing that it can’t communicate with an old computer in another location, and fixing the problem by replacing the old computer, rather than connecting them to the internet.

The disconnect between the central government and local communities is the problem – not whether we transfer more resources to one or the other. And that is where the negotiation needs to occur – between agents acting on behalf of the GIRoA and the local communities, in order to bridge the disconnect by determining terms on which GIRoA will do what local communities expect and the communities do what GIRoA expects. There is nothing to negotiate between the GIRoA and the Taliban.

Boris Sizemore December 8, 2010 at 3:14 am

In Loco Parentis at CNAS…

Barno and Exum say: “Always Remember to Pull Out Responsibly!!!”

This is a blissfully non cogent look at Afghanistan from CNAS. Now that COIN is not the “solution,” we get this disjointed almost childlike in it’s confusion analysis from deep thinkers like Exum and “It did not fall apart during my watch?” Barno.

First Question: Who?

Who are these bottom down actors we need to be working with?
Does Barno and Exum know even one personally? Who?

If you want to scrap nine years of central governance building in Kabul, WHO are you now proposing to work with? Right now, it is not even safe for our Aid workers in Jalalabad who might be kidnapped any day. Now they want to go bottom up when you can’t go 10 Kilometers outside of Kabul without an escort?

Not going to happen and nonsensical in the extreme.

Who? Who? Who? Barno and Exum don’t have clue.

Bring in Novak, at least he knows these people for the past 30 years. Let someone who has a clue put the pieces together. He can name names and why and who. Big difference which cannot be done by others in this debate. Plus, at least the Afghans will listen to him unlike Petraeus and Eikenberry and the rest of the Kabul based “Diplomats” and “Stake Holders”

Exum and Barno are really the wrong type of experts on this now that they have been totally discredited along with “Teflon only works for a while” Petreaus.

The Pakistan portion is even worse. HOW?

How are we going to do help the Pakistanis fight the insurgency that we/them have brought to the outskirts of Islamabad and in northern Sindh and Southern Punjab? How?

The way this is going AQ is going to have great bases in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and why not, Tajikistan in the next 5 years.

How do we make the Pakistanis realize that this is the primary struggle which will dictate their destiny for the next ten years? How are they and our policies going to ready to fight this war? What do we have to offer Pakistan or Afghanistan after ten years of total drift and confused focus resulting in the mess we are in now?


We get no answers from Barno and Exum. They just do not know what they are talking about. Now that COIN has failed, or is not working, or is uncertain, or is denied, what do they and CNAS have to offer?


This is really one of the most nonsensical “trying to think big” essays in the last several years. WHO and HOW are never answered.

What?-A disaster Where? South and Central Asia-they are not even sure of that. Why? Because COIN is not going to work and/or Obama did not let them play.

Now we need a RESPONSIBLE…Transition. Responsible…as in what you tell your teenagers to be when they go out on Saturday night? We need as a Nation and adult thinkers to be told to be responsible by a guy like Barno who might as well as just let the Taliban walk right back into the country during his term as a Commander?

End Result…Ten years on, we have a stronger enemy on the ground in both Pakistan and Afghanistan; an uncertain future for the Kabul Government and ten years of open combat to contemplate in Pakistan.

Victory and Defeat are highly relevant. After 336 Billion Dollars and numerous treatises on what to do here, the enemy is stronger than it was last year and we are pulling out “responsibly”-

Maybe Assange should have read the CNAS “in loco parentis” paper before he went to Sweden.

With experts like this who needs enemies? Or maybe the enemy is us? or CNAS instead?

I sure hope so, because we have trouble even figuring out who we are fighting anymore with guys like Mullah Mansour being passed off as Taliban Commanders these days.

This paper by CNAS does nothing to clarify or concretize what the hell we should be doing for the next 3 years…Nothing…

Steve Magribi December 8, 2010 at 3:24 am

listening to Barno …is like listening to General Paulus explain how to win at Stalingrad…

He was defeated by the the Taliban and now we need a “responsible” pull out….?

You have got to be kidding….please…?

Fnord December 9, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Psssst, Magribi. Noone is talking bout “winning” anymore. Its about getting out without obviously Loosing now. Expect AQ to try to fck Obama in 2011/2012, they would love a Sarah Palin in the WH.

Steve Magribi December 10, 2010 at 2:19 am

Fnord…gotcha about….the D word….but this is what everyone else is seeing too….Call a Cat a Cat…and Barno and the clowns at CNAS…”defeated”-Quite a team of “high intellect” and ability…Barno and Exum…just perfect…

http://www.sabawoon.com/articles/index.php?page=The Anatomy of US

Theo December 8, 2010 at 7:09 am

I am with you on most of your remarks, Josh, but I have to challenge you on the centralized govt issue.

Of course the last 50 years have witnessed centralized governments in Afghanistan – FAILED centralized government’s, many of which failed because they tried to exert so much social and political control from the center. I think you set up a bit of a strawman with this orientalist remark. There are people who persist with this simplistic view, but I don’t see this much from people with actual experience in the country.

Successful authoritarian regimes in Afghan history – Abdul Rahman Khan being the best example – only succeeded through massive brutality and population transfers. Even then, he didn’t provide a centralized regime in the same mold as GIRoA. He still delegated considerable power to local khans and other tribal leaders, who he kept in control through coercion that isn’t feasible now. The most localized disputes in the south of Afghanistan today – land rights, water access, etc – all have to go up to Kabul to be resolved. Not even the provincial governors have much of a say, much less the district governors. In Abdul Rahman’s day, such a thing would have been absurd. And his successors largely failed when they tried to increase centralization, all the way up to the present day. Considering all this, doesn’t it make you wonder why when designing the Afghan government (yes, we did design it) we created one of the most centralized governments in the world? And put a largely unknown quantity in charge of it all?

Don Anderson December 8, 2010 at 1:58 pm

As an older person who actually was in Afghanistan in early 1970s.(40 years ago)..not sure what you are talking about…???

Prior to the Soviet Invasion which actually started in the mid 1970s through political encroachment, Afghanistan was a poor but functioning small country. The local government factions were running without undue violence nor the overt crazy corruption that we see under the US current tutelage.

To say that the country as run by Afghans during the 100 years prior to outside invasion…twice recently…was not a better system than what we have now would bring guffaws and belches from most Afghans.

Central Authority in the Afghan Tribal/Regional system does not need or imply a bottom up approach. It is just too late to be…changing horses now…No time left…We need to make the best we can of what time is left and work with the Government we created to regionalize and professionalize the best they can.

They will not be perfect, but we can only pray they are somewhere near the Afghan governance that I saw so long ago.

The other alternatives are just pipe dreams from people who just do not know Afghans or the country as it run by Afghans be they of whatever political persuasion.

Barno and Exum…case in point.

As the previous poster mentioned …not a clue do they have on this country nor Pakistan. This type of “post 2001” Afghan experts have made one of the biggest messes in the last 50 years not the Afghans.

Between the US and USSR the Afghans are about sick of super powers and their enlightened policy.

The experimentation and jaw jacking analysis that we do to dissect each of our “development project” countries is about as meaningful as the projects we did in Vietnam so long ago…;

They will be over the day we leave. So lets do the best we can with what we have going on now and work with them and not against them and hope we can continue on there. Not sure we will be welcome some how in the near future as this has become such a mess.

Madhu December 8, 2010 at 11:20 am

The hyphenation of the strategy into AfPak was problematic. A wider regional strategy would have been better, and in fact, we seem to be moving in that direction. (Given the history of the region, why did anyone think any carrot or stick would convice Pakistan to forgo its own plan for Afghanistan? When has that ever worked?)

I respectfully disagree on the aid part. For the short term, yes, no matter how many supplies we stockpile or how much we work Russian or CARs routes we are stuck working with the Pakistan logistical routes. And, true, the 2009 Pakistan aid bill tries to route around the military to strengthen the civil sector by supporting NGOs. It’s also true the corruption of the new avenues of aid distribution have begun.

We have to think about paring back this aid bit by bit in the future. Increasing it – instead of keeping it at the same levels was – in my opinion, counterproductive. Am I imagining this or did Sen. Graham give an interview some time back at Politico in which he said something along the lines of, “Hey, General Kayani, if you help us out in Afghanistan I can help you out with some aid.” We bought that garbage hook, line, and sinker, didn’t we?

Madhu December 8, 2010 at 11:27 am

Linda Robinson’s paper in SWJ talks about “bottom up” approaches (local defense forces, etc.) How realistic is that?

Can we compete with the Taliban courts locally? I mean, if the ability of the Taliban to set up dispute resolution mechanisms helps them in the more remote corners of Afghanistan, how can we compete with that? Can we do things locally in a rough and ready way just to solve some of the disputes? The proper courts are a mess, right?

TJM December 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm

There have been reasonable recommendations. For example, re-establishing the Courts of Reconciliation used in the 1920s (see Kamali, pg 211-215, available via Google Books, and Barfield at USIP). Also, USIP and various NGOs have been experimenting with similar court-connected mediation (see “Between the Jirga and the Judge” and an August paper by Dempsey and Coburn).

Madhu December 8, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Hey, thanks for those references!

Madhu December 8, 2010 at 11:48 am

Oh, sorry, it’s the following I was referring to (and I got it wrong. It’s the cold medicine talking….)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who’s constantly getting grief from fellow Republicans for being too friendly to and cooperative with President Barack Obama, tempted fate again on Sunday by offering effusive praise for Obama’s efforts to bring Pakistan into the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

“Things generally are the best they have been with Pakistan in a long time. And this is one area where President Obama doesn’t get enough credit,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I would say that the Obama administration has done a very good job of taking the fight to the enemy in Pakistan and trying to bolster the Pakistanis’ capability to take the fight to the enemy.”

Graham also suggested that President George W. Bush’s appointees had much less success with the Pakistanis than Obama aides have.

“His team, in my view, have brought out the Pakistanis into the fight better than anybody in recent memory,” Graham said. “They are cooperating with us more. They are allowing us to use these drone attacks. We are punishing the Haqqani network and Al Qaeda that’s hiding in Pakistan. The aid packages that we have given to the Pakistani army have been well used. General Kayani has been a good partner in taking the fight to the frontier regions.”


It might just be diplomatese….

Sometimes I think a high school dope dealer could wrangle a better deal.

Ghazi Ghaznawi December 8, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Exile the following clowns to Dubai with all the US $ they have stolen so far and start afresh: Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, Yunus Qanooni, Ismail Khan, Gulagha Sherzai, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Rasoul Sayyaf and Sibghatullah Mojadidi and we can start transitioning with a new approach where we truly apply the principles of democracy by allowing provinces to directly elect their district and state governors.

The system we have in place now does not work because it is a revolving door of crooked and incompetent politicians appointed by Hamid Karzai that are only interested in enriching themselves. And oh by the way add Fahim Qasim to the list of people that should be either assassinated or exiled.

CostofWarBlog December 8, 2010 at 5:43 pm

“I really dislike talk of decentralized governance in Afghanistan. It rests on the mistaken belief that Afghan communities have never had to live with authoritarian, strong, central regimes—at best a distortion of history writ large, and I’d argue it misrepresents the last fifty years of history.”
Spot on Joshua. That talk frustrates me too.

Also, Congrats on the At-War-NYT review. and I am sad to have missed your talk at Columbia

Nor December 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Lets see a virtual country with virtual borders our avatar(karzai) and
the only thing real is Western money and lives lost. Bottoms up or top down it makes no difference as the center of gravity remains Pakistan. The Exums and Barno’s of the world will continue to
nuance the strategy as their livelihood and careers depend on
continuing to justify their existence. The mess is a result of the
imperial ambitions of long lost empires which we think we can
fix. Not going to happen. We need to get out and let the tribes sort it out as they have done for centuries.

popsiq December 9, 2010 at 10:28 pm

I think it both remarkable, and telling, that the USA – the main driver of things Afghan – is trying, again, to find that ‘magic’ bullet. I say bullet for this paper, as those that have gone before, is still vested in the notion that nothing can, or will get done, without ‘security’. Security that, in its latest incarnation in the ‘taliban’ south, is some kind massive scorched-earth policy.

Given the ‘success’ of such applications in the past, it is more than likely that there will be no real improvement in security before 2014. Hence there will be no lasting development – social or political, either.

Recent reports indicate that over 6 000 ‘insurgents’ have been killed or arrested during the summer offensives in the south. That obviously belies the estimated strength of the Taliban in all of Afghanistan which were given a ‘best estimate’ of 10 000 fighters in 2007. Given the level of insurgent activity in the other parts of the country the taliban has had a ‘surge’, too.

For all the ‘best’ of reasons there is no indication the military is ready to stop kidding itself. This IS the best (only) show in town for them.

M Shannon December 10, 2010 at 11:40 am

Perhaps the real problem is groups of foreigners who can’t speak any Afghan language and whose knowledge of the place rests of reading Flashman, waltzing in for ten days (CNAS) to six months to a year (minus R&R, leave, and lock downs) in order to “fix” Afghan society according to the current whim in DC.

I’m for an immediate, steady and orderly withdrawal and I think things will get better as we leave and “our Afghans” and “their Afghans” are left to settle things themselves.

Ghazi Ghaznawi December 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm

@M Shannon,
You are absolutely right. We don’t understand Afghanistan and we base our policies on some outdated orientalists version of (his) history.
At the heart of the matter is the fact that we have propped up a minority led government and excluded the Pashtuns from sharing power in the new government.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) is made up of minorities and they use US translators while conducting operations in the Pashtun belt…it is the classic case of the blind leading the blind. How can we build a state by excluding its largest ethnic group (Pashtuns) from being part of major state building institutions like the military.

The minorities have grievances that date back to hundreds of years. We expect them to uphold law and order by empowering them in positions of power that we know damn well they have abused and are abusing as we speak. We got Afghanistan all wrong and if we don’t fix it, we will incur the wrath of the Pashtuns and they will wreak havoc on those Afghans that have sided with NATO against them.

anan December 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Ghazi, the ANA is 42% Pasthun and does not have a problem attracting Pashtun recruits. Nor does the ANA have a problem speaking in Pashtun. The ANA’s problem is that its Pashtuns come from the North and East, with only about 5% of the ANA Southern Pashtuns.

The ANA has about 42% * 146,000 or 61 thousand Pashtun soldiers up from about 42% * 97,000 or 41 thousand Pasthun soldiers a year ago.

Pashtuns are also well represented in GIRoA civilian ministries and among district subgovernors in Pasthun majority areas.

To imply that the Pashtuns back the Taliban against the GIRoA and Taliban is inaccurate. Many Afghan Pashtuns are furious with the Taliban . . . which they see as supported by international extremists [including Pakistanis, Sunni Arabs, Uzbeks, Uighurs and Chechens.]

The largest war in the region is the Pakistani civil war which is bleeding into many other countries. The second largest war, arguably, might be the Pasthun civil war on both sides of the Durand. The Pashtuns in the ANSF [and some Pakistani security services] versus the Pasthuns in the Taliban.

The Taliban have many strenghts. But they rarely win against the ANA in company sized or larger engagements. If the Taliban want to bring President Karzai down, they need to take on the ANA–which is more popular and respected among Afghan Pasthuns than the Taliban.

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