The Afghan War Cannot Be Won–Until Pakistan Reels-In the Taliban

Afghanistan can’t win — until Pakistan falls in line

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The President the US picks on November 8 must know that allowing Afghanistan to lose against terror will set the stage for the next Islamic State-like crisis.

Written by Praveen Swami

Afghanistan, Pakistan terrorism, taliban, mansour, mullah mansour, mullah akhtar mansour, taliban, taliban pakistan, pakistan isi, taliban chief, mullah rasool, terrorism, terrorism pakistan, pakistan news, world news In a November 2015 photograph, Taliban fighters listen to Mullah Mohammed Rasool, the newly-elected leader of a breakaway faction of the Taliban, in Farah province, Afghanistan. (Source: AP/File)


The end of the Soviet war in Afghanistan began one improbably sunny November day, when many in Moscow had spilled out on to the city’s parks and embankments to enjoy the freakish 13ºC warmth. Inside the Kremlin, Sergei Akhromeyev, chief of the general staff of the Soviet armed forces, was speaking. “There is no single piece of land in this country which has not been occupied by the Soviet soldier,” the minutes of the November 13, 1986, meeting record him telling the Politburo. “And yet, the majority of the territory remains in the hands of rebels. There is no single military problem that has arisen that has not been solved, and yet there is no result.”

Every problem, Akhromeyev went on, except one: “Fifty thousand Soviet soldiers are stationed to close off the border (with Pakistan), but they are not in a position to close off all passages.”

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His leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had long seen the war in Afghanistan as a distraction from the big prize — a nuclear arms-reduction deal with the United States. He had no interest in cracking Akhromeyev’s Pakistan problem: “In the course of two years, effect the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan.” No one voted against.


Thirty years on, the world is learning this grim lesson: the war in Afghanistan will not, and cannot, be won until the “problem” is solved. The United States military estimates insurgents control or influence 33 of the country’s 407 districts, to the government’s 208, the rest being contested. Independent estimates by The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio are bleaker, giving the Taliban 97 districts, up from 70 a year ago. Fatalities are reported to have crossed over 1,700 in the first six months of this year, an uptick of 15% from 2015 — levels no military can endlessly sustain.

Last week, after Taliban assaults that almost claimed the town of Lashkar Gah and succeeded in briefly taking Kunduz, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at his own commanders for failures in delivering ammunition, fuel and food to frontline troops. That isn’t the problem, though: as long as the Taliban can resupply their units from safe havens in Pakistan, even a well-oiled Afghan military can at best ensure stalemate — not victory.

The numbers show why. The Afghan National Army is authorised 195,000 personnel, and the Afghan National Police another 157,000 — a total of 352,000 — to guard a 652,864 sq km nation, much of it rugged mountains with extremely poor road connectivity.

India, by contrast, uses an estimated 325,000 troops, backed up by some 85,000 police and 7,000 central police, to protect the 42,241 sq km Kashmir and Jammu divisions. All but some 64,000 Army troops — 64 battalions — are deployed to guard the 740 km Line of Control.


From early on, military scholar Thomas Bruscino pointed out in a 2006 monograph, Soviet forces in Afghanistan understood that the source of their problems lay across the border, where mujahideen groups were being supplied by the US and Saudi Arabia, through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. In 1982, Afghan officials announced plans to block off the entire border, with guard towers, barbed wire and minefields.

Low-level attacks on mujahideen logistics bases across the border were carried out through the 1980s, using artillery and air strikes. Little came of such operations: in March 1986, Soviet special forces overran a mujahideen logistics base at Krer in Pakistan, north of Bajaur, in defiance of explicit orders against cross-border strikes. Inside weeks, it was operational again.

In truth, the Soviets never had the troop strength needed to secure the border. Former Soviet intelligence officer Vladimir Kuzichkin records in his book, Inside the KGB, that the effort would have needed over 300,000 troops; the Soviet 40th Army committed a maximum of 120,000.

The popular version of history, which has the mujahideen wearing down the Soviets, is at some distance from the truth. In 1986, the Pentagon noted in a report to Congress that the Soviet Army “demonstrated a considerably improved ability to concentrate and employ forces quickly against suspected insurgent positions”, and Central Intelligence Agency operatives on ground reported “sharply focused helicopter-borne special operations against resistance infiltration routes and strongholds had paid off for the Soviets”.

But as long as the routes from Pakistan remained open, the insurgency could continue to revive itself — just as it did after 2006, when the Taliban, aided by the ISI, renewed its assault on the Afghan government and its Western backers.


Fed up of the war-without-end, Gorbachov committed a series of errors. In February 1988 — against, according to the account of scholar Selig Harrison, the advice of Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze — he committed to a formal withdrawal timetable at a conference in Geneva. Pakistan was prohibited from interfering.

A year later, in January 1989, the Politburo was complaining that “violations of the Geneva accord by Islamabad have acquired not just an open, but a flagrant character. Pakistani border guards are directly participating in military operations on Afghan territory. Bombardments of bordering regions of Afghanistan are taking place, arms flow continuously, and armed bands are crossing over.” However, with the timetable announced, the Soviets had no cards to play to stop Pakistan.

President Ronald Reagan had earlier asked Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s military ruler, how he would counter Soviet accusations of supplying to the mujahideen. The General replied: “We will deny that there is any aid going through our territory. After all, that’s what we have been doing for eight years.”


The military lessons from this history are clear. “With some notable exceptions”, Bruscino wrote, “most of the contemporary discussions on the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan miss the importance of transnational sanctuary. This is a mistake’.

Though aware, after 2006, that Pakistan was backing the Taliban, the US shied away from the consequences of coercion or confrontation. Instead, it attempted, without success, to bribe the Pakistan Army into cutting off its Taliban clients, and then into negotiating a peace deal with them. Those efforts still continue — though with ever less optimism.

The failure meant President Barack Obama was unable deliver on his promises to have all US troops home from Afghanistan before his term in office ended. The numbers that remain committed are meagre — no more than 10,000 — just enough to bail Afghan troops out of crisis, but not enough to win.

No one knows what the next President will do, but this much is clear: allowing Afghanistan to lose this war will set the stage for the next Islamic State-like crisis, an outcome the world is unwilling to countenance. But the conditions that now exist make victory impossible. The solution is also clear: a strategy that compels Pakistan to radically change course.

Waiting For Russia To Flip the Switch On Its Syrian “No Fly Zone”

Russia Advances its IADS in Syria


By Chris Harmer and Kathleen Weinberger 


Over the last year, Russia has built up an expeditionary Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) in Syria.  Russia intends to use this IADS to push the potential cost of continued US coalition involvement in Syria past the threshold of acceptable risk. On 03 OCT the Russian military deployed the S-300 (NATO reporting name: SA-23) air defense system to the Syrian naval base in Tartus. Russian forces already operate the S-400 (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) long-range air defense system, which has a claimed range of 400km, as well as the S-200 (SA-5 Gammon), in Syria. Russia also operates a number of short-range air defense systems, including the Pantsir-S1 and Buk missile systems, as well as the naval version of the S-300 a Slava-class guided missile cruiser in the Mediterranean. In addition to the IADS, Syrian forces operate the Bastion coastal defense system out of Tartus.

Now that the Russian IADS in Syria is deployed and presumably fully functional, it changes the regional security situation in two ways. First, it confirms that the ongoing Russian deployment of disparate missile systems to Syria over the past year always intended to culminate in a fully functional IADS, rather than individual missile systems in different locations. SAM systems in the S-300 family (including the S-400) are designed to be both forwards and backwards compatible, which means that their component parts – command and control modules, search and fire control radars, missile launchers and missiles  –  may be used in different combinations.

Second, this deployable and road mobile IADS solely aims to threaten US and coalition aircraft and deter further involvement or escalation of coalition operations.  There is no credible fixed wing, rotary wing, or ballistic missile threat to Russian forces in Syria from ISIS or any other potential adversary that would require a modern IADS. The only purpose of this IADS is to pressure US and coalition policy makers to cede the majority of Syrian airspace to Russian and Syrian aircraft in order to continue their campaign of targeting civilian populations for destruction or depopulation, as evidenced by recent Russian threats to shoot down U.S. coalition aircraft. This expeditionary, modular, and mobile Russian IADS is a significant upgrade over the legacy Syrian IADS.  The component parts of the Syrian IADS were largely fixed, difficult if not impossible to move, and highly dependent on centralized command and control as well as external long range radar cuing. The interdependency of the legacy Syrian IADS meant that destroying any one component of the Syrian IADS would significantly reduce its efficacy. In contrast, the Russian expeditionary IADS is fully road mobile, with partial offroad capability, and modular, meaning each component can operate as a standalone SAM system or be organized as a genuine IADS, which is what Russia has now achieved. The Russian expeditionary IADS is much more survivable than the legacy Syrian IADS.

U.S. officials, including presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, have suggested establishing a no-fly zone in parts of northern Syria. This would mean using U.S. aircraft to patrol Syrian airspace in order to prevent Russian and Syrian planes from carrying out strikes. Russian expansion of its IADS network means that U.S. coalition aircraft risk being shot down while operating within Russia’s A2AD envelope. A shoot-down of a U.S. coalition aircraft would force the U.S. to either drastically escalate in order to answer Russia’s provocation, or to downscale or cease operations in Syria. Russia aims to present the U.S. with these two undesirable options on the assumption that the U.S. would choose to avoid any potential conflict. By establishing this expeditionary IADS in Syria, Russia aims to establish a de facto no-fly zone for US and coalition aircraft over much of Syria.

China To Finance Pak/Iranian “Peace Pipeline”

Peace Pipe

the nation pakistan


Peace Pipe

The Iran Pakistan pipeline that has been in discussion between the two governments as early as 1995 is finally to be constructed. China has played the hero without a cape once again and offered to finance the Pakistani un-built portion of the multibillion-dollar gas pipeline project. The news of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources’ intention to approach China to fund the IP gas pipeline has been making rounds since April 2015. Months of negotiating behind the scenes have paid off, as China will now fund the part of the pipeline that will cost up to $2 billion.

Dubbed the “Peace Pipeline,” the project hopes to improve the fragile ties between Pakistan and Iran, uneasy neighbours for decades as a result of Pakistan’s ties to Iran’s long-term adversaries, Saudi Arabia and the US. The US threatened Pakistan with sanctions if it decided to go ahead with the project in 2014 and hence, apart from the fact that Pakistan lacked the funds to complete its end of the project, it was under pressure to walk away from it at the cost of billions in fines to be paid to Iran from reneging over the contact.

For now, we can be optimistic that Beijing is investing in projects that will actually benefit the people in Pakistan; $15.5 billion in coal, wind, solar and hydro energy projects bound to come online by 2017, a $44 million optic fibre cable linking China and Pakistan, the $40 billion CPEC and now a $2 billion IP project. The pipeline can bring much-needed gas to Pakistan, which suffers from a crippling electricity deficit because of a shortage of fuel for its power-generation plants. Considering that the project would eventually supply Pakistan with enough gas to fuel 4,500 megawatts of electricity generation, almost as much as the country’s entire current electricity shortfall, it is necessary that this project not be politicised and delayed like CPEC or Kalabagh Dam.