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Friday, June 18

Sahib Sebastian Gorka instructs John Batchelor's WABC radio audience on Afghanistan and irregular warfare

On June 11 Sebastian Gorka made his second appearance on John Batchelor's nationally syndicated radio show on 77 WABC-AM. According to attenuated résumés posted at websites for three of the many organizations Gorka is associated with (The Atlantic Council, College of International Affairs, and Foundation for Defense of Democracies -- all based in Washington) he is an internationally recognized expert on defense reform, international terrorism, national security, and democratization.

Gorka first discussed irregular warfare, which he termed war conducted by non-state actors, and how it differed from Clausewitzian war theory, which is based on the Westphalian concept of the nation state and its attendant view of sovereignty and the mating habits of pandas; just checking, you need to stay awake for this.

I raise an eyebrow at Gorka's definition of irregular warfare; although the term is used in the way he described it, a glance through this Wikipedia article on Irregular warfare indicates that the more generally accepted term is that it's a standing military's use of forces that are not 'regular.' (Think a military's covert operations, etc.) However, I'm going to let that pass because there are so many terms now in use to denote the kind of warfare conducted by non-state actors that it's getting into the weeds to attempt to nail down precise terminology.

Batchelor asked Gorka to apply his explanation about irregular warfare to the NATO mission in Afghanistan and to dealing with types Batchelor called a "mixture of tribal logic and medieval rivalry" ranged along the Afghanistan border with Pakistan.

Below are my notes on Gorka's lecture and my replies; his remarks are shown in boldface. I've numbered his remarks for reference although the numbers don't necessarily reflect the order of his remarks. You might want to listen to the WABC podcast of the interview and peruse Gorka's résumé before proceeding.

1. Gorka: We have to see there's a gulf between understanding war in the Westphalian sense of war between states and this kind of warfare, irregular -- when it's not a state you're fighting but armed bands.

Pundita: The tribal bumpkins replete with beards and baggy pants are theater. They're a carefully constructed illusion meant to mask and implement a battle plan that was faithfully copied from the Pakistan military's irregular war against India's government in Indian Kashmir.

Every detail of the Afghanistan battle plan and its rationale is found in accounts of the Kashmir 'insurgency.' The detail is the very same at every single level -- right down to the recent assassinations of key government officials in Kandahar.

There are numerous books available on the topic but those who know nothing about Pakistan's proxy war in Indian Kashmir can read Rajeev Srinivasan's 2002 two-part article for Rediff. Here is Part I and Part II. The article is not a history of the Kashmir insurgency but it will put readers in the ballpark about what's really been going on in Afghanistan. And while Srinivasan freely admits he stretches a point by arguing that Kashmir "colonized" the rest of India, he uses the stretch to good effect.

2. Gorka: We talk about cooperation (between the U.S. and Afghanistan) but do we have a functioning state to deal with when Kabul does not exercise its power across the putative nation-state of Afghanistan?

Pundita: You remember President Hamid Karzai, eh? He's the fellow who was driven mad trying to understand how Washington thinks. For years he was under the impression that because NATO was occupying his country and all, it was their job to exercise power across his putative nation state.

When he learned otherwise he blurted, 'But I'm not Genghis Khan.' When the reply cabled back, 'Better learn how to be,' he began talking to himself. When last seen he was weaving baskets and stringing beads for therapy.

3. Gorka: We're dealing with a populace that doesn't necessarily think of itself as Afghan but rather thinks in terms of tribal affiliation.

Pundita: A survey taken a few years ago found that 70 percent of Afghans identified first with their nation and second with their ethnic heritage.

The majority of the other 30 percent, I maintain, would also see themselves as Afghans first if not for Pakistan's machinations in the country, which were supported by the United States of America during the Cold War, and which continue to this day.

While it's true that the British demarcated Pakistan and Afghanistan territories in such way that there are Pashtuns who can "lunch in Pakistan and go to the loo in Afghanistan," as one analyst put it, most of Afghanistan's Pashtuns intelligently prefer to be Afghans rather than a mouse that roared.

Reference the Pakistan regime's transparent attempt to sow yet more trouble among Afghanistan's Pasthuns by rushing through (this April) the renaming of NWFP (Northwest Frontier Province to "Khyber Pakhtunkhwa."

As to the 'Pashtun majority' in Afghanistan, which feeds into the Fox News Cable-CNN view of Afghans as AK-47 toting warlords, the majority is deceptive.

Yes, the Pashtuns are in the majority, but by such a slim margin over the Tajiks that one can fairly say Afghanistan's present ethnic demographic makeup has much in common with Canada at its founding. The French and British were the majority ethnic groups in Canada, with the indigenous or 'natives' a significant minority.

The big difference is that while there are ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, the two majority groups have more in common linguistically and in their heritage than the British and French. The Pashtuns and Tajiks are Iranic peoples and Dari (a dialect of 'Persian' or Farsi), is the lingua franca of the country. The 2009 CIA World Factbook estimates that over 50% of people in Afghanistan speak in Dari as their first language but only 35% of the population speak Pashto as their first language.

In any event Pashto, the language of the Pastuns, is also derived from the Iranic linguistic tree.

4. Gorka: The Westphalian order has failed in Afghanistan because a key aspect of sovereignty is the ability of the nation-state to defend its borders and Afghanistan has been unable to do this.

Pundita: Reference my reply to #2.

5. Gorka: We still haven't established what we want to achieve in Afghanistan. First we wanted to rout al Qaeda and now we want to create a functioning Westphalian state in Central Asia where there has never been one. America has to define concrete objectives in Afghanistan and we still haven't done so.

(Gorka was clearly including Afghanistan in Central Asia even though the country is also considered to be located in South-Central Asia.)

General David Petraeus was carrying out a plan in Iraq that was a straightforward version of what's called 'population-centric' counterinsurgency tactics -- which, because there was no functioning central government to speak of at the time in Iraq, skirted Baghdad and worked directly with provincial leaders.

That's what McChrystal has been trying to replicate in Afghanistan -- although there could be a conflict in goals between the United Nations, other ISAF commands and their respective governments, and possibly factions at the U.S. Department of State. There are an awful lot of chefs in the kitchen and maybe too few line cooks.

However, the biggest problem has been that they're up against a battle plan that's invisible to them. ISAF has been on the defensive in a proxy war it's confused with an insurgency. Reference #1.

6. Gorka: We're not fighting a military band with superior fighting power but a global ideology that is not constrained by rational cost-benefit analysis, and there is no limit to the [human] resources that can be deployed against us by followers of the ideology.

Pundita: The Pakistani military is solely guided by rational cost-benefit analysis. Yes there are hare-brains hopping around Afghanistan shooting people and themselves in foot in the name of ideology. But first thin the forest, then see how many of those ideologues are left.

6. When John asked Gorka whether he thought General McChrystal had learned the lessons of Afghanistan, Gorka hedged so much it's likely he was reluctant to criticize McChrystal in public. But Gorka did say that the irregular war McChrystal was being asked to fight in Afghanistan wasn't the war he was trained for. He also said that McChrystal had to answer to his masters in Washington.

As readers of this blog know I've had my issues with General Stan regarding his prosecution of the Afghanistan campaign. But I hope Gorka knows that Stanley McChrystal is a master of irregular warfare and a card-carrying COINdinista.

In summary, Sebastian Gorka is out of his depth when he talks about Afghanistan.

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