Page: Richard's Blog
Nov 29th, 2009 by Richard Lowry
Afghanistan – the Road Ahead

afghan-girl National GeographicThe weapons of 21st Century counter-insurgent warfare are books and jobs not bullets and bombs. Victory in Afghanistan requires a cultural and economic shift. But, in order to achieve success, we must first secure the people. We cannot wave a magic wand and instantly bring Afghanistan into the modern world; it will take years to improve the Afghan people’s lives. Nothing can be accomplished with violence in the streets and fear in the countryside. First, and foremost, we must establish a modicum of security.

This is no simple task. Afghanistan’s population is dispersed in small villages throughout a rugged terrain, in a nation one-and-one-half times the size of Iraq. The enemy can go anywhere and we have to defend everywhere. We must work to protect the people and improve their daily lives against all factions: al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iranian infiltrators, local warlords and a corrupt government. Establishing security is a manpower intensive proposition. This is why General McChrystal has asked for additional troops. He needs to secure the major population centers: Kabul, Qandahar and Jalabad and then slowly expand the perimeter of peace throughout the land.

Then, and only then, can we work to build a modern society. Then, and only then, can we improve governance and the Afghan economy. Then, and only then, can we improve the plight of the everyday Afghan family. Victory will be measured by the number of children attending school and the number of breadwinners earning an honest day’s pay.

A basic tenant of counter-insurgent operations is not to take the fight to the enemy, but to be prepared to defeat them when they bring the fight to you. The goal is to protect the people and eliminate the enemy’s influence among the population. The goal is to make the enemy irrelevant. Again, the geography of Afghanistan calls for large numbers of troops. We must be able to saturate an area with massive force in response to enemy activity and be able to have sufficient other forces to protect the people from insurgent intimidation and more troops to train the Afghanis to protect themselves.

Today, we can neither protect the people nor lessen the enemy’s influence. Today, the enemy has the advantage and we are in a reactionary mode.


Until we gain the initiative, we are losing the fight. We must force the enemy to react to us. But, focusing on American only goals is the surest way to be seen as an occupying force and the fastest way to failure. A purely military operation will eventually be defeated. We must avoid the temptation to focus on Al Qaeda’s leaders alone. We must attack on all fronts: military, economic and diplomatic. We must work to better the lives of the people—to win their “hearts and minds.”

Today, there are only three career paths in Afghanistan: Drug Lord, War Lord and corrupt government official. To win in Afghanistan we must reach out to the Afghan people—first—to protect them, and then to provide decent medical care and an education for their children. We must work to help villagers develop micro-economies; helping them plant alternative crops, dig wells, build roads, set up windmills and solar energy sources to help pump water to their fields and villages. In short, we need to help them obtain clean water, good food, and hope for the future.

Surely we need fast-moving, agile combat forces, but we also need mechanics, electricians and nurses to win this war. The United States Army has already created a paradigm for the forces required. The Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division is currently operating as the first Advice and Assist Brigade in southern Iraq.

It is collaborating with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Military Transition Teams, and Police Training Teams to merge diplomatic, information, economic, and military power into an effective force for good in southern Iraq. The Brigade’s soldiers are currently enabling the Iraqi provincial governments to progress and establish a solid foundation for long-term security and peace.


Many here in America view this as a shooting war, a war in the classic sense where enemy combatants are shooting and killing each other until one is defeated, often with innocent civilian casualties. Some even consider this a war of aggression. The fact is that America has been at war with Islamic Fundamentalists since 9/11. We first attacked their safe-havens in Afghanistan in 2002 and then continued the fight in Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines. That war continues. Our enemies still mean us harm. We cannot just come home and declare that the war is over. They will follow us home.

We must defeat the enemy by making him irrelevant not by appeasing him or even killing him. “It is a year-round struggle [in Afghanistan], often conducted with little apparent violence, to win the support of the people.”[1] This modern-day conflict will be won by improving the daily lives of real people. America’s military wants nothing more than to bring peace and security to the region. If you hate war, you should be in favor of sending more troops to the area, as McChrystal’s plan provides the only hope for stability in the region.


Richard S. Lowry is a military historian and the award-winning author of Marines in the Garden of Eden and The Gulf War Chronicles. Watch for his new book: New Dawn: the Battles for Fallujah. It tells the entire story of Operation Phantom Fury and will be in bookstores in May of 2010. Visit to learn more about Richard and his work.

[1] General Stanley A. McChrystal, Commander’s Initial Assessment, 30 August, 2009, NATO International Security Assistance Force, Afghanistan.

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4 Responses

  • Majorman says:

    Interesting read. Fortunately in Iraq we are at the tail end of the war and conducting stability operations. Most the action in Afghanistan is still focused on counterinsurgency.

    Information Operations are another potential key for success in Afghanistan. It’s imperative that leaders there publish success stories on the diplomatic, military, and economic front. This is even more challenging with the low literacy rates in mountain villages. But, pictures and video can fill in the gaps.

    Either way, our task in Afghanistan is not easy and will take a tremendous multi-year investment.

    My question…what do we do about the Taliban & Al-Qaeda that will remain in Pakistan?

  • How could a very few ppl with no nuclear power be a threat to the World’s most powerful country with the world’s most powerful army and weapons??

  • Richard Lowry says:

    Oh, I don’t know. Maybe they could talk their suicidal followers into flying commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Maybe they could harbor terrorists who want to kill any American they encounter. Maybe they could destabilize an already shaky region, causing a war between Pakistan and India who both, by the way, do have nuclear weapons. I can think of many ways the terrorists in Afghanistan can do the world harm and ruin your life in the process.

  • I hope you will keep updating your content constantly as you have one dedicated reader here.

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