Analysis: Targeted killing of Haqqani leaders a successful tactic that falls short of an effective strategy

A version of this article was originally published at The Daily Beast under the title, The Taliban’s Hydras.

Yesterday’s drone strike in Pakistan’s northwestern district of Hangu that killed a top Haqqani Network leader is a major tactical win for the US, but in the absence of a comprehensive strategy to deal with al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in the region, it will serve only to disrupt the organization in the short term.

The CIA-operated Reapers killed Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top deputy in the al Qaeda-allied Haqqani Network, and two other commanders in an airstrike on a seminary in the settled district of Hangu. The hit was remarkable because US drones rarely stray outside of the designated kill boxes of Pakistan’s tribal areas, particularly the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, where a host of jihadist groups operate unfettered. Of the 352 strikes recorded by The Long War Journal since the drone program began, 95 percent have taken place in the two tribal agencies. Only four of the remaining strikes occurred outside of the tribal areas; the last was in March 2009.

Given that the US rarely strikes in the ‘settled areas’ to avoid major diplomatic problems with the Pakistani government and military, yesterday’s strike was sure to have targeted an important jihadist leader. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban subgroup that operates in Pakistan and Afghanistan, was spotted at the seminary just two days prior to the attack, and is thought to have been the primary focus of the hit. While confirmed target Maulvi Ahmed Jan isn’t Sirajuddin Haqqani, he was one of the top leaders of the group, and his death will certainly have an impact.

Jan has been described as “the right hand” and chief of staff of Sirajuddin. Jan often represented Sirajuddin in council meetings and mediated disputes with jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. He is also said to have directed and organized suicide assaults in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul, as well as served as a key financier and logistics expert for the Haqqani Network.

Jan is the second Haqqani Network leader killed in Pakistan this month. Nasiruddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s brother, who was on the US’s list of Specially Designated Global terrorists for his ties to al Qaeda and for overseas fundraising, was gunned down in Islamabad just 11 days ago. The circumstances behind Nasiruddin’s death remain a mystery, but the CIA and/or Afghan intelligence are suspected of having him assassinated.

The deaths of Jan and Nasiruddin over such a short period of time will cause major problems for the Haqqani Network. The two leaders will have to be replaced, and given their stature in the group, this will not be an easy task. Meanwhile, the Haqqanis will be scrambling to ensure the safety of their leadership cadre. The deaths of two important leaders outside North Waziristan will be unsettling to the Haqqanis. But the Haqqanis will no doubt receive assistance from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and the military, which treat the Haqqanis as a key client.

While disruptive, are the deaths of jihadist leaders such as Jan and Nasiruddin enough to influence the outcome in Afghanistan, degrade the the impact of the Haqqani Network and Taliban in Pakistan, or dislodge al Qaeda from the tribal areas and in greater Pakistan? Unless the US steps up the pace of the drone strikes, expands its area of operations (Nasiruddin’s death in Islamabad and Jan’s in Hangu show that the Haqqanis are not confined to North Waziristan), and quickly eliminates other top leaders of not just the Haqqani Network but other supporting groups, it is highly unlikely. The Haqqanis, the Afghan Taliban, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda, and other jihadist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan have lost numerous key leaders to drone strikes and military operations over the past 12 years. Yet few people credibly argue that any of these groups are losing ground in Pakistan or Afghanistan or are on the verge of collapse.

Drones may hurt the Haqqanis’ leadership, but they do not prevent the group from controlling ground. Despite an intensive drone campaign against various Taliban and al Qaeda groups that was stepped up by President George Bush in the summer of 2008, jihadist groups remain entrenched in Pakistan’s tribal areas. And their ability to hold ground gives them access to resources, finances, and recruits, which in turn enables them to retain power and expand their operations.

In the absence of a comprehensive strategy to tackle these groups head on, which would include denying them ground and confronting al Qaeda’s ideology, the drone campaign is merely a tactic of decapitation strikes masked as a strategy. Given the US’ inability to define the enemy, the Obama administration’s disengagement from the Afghan-Pakistan region, and Pakistan’s continuing support for jihadist groups, the likelihood of an effective strategy emerging remains dim. The tactic of the targeted killing of jihadist leaders is the only game in town.

The deaths of Jan and Nasiruddin this month have “placed the Haqqanis on notice,” as one US intelligence official who tracks the group told me. And Haqqani Network leaders, who are accustomed to operating freely in Pakistan, will now have to be more circumspect and devote more energy to survival. But the strikes have not crippled the group.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Anthony Celso says:

    I agree with you that the drone strikes should be expanded to other areas of Pakistan and the scope of the decapitation campaign should be broadened. This is especially critical given the complicity of the ISI and Pakistani military in support for the Haqqani network. Your Journal continues to do an exemplary job on reporting these developments. You guys are doing us a great national service.
    Your point about tactical versus strategic measures is completely unfounded. There is no strategic victory against these people. They are driven by a religious fanaticism impervious to reason and Pakistan’s incubation of Radical Islamism in the 1980’s has an enduring legacy. This threatens to unhinge the country that continues to separate good from bad Taliban. The best we can do is a series of tactical measures (the drone program being our best least costly and effective option) to disrupt their operations. There will be other leaders smitten with the same sickness and they should be targeted and killed. Only some equivalent to the Enlightenment occurring in the Muslim world will dampen this fanaticism that is sadly reminiscent of the great 16th century wars in Europe. How long will this take? You and I will be dead. To talk of a strategic victory is a canard!

  • Gerald says:

    Killing these murderers is better than sitting on your hands whining that nothing can be done! There may be more attacks in the future,but Mehsud and Jan WON’T be a part of them!

  • Dave says:

    So Bill, have you heard of a strategy that you think might be successful in the long-term?

  • DR says:

    So long as our “strategy” changes with the political winds and fickle whims of voters and until our leaders obtain the resolve of the jihadis, we can expect this cycle to continue to repeat. Our leaders are worried by the fallout from collateral damage while theirs use collateral damage as an objective.

  • Mirza Charoc, le Roi de Herat says:

    Air power does not result in control of the ground, even with air supremacy, leave alone air superiority (Ho Chi Minh trail anyone?). On the other hand, it can put a serious dent in the other guy’s ability to maneuver, stage and concentrate (Europe 1944, Korea before the MiGs showed up to reduce our position from air supremacy to air superiority, Vietnam, Balkans, Iraq, Afghanland, etc.).
    Which is why an inept like Winston Churchill, whose only military experience was as a junior officer, was always embarrassing his military leaders with one lame brained scheme after another, even as far back as WWI, as First Sea Lord: Royal Navy units WILL HOLD (!!) the ground around Gallipoli, a.k.a. ouch @ ships holding ground…
    BTW, ‘controlling the ground’ may be a tactical imperative for lower echelon commanders, but it is not the strategic goal in many conflicts and perhaps not even tactically desirable.
    Who can forget genius examples of voluntarily and deliberately giving up control of the ground, as in Napoleon’s absolutely brilliant, now legendary offer of the Pratzen high grounds to his adversaries as a precursor to Austerlitz, or Hannibal’s weakened center at Cannae? Which, BTW, makes Robert E. Lee’s insistence on contesting a vastly better situated Meade at Gettysburg all the more questionable (discretion being proverbially the better part of valor, I shall not share my opinion of Lee’s competence, so as to avoid fighting the civil war all over again over here).
    Anyway, back to air supremacy, drone strikes, controlling the ground and the mullahs:
    Old Rummy was so in awe of the shock of his sturm und drang rants against conventional ideas of conventional warfare, that he let the ‘low-tech dead ender’ Taliban slip away instead of killing as many of them as we should have, back when they were all bunched together in the beginning, and easier to kill in large numbers.
    So now here we are once again, in Ho Chi Minh trail mode, trying to deny movement. Especially since large-scale concentration is not an option for the mullahs in today’s all-weather, all-seeing, network-centric, smart weapon, silent death, fire raining down from the sky environment.
    So far, we have had to pussy-foot around Pakistan somewhat, because we need those supply lines through the Khyber. Hopefully, that dependency will dramatically go away if we substantially get out of Afghanland.
    We can then step up the drone effort, and dare the PAF to do something about it, which they won’t because they know what will follow – our usual, well practised and smoothly orchestrated cookie cutter 750+ airplane strike package, obligatory Day 1 for SEAD, followed by the usual Day 2 and Day 3 of counter-C4ISR, establishing that warm, fuzzy cocoon of an air-supremacy umbrella for all subsequent extended-loiter drone action, the only difference being everything would now be in 4k Super HD on our 3D enabled 75inch LED monitors, in 9.2 audiophile quality surround sound yet.
    All one has to do is look at the terrain, even aside from the fanatical mindset of the jihadis. No one is ever going to win a conventional victory in those badlands, no one ever has and no one ever will, so that should not be the goal.
    We need not shoot for a conventional victory. Controlling territory seems somewhat colonial 18th century old school, given current military technology and the geo-political situation in Central and West Asia.
    I think we have to deny the mullahs the ability to maneuver, to concentrate and to stage from Pakistan. We can do that with drones, keeping our other air assets in reserve and as a deterrent, protecting our vulnerable robot warriors from Pakistani air defenses.
    I can see an escalation in remotely piloted or even fully-automated/autonomous air to ground into Pakistan in the coming years, aimed at Taliban camps and staging, as additional tasks alongside targeting mullah leadership. I would certainly vote for that.
    Besides, there are other countries in the area making major moves already, some of whom are well along the road to becoming our close and valued global, strategic, business and military partners for the long term, who are waiting to pick up on the ground when we leave, once we no longer find it necessary to accommodate the Pakistanis in exchange for passage via the Khyber.
    It could all work well together.

  • Prometheus says:

    I have to disagree with your assessment that the targeted strikes are not an effective strategy. Is it the best strategy? Perhaps not, but you can’t deny that it has a positive effect. The HQNSL put in the ground this month have decades of experience dating back to the Soviet occupation of the 1980’s. That experience and the relationships they have built and rely upon are not easily replaced. The Haqqani’s have been repeatedly thwarted the last month or so when attempting large scale attacks in and around Kabul, currently they are much more concerned with not disappearing in a pink cloud than C2’ing attacks inside Afghanistan. The loss of these senior leaders will overload Aziz and MAJ with responsibility in the near term and force them to reassess their own security precautions. long term effects on fund raising and therefore attack funding could be significant. Insurgencies cost money and the HQN is pulling change out of the couch. Right now the US is buying time and space, the Loya Jirga is ongoing, elections are coming up quickly followed by a significant draw-down through 2014. Unless you suggest we cross into Pakistan to clean house, I don’t know what you’re complaining about.

  • Rosario says:

    The deaths of the taliban shadow governors Gul Sher,Maulvi Hamidullah in the Hangu strike will have the immediate affect of improving security in Khost and Paktia provinces for both Afghans and remaining ISAF troops – a good tactical strike. Continuing to target insurgent leaders like the Haqqani’s in Pakistan also makes good sense while ISAF troops are still down range in Afghanistan. These strikes have a bit of a “Nixon-esk” quality to them – perhaps a bid to drive taliban leaders to the peace talks? I would expect there to be considerably more strikes as the ISAF “retrograde” process unfolds and no progress is made in peace negotiations or the “BSA.”

  • JohnOfEnfield says:

    I can but agree with the above comments about these tactics being the only strategy currently available. But surely, if you are think strategically, the vast aid budget to Pakistan must also come under critical review? As the US retreats from Afghanistan then their dependency on Pakistan, for access to the country & support, significantly reduces. Why should they then fund the current political structure in Pakistan? Or would another failed state in the region be worse than than what we have now?

  • James says:

    I believe that you are absolutely right in regards to the necessity of holding key terrain, which in the case of Counterinsurgency Warfare is the people. Without “boots on the ground” and effective strategy to engage and support the populace, I fear that much of our success will have been for naught. While I absolutely agree that the “decapitation” strikes should continue, without devoting the time and resources to the region there is little hope of strategic victory (read long-term victory).
    Having spent a significant amount of time Khost and Paktia Provinces, I don’t see how the killing of suspected shadow governors Gul Sher and Maulvi Hamidullah will have a direct affect on the security in those provinces, which has been in significant decay since late 2008/early 2009, especially after border checkpoints along the actual routes of infiltration (rather than the main highway) were dismantled by National Guard units. Unfortunately, I see the insurgents (in this area mainly HQN, with a smattering of HIG) as having a keen understanding of what the US pullout means to security in remote areas such as Khost and Paktia (save for Gardez and Khost City). That being, the necessity for them to gain as many tactical victories as possible against the US/ISAF before the pullout in order to aid in their re-establishment of power in those mainly Pashtun areas.
    At any rate, the deaths of Nasiruddin, Hamidullah, and Ahmad Jan do bring a smile to my face and I would like to thank those men and women that make up Other Governmental Agencies and Special Operations Forces for their tireless efforts in this enduring conflict.

  • EDDIED. says:

    Zawahiri and Omar your time is coming near. For something not so effective they are sure working. Good going and think about the effectiveness after the replacements replacements are taken out. Good work team USA!

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I have not nor ever have said the drones are ineffective. The Haqqanis have been hurt over the past month. In this article I said the US can have tactical success but on their own cannot achieve a strategic victory.
    What I am saying is that relying on them as a strategy in itself to defeat jihadist groups is misguided. The current US administration has sold just that to the American people (with the hit lists, and ‘if we just kill a few more al Qaeda leaders, the organization will be strategically defeated’).

  • NP says:

    It appears to me that there is a short term strategy of killing off the Haqqani’s prior to the US withdrawal of major combat units. The Haqqanis arguably pose the greatest threat to Kabul after the US leaves. They have always fancied themselves the rightful rulers and have political aspirations.
    I agree that the drone strikes are limited in their effectiveness because you can only achieve so much success from drone strikes or any kinetic operation alone. This is indisputable in my opinion.
    Unfortunately, we lost the initiative when the US abandoned the troop surge plan under former Gen Petreaus and announced a timeline for withdrawal. Under the phased operation relentless drone strikes, JSOC raids, Special Operations Village Stability Operations and conventional forces all were working to not only kill TB/AQ leadership but work with tribes in the villages to actually deny insurgents freedom of movement and key terrain.
    It was during Phase I of the surge plan that mid level commanders began to seek reconciliation because they were tired of never being able to rest for fear of a drone or JSOC raid. We had momentum, it wasn’t perfect but it was measurable for the first time since the Taliban was routed in 2001.

  • . says:

    The US can drone Pakistan’s tribal areas to its heart’s content, but as long as the ISI is the key regional enabler, few things will change. It is also safe to assume that the Haqqani Network and their allies have factored in leadership losses from US drone attacks. They most likely have leadership replacements on standby.

  • Devendra says:

    Bill Rogio,
    I have tremendous respect for your intellect and what you do. That said, you miss the point. There can be NO STRATEGY to eliminate this terroristic mindset in the Muslims. They have been raised on sectarian poison since the 7th century and nothing, ALMOST, we can do to erase that poison overnight.
    IMHO, what would be eminently effective, if you wish to call it a strategy, is to push Pakistan in eliminating these terrorists. Pakistan knows where Mullah Omar and Ayman Al Zawahiri are hiding. If not the particular house, at least the village or the surrounding area from which they can be easily smoked out and killed.
    Make Pakistan aid TOTALLY contingent upon getting these two murderers, stopping anti US propaganda, closing out ALL Madrashas and sending Paki Army in to North and South Waziristan permanently.
    Pakistan is NOT a country any more. More like an open territory. They are a BASKET CASE. Financially bankrupt, rather dead. Stop the IMF loans and see how Pakistan cooperates. Sick the Indians on them and tell the Indians we would not object. As far their nuclear assets? The Pakis know that if they even dream of giving it to the Jihadists; they will be the first target. The WHITE MUSHROOM CLOUD would appear in Islamabad first before any place else, if it even does. We have been pussy footing too long with Pakis. The unseemly fear of what Pakistan can do is simply ridiculous. Pakistan is a very sick territory ( I would NOT call it a nation) and they have no wherewithal to do any thing to react against us. These are people who know nothing else but force,sectarianism, trechrey and justify any of their vile actions in the name of Islam. You can NOT argue, discuss or negotiate with these people who believe as per their religious teachings that killing a Kafir (non Muslim) is justified in the name of Allah.
    That is the strategy I would propose. Not that I claim it is perfect. But I like to hear a better one.

  • Ted says:

    “Killing these murderers is better than sitting on your hands
    whining that nothing can be done! ”
    I saw this comment over at SOFREP (paraphrase)
    “If you have not whipped them in 3 years you are just training them”
    During the Korean war the USAF was bombing rail line to interdict the North Korean supply lines. After a while it made no difference. The North Koreans were repairing them as fast as we were blowing them up.
    Killing leader is a temporary disruption. Unless they start a civil war amongst themselves and wither away, they will learn how to regenerate their upper and mid level leadership. During the Purges the Russians lost 13 of 15 field marshals and 85% of their officer corps. Yet they were able to to regenerate their officer corp in less than a generation.

  • Bungo says:

    With all due respect I believe your article goes haywire the moment you make the assertion that victory (in some classic version) is the goal of the strategy. That is not the goal. The goal regarding the Talibs (and even, arguably AQ) in Pakistan is primarily containment, which I believe is the only realistic goal for the U.S. at this particular time. The only way we would adjust our goal to some sort of classic victory in the Tribal Regions would be if the mainland U.S. was the victim of a large terrorist attack that could be irrefutably traced back to Pakistan. I’m pretty sure the Paks and the Talibs understand that as well.
    Once you make this small correction in your thought process you’ll be able to see “the drone program” as the amazing tactic that it is. Visual surveillance, coms interception, general harassment and precise target destruction are all brought to bear using these incredible aircraft. The use of pilot less aircraft was the future ten years ago but is now the norm. Embrace it.
    “The future”, now, is the use of actual robots, on the ground, walking, communicating, acquiring targets and sending them to Allah. Think of the movie Terminator. They will probably be battlefield ready in about five years and common in ten years. The Talibs are going to positively soil their drawers when the see these babys coming at them. At which point we’ll probably be debating whether or not “the robot program” can achieve a real victory.

  • Arjuna says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Devendra’s statement: “Make Pakistan aid TOTALLY contingent upon getting these two murderers, stopping anti US propaganda, closing out ALL Madrashas and sending Paki Army in to North and South Waziristan permanently.”
    To think we’ve been rewarding janusfaced backstabbers with new F-16s is just revolting. America is being suckered by a greasy gang called PakMil. The world’s security is most gravely endangered by these gangsters. Too much corruption, too many munitions. Even if it be deemed an accident or theft, would Islamabad escape retaliation? I highly doubt it. These generals would be the first to die.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Except the administration is selling this as a winning strategy, and not as you described.
    And excuse me if I missed something, but wasn’t the US mainland the subject of a massive attack on NYC and DC from the very same people we are targeting, and the Pakistani government is essentially harboring?
    I couldn’t agree more than the drones are a good tactical tool. I’ve stated as much. But we’ve been told that this is the way the enemy will be defeated.

  • Green76 says:

    Bill is correct that the “Targeted killing of Haqqani leaders is a successful tactic”. Still, he is selling US efforts short by saying that “it falls short of an effective strategy” because that implies that our entire strategy is the targeted killing of Haqqani leaders. We have shifted from the counter insurgency strategy toward a counter terrorism strategy for US forces in Afghanistan but we are committed to building Afghan institutions capable of holding the key terrain of Afghanistan that is it’s people.
    As The Long War Journal continues to show, this war is larger than Afghanistan. Our strategy needs to be larger than Afghanistan as well and it is. Our Strategy may seem to change frequently due to political winds but our Grand Strategy remains true and will see us to victory.
    We will confront the forces that enabled the attacks of 9-11.
    We will hold out our hands to the people of the lands we fight in and ask them to join us in freedom and prosperity.
    We will use our political, economic, and military might to strengthen our friends and weaken the will of our enemy to fight until victory.
    It will be a long war with highs and lows but we will win it.

  • Lookingon says:

    I agree with you Bill for the following reasons.
    The drone strikes are a good tactic, but are not a way to win this long war. The solution isn’t an easy one to flesh out, it is complex and time consuming, an overall arching strategy that must be applied, or else risk failure, however it needs to be more than limited targeted strikes. The problem I see a lot of people think killing faces will put an end to the threat of terrorism. If it were only so easy, kill a few high value personnel and the network crumbles. This is attrition to say the least.
    Targeted strikes are good to eliminate key leadership that have hard to replace skills, contacts, or knowledge bases, but that should be one small tool to be utilized on combating this prolific threat.
    We need to target the financial systems, or personnel that help fund the training, facilitation of personnel, purchase of equipment. Sanctions on companies that help fund these groups or personnel, freezing of accounts, imprisonment or targeted strikes against the fund raisers.
    Target the training facilities, destroy the camps with targeted strikes. Target the cyber echelons of the groups.
    Sanction governments that either covertly support the groups or allow them to operate in their countries.
    Target the institutions that give rise to the precursors for terrorism; Inadequate education systems, despotic rulers, poverty, all of it is used by the recruiters to convince someone to join. Target the Mullahs, Imams, and other religious leaders that subvert kids into believing in Jihad, that all Christians, Jews, and anyone else that is not a strict follower of Sharia should be killed.
    We need not only be kinetic, killing them before they can kill more innocents, it has to also focus on the psychological and civil affairs aspects of a battlefield as well. By changing people’s perceptions that this lifestyle is ok and right, that is the only real way to win the war. It is going to take military action, tough diplomatic negotiations, covert actions, and so much more that is not easy to accomplish, but people have to be willing to make the hard choices, these sacrifices, and piss off people on the world stage. Otherwise this will be going on for the next 100 years. And it is too painfully obvious that most in the world don’t want to do what is hard, dirty and necessary, and would rather say it is not our problem. This is more than just Pakistan, so much more.
    Who knows, maybe I am just completely and utterly wrong. To Buungo, by the way, to me containment will never work, how do you contain thoughts, ideas, subversion with the internet and social media?

  • Bungo says:

    “Except the administration is selling this as a winning strategy, and not as you described.”
    We’ll have to agree to disagree on the semantics of this one. We may be able to prod the Talibs to the table using “the program” but I don’t think anyone in the administration believes or has ever said that the Talibs in Pakistan can be “defeated” with the current tactics.
    Fortunately none of the plots you mentioned succeeded in such a manner (Times Square Bomber I’m assuming) or crossed the “line” that would necessitate going into Pakistan. Believe me, if and when that happens, we will all know it’s time to strap on the bandoleers and parachutes.

  • Mirza Charoc, le Roi de Herat says:

    What exactly is victory for us in the badlands? Does anybody know for certain? I sure don’t…
    All I know is – I know no one else does either.
    ‘Hearts and minds’ is all well and good for some ex hippie double-speak from D.C., but lets not kid ourselves about how easily or effectively we can win-over a people who almost uniformly hate us, by buying a few outliers who can be bought by material inducements.
    Because, for all the building of schools, improving quality of life, whipping up optimism and communication and mutual understanding, and all that wishful thinking, that is what hearts and minds is for the most part. Paying 30 shekels blood money to sellouts and traitors to the other guy’s cause, who will only be all too willing to sellout all over again as soon as it suits them.
    Consider this as well:
    (Roma locuta est, cause finita est alert) According to the best historical source about those times – the Historia Romana – when jews in Libya and Cyprus murdered more than four hundred thousand civilians in what the Romans considered a terror campaign, the Romans crushed them in the Kitos war and just over a decade later, after annihilating the Bar Kokhba Israeli forces, scattered jews to every corner of the known world, wiping the very name Judea off the map.
    THAT is victory over a guerrilla force.
    Just ask Chingiss Khan or Timur Beg, two cats who fought and won in that part of the world in the harshest conditions imaginable. Won in their own idiom, mostly involving killing everything that moved, but won decisively.
    Do we want to do that with the Taliban from either side of the border?
    And if we decide we want to, will we have the will to do that, given our self-delusional image as knights in shining armor, instead of acknowledging that we are very happy to be world hegemon for as long as we can? To enjoy not only the prestige that that brings, but also the very real benefits from such an eminent position as it translates to global business and economics?
    Personally, I like our being world hegemon, this is our time in the sun, for however long that lasts.
    I’ll do anything for us and for our way of life.
    But… in the words of that astute and universally-revered bard Meatloaf… I won’t do that… (??!!)

  • Bill Roggio says:

    To be clear, the drone targeting “strategy” of the US isn’t limited to the Haqqanis, this is what the admin is selling as a strategy to defeat al Qaeda and all of its allies, the Haqqanis included.
    I just read this article on a speech given by MG H.R. McMasters. It is quite pertinent to what we are discussing, and I think you can guess I am in full agreement. There is too much to excerpt here, this is a taste. McMasters is not a “technology wins wars, but people win wars” proponent.

    Another shortfall, he said, is that America ignored the psychology of its enemies.
    “We looked at war as a targeting exercise,” McMaster said.
    America also forgot that enemies get a vote, using long-term plans and expecting steady progress, rather than preparing for setbacks and remaining flexible to counter enemy actions.


    McMaster said he sees the military falling back on its 1990s experience, seeking technology to fight rapid wars.
    “Like a vampire, it keeps coming back,” McMaster said.
    He said of America’s electronic dominance: “It’s a capability and it’s masking as a strategy for future war.”
    Wars of the future will need land armies to fight them, he said.
    “We have to think about land control in a way the Navy thinks about sea control,” he said.

    Read the whole thing…

  • Well, with regard to the leadership losses from drone attacks. Most likely they have people standby to replace killed leaders, don’t you think? That is at least what every sane (military or not) management would do. Few things, or nothing will change. Just my 2 cents.

  • Bungo says:

    “Wars of the future will need land armies to fight them, he said. We have to think about land control in a way the Navy thinks about sea control,” he said.”
    That’s definitely one way to go. And we may eventually get to that point if certain situations get out of control. But you have to admit that this strategy is much better suited to a conventional war, fighting a conventional military enemy with a conventional leadership and not an un-uniformed insurgency or mobile band of jihadis. I think that at this point in time there is very little support for going into Pakistan, “breaking it” and owning it and trying to put it back together. That was the lesson learned from Iraq. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the smell of napalm in the morning and the sound of rolling thunder as much as the next warrior but Apocalypse Now Redux Pakistan is going to have to wait.
    It’s my firm belief that the current strategy is, as vague as it is, to contain the jihadi problem “over there” and finesse all partys involved, harass AQ and Talibs as much as possible with “the drone program” etc., infiltrate their ranks with agents, attack their funding and supply lines, etc. etc. etc. until it is so difficult and cumbersome for them to mount a successful offensive operation that we in effect “win”. In the meantime we scale back our military footprint in Afghanistan to the bare minimum for American political consumption. That’s where we stand today.
    Two more points. Firstly, I’m still not convinced that the Taliban is an American problem. If you ask me they belong to Pakistan and Afghanistan and they can sort that out among themselves. Secondly, there is a legitimate school of thought that this Jihadi craze will eventually lose steam and play itself out over time due to, shall we say, lack of interest. This is the “generational” aspect of an insurgency. Eventually the younger generation loses the motivation that the older generation had. This is a real occurrence that has been documented. This fundamentalist jihadi mindset simply has no future in a modern world. I may not live to see it but it will happen. In the meantime we have to develop new weapons and technologies, protect the homeland, keep casualties to a minimum and contain the nut-jobs “over there”. It will definitely be a Long War. Peace, Out.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    My point remains that the drones are a limited tactic sold as a winning strategy. I certainly haven’t proposed a strategy myself, but am pointing out the “strategy” the US have now is anything but.
    Al Qaeda plotted 9/11 from Afghanistan During Taliban rule, and the Pak Taliban plotted the Times Square bombing there as well. I never advocated invading Pakistan, but the Taliban is indeed an American problem. And drones won’t make that problem go away.

  • Mirza Charoc, le Roi de Herat says:

    Ever since WW II, the army has usually been on the short end in the Pentagon budget wars, so anything they are likely to dream up could be (note I did not say will be) a try for more money. As always, their pitch will sound very rational, reasonable and well thought out, of course.
    Caveat emptor.
    Remember people, fighting the mullahs or their cousins around the Eastern Mediterranean is all good for entertainment and systems eval, but it is not a major war, at least not for the planet’s greatest military machine.
    Let us not take our eyes off the ball from what is coming – a whole world of serious pain, sometime in the next couple of decades, when les Chinois decide it is time to go over the top.
    I am not sure that one is going to be about control of the ground – it is likely to be an electronics intensive, air-sea-space-cyber slug-fest, and no fun at all.
    And believe you me, it will most probably be an existential conflict for the good ole U.S. of A., which could go either way.
    But coming back to kinder, gentler times. Now that the Iranians are becoming good guys, wonder if we can ditch the Pakilanders and start shipping materiel via Chabahar or Bandar Abbas? Then hit the Taliban where it hurts, in Pakistan.
    Zabol / Delaram or bust…

  • EDDIED. says:

    I agree with Devendra. When Pakistan sees the American dollar go away they will give up Omar and Zawahiri. They will go into North and South Waziristan. They will be in such a panic knowing they are losing our money that, not only would they do away with the ISI that, they would try and give up their moms too.

  • Mr T says:

    I think there is a larger problem than just war fighting killing people and destroying things. It’s an ideology that we must defeat. You can do that with bombs but you can also do it with words and other actions.
    Until we kill off or change the underlying ideology, this will go on forever. Muslims around the world fund these terrorists in the name of Islam. New, younger generations of terrorists are being built in the madrassas, mosques, and Muslim communities around the world. These same terrorists are recruited using the Islamic view of non believers. They must be converted, enslaved, or killed.
    Why can a Muslim cleric in London or Dearborn Michigan stand up and spout the vile vitriol against non believers? They point to the Koran as the source of that legitimacy. They convince young people all their woes are due to the non believers. They incite hatred and violence even worse than groups like the KKK ever did.
    Their goal is a worldwide caliphate. Muslims around the world both Shiite and Sunni, moderate and radical, are working to attain that goal. Other than fear of getting their head cut off, the attainment of a common goal keeps moderate Muslims silent in the face of all the death & destruction around them. Instead of fighting radical Muslims, they form groups like CAIR to fight non Muslims and do their part in the jihad. They then claim they don’t support violent jihad while nodding approvingly at the destruction radical terrorists inflict.
    Then these young kids idolize the gun toting lifestyle, brimming with pride about being a warrior for Allah. Their parents and communities back home praise their actions and exalt them to revered status even if they are killed.
    The strategy has to focus on changing the ideology, not just killing off believers and making it hard on them. Our current government doesn’t see this and think they can appease and kill off the fringe radicals but the machinery around the world is in place to produce generation after generation of jihadi warriors.
    Dismantle the machinery and marginalize the ideology. You will still only have containment but evil people will always exist.

  • anon says:

    I’m not an expert by any means, but I just wanted to comment on a few things.
    “That said, you miss the point. There can be NO STRATEGY to eliminate this terroristic mindset in the Muslims. They have been raised on sectarian poison since the 7th century and nothing, ALMOST, we can do to erase that poison overnight.”
    First of all, I am a fervent atheist, very antireligious. Having said that, I feel like you are defeating your own argument with this sort of mentality. Why? Because you clearly acknowledge that this is a widespread and deeply-rooted systemic and/or ideological problem (that is, the way they think), yet propose that the best strategy would be to aim for individuals. Unless your policy is to “kill them all, and let Allah sort them out,” (which would arguably make you no better than the “sick” Pakistanis) this is simply not feasible in the long-run. Killing Zawahiri and Mohammed Omar would do very little in terms of the long-run. This is especially if your argument is that this would do much to engage or harm OTHER groups (such as the Haqqanis), who are not dependent or contingent on either of those men. Wiping out certain individuals does nothing to stem what you acknowledge are widespread and deeply-rooted psychological and ideological issues.
    Having said that, I do agree to an extent of your views on Pakistan. The situation within and without Pakistan has been thoroughly misguided, if not, entirely poisoned. Closing the madrassas, for instance, could have a positive effect. However, I also think this view severely shortchanges what is essentially an extremely complicated issue. Even if the Pakistanis do engage, how can we be sure at this point if it is anything but show, or if there is not further duplicity occurring under the table?
    Also this: “Who can forget genius examples of voluntarily and deliberately giving up control of the ground…”
    No offense, but you seem to be comparing apples and oranges here. Maybe I am completely unknowing and totally ignorant, but the examples you give seem to be short-term battlefield tactics, NOT long-term strategies. There is a difference, I think. I do not see how those examples, located in contemporary warfare, translate well to a very asymmetric war here.

  • Witch Doctor says:

    I think Mr.T summed it up very nicely. We need to change the thinking of the moderate/radical Muslim. The idea of a world-wide caliphate is their intended end goal and if you are not on board, you are either enslaved (women) or killed (men).
    Of course this is not an easy task to accomplish, so in the meantime while people are thinking, or not thinking about how to do this, we continue to wage war, kill, and destroy. It does keep the Military/Industrial complex running, so some people are making money off of this.
    How are we going to do this? Or are we. The American people are not fond of war so this needs to be addressed.

  • Mirza Charoc, le Roi de Herat says:

    Anon: your cut and paste was out of context, so here is a more complete and meaningful one from my original post, highlighting a couple of parts:
    ‘Controlling the ground may be a tactical imperative for lower echelon commanders, but it is NOT the strategic goal in many conflicts and perhaps not even TACTICALLY desirable.
    Who can forget genius examples of voluntarily and deliberately giving up control of the ground’, etc. etc.
    That should clarify for you some of what I said there – As I clearly said, the examples of Cannae and Austerlitz were about control of the ground perhaps being not even tactically desirable, and involved unexpectedly and creatively exchanging control of the ground for victory.
    As for long term strategy, I sadly don’t see any in Afghanistan.
    Perhaps that is because our capacity to conduct the war is severely constrained by our tenuous supply lines from Karachi, and especially at the Khyber Pass – held hostage by a foreign power whose interests diverge significantly from ours, precluding us from bringing decisive force to bear at the main targets without which we can never even contemplate a strategic win – at the Taliban’s support infra and rear, in Pakistan.
    So it is more a case of comparing apples and apples, with any oranges having gotten themselves lost somewhere in Pakhtunkhwa.
    What does strategic control of the ground even mean in those jagged, porous mountains? Sitzkrieg is a total waste of time, unless one enjoys hanging around getting fat, waiting for the bad guys to die of old age.
    Applicability of conventional lessons learned, within asymmetric warfare, is an important issue, Such asymmetry is as old as the hills of course, and reasonably well understood, except that every bright-eyed kid who comes along imagines its a brave new world out there and insists on a new name for the same old song and dance (Ugh, I am beginning to even sound, not just look like mah dear ole granpappy now, dang it).
    Think about whether there are lessons that can be learned from history’s examples of generals masterfully foxing the other guy’s intel, recce, plans, etc., feigning retreat and/or falsely presenting a disadvantaged situation, to entice and suck the bad guys into a kill zone that initially looks unassailably strong even to very experienced, albeit less capable enemy commanders, whether they have on hand ultra hi-tech warfighters or a ragtag bunch of tribals.
    I am not a slave of history, but it is not a bad teacher, offering interesting lessons – some of which may be applicable to the task at hand, while others may not.
    Anyway, in contrast to such inspired and inspiring works of art, explore Isandlwana if you have not already, for asymmetric, mindlessly inelegant attriting.

  • NP says:

    I fail to see how the Taliban is not an American problem. They have merged their ideologies and have cemented their marriage on the battlefield. They have announced their allegiance to the world. Very much an American problem if you ask me. Keeping in mind there is the local “Taliban” and then there is the “Taliban” that needs to be respected.

  • john says:

    “The deaths of Jan and Nasiruddin in drone strikes this month have “placed the Haqqanis on notice,” as one US intelligence official who tracks the group told me
    Wasn’t Nasiruddin killed by gunfire?

  • Mirza Charoc, le Roi de Herat says:

    Hey Bill
    Excellent topic, terrific discussions – I learned a lot from everyone here. We should have more such substantive exchanges in the future.
    And now, may I suggest we each have a moment’s introspection about the men and women of our forces, before dinner tomorrow?
    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  • Colin says:

    Look at the Malay Emergency, disrupting the leadership and damaging their ability to communicate does have an important effect. Good leaders are not easily trained or found. Leaders who are busy hiding and staying low are not communicating effectively and not interacting with their troops the way they should. Also the killing will bred distrust within and that is something to exploit. In Malaysia the CT’s spent a great deal of time killing their own in attempt to rid themselves of informers. Use the drones, taint people within the organization so their own comrades will kill them, sow mistrust. The US is not going to go onto the ground there anytime soon, so that’s the best you are going to get.


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