Former CIA Station Chiefs Agree On Afghanistan



This is a live blog from the front porch at Sen. Dick Durbin’s office in Springfield, Illinois. See the last paragraph for details about the location.    

Posted at Daily Kos, Docudharma, MyDD, and OpenLeft.



It doesn’t matter whether you like or dislike the CIA.  (Personally, I view the professional gathering and analysis of information about military adversaries as a crucial, non-debatable function.)  But a person doesn’t become a CIA station chief by some kind of dumb accident.  You have to be smart, and very capable.

And here’s three former station chiefs who served in Afghanistan and Pakistan who explain why our large scale military occupation in Afghan is dead wrong.

Milton Bearden was station chief in Islamabad during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.  The final paragraph of his article “Obama’s War” in Foreign Affairs reads:

Every foreign power to enter Afghanistan in the last 2,500 years has faced these challenges in one form or another. All failed to overcome them. The likelihood of the United States breaking this pattern is slight. It is becoming clear, however, that the Obama administration at least understands the odds it faces.

Given the bleak picture for our troops which he paints in the article, I take that last sentence to mean the same thing as, The Titanic has struck the iceberg, and the captain is informed of the situation.

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Robert Grenier is another former CIA station chief in Islamabad.  He’s also famously the Director of the Counterterrorism Center who was fired by the Bush government for not going along with rendition and torture.  (Now, how’s THAT for credentials?) In a videoed interview he did for Rethink Afghanistan Part 6, he says:

I don’t think that a major conventional military force – which, whatever it’s strategic intent, is going to look to a local people like a colonizing occupation army – is going to succeed in the long run in Afghanistan. [transcript by the diarist]

If you’re even slightly interested in Afghanistan, you will definitely want to click the above link for Rethink Afghanistan and watch these vids, if you haven’t seen them yet.

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Graham Fuller is a former CIA station chief in Kabul and a former vice-chair of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. He contributed an article titled “Obama’s Policies Making Situation Worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan” at Huffington Post, which concludes:

Al-Qaida’s threat no longer emanates from the caves of the borderlands, but from its symbolism that has long since metastasized to other activists of the Muslim world. Meanwhile, the Pashtuns will fight on for a major national voice in Afghanistan. But few Pashtuns on either side of the border will long maintain a radical and international jihadi perspective once the incitement of the U.S. presence is gone. Nobody on either side of the border really wants it.

What can be done must be consonant with the political culture. Let non-military and neutral international organizations, free of geopolitical taint, take over the binding of Afghan wounds and the building of state structures.

If the past eight years had shown ongoing success, perhaps an alternative case for U.S. policies could be made. But the evidence on the ground demonstrates only continued deterioration and darkening of the prognosis. Will we have more of the same? Or will there be a U.S. recognition that the American presence has now become more the problem than the solution? We do not hear that debate. [emphasis added by the diarist.  Graham Fuller is also interviewed in the Rethink Afghanistan video.]

The term Taliban gets disparate use, but it’s important to remember that the Taliban movement was born in Kandahar province, and led from the beginning by Mullah Omar, originally as a rebellion against corrupt warlords.  The Taliban movement was/is strengthed by Pakistan’s ISI, which saw the Taliban as an effective means of keeping India out of Afghanistan.  But the Taliban movement is accurately thought of as a Pashtun movement.  Ethnic Pashtuns stretch across southern Afghanistan into large portions of Pakistan. The Durand Line which separates Afghanistan and Pakistan was concocted by British imperialists, and bisects an area that on ethnic grounds can be called Pashtunistan. They are historically a feudal culture, who unite to repel invaders.

As Graham Fuller describes in the above-referenced article:

The Taliban represent zealous and largely ignorant mountain Islamists. They are also all ethnic Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns see the Taliban — like them or not — as the primary vehicle for restoration of Pashtun power in Afghanistan, lost in 2001. Pashtuns are also among the most fiercely nationalist, tribalized and xenophobic peoples of the world, united only against the foreign invader. In the end, the Taliban are probably more Pashtun than they are Islamist. [emphasis added]

Taking on the Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan with a huge military footprint is the same as taking on ethnic Pashtuns in their homeland.  Those who ignorantly call to defeat and destroy the Taliban are advocating for a fool’s mission that is equivalent to the asinine idea of destroying the Pashtun people.  Afghanis themselves seem to want to find a way to reach peace with the Pashtun Taliban.



Then we have conservative mouthpiece George Will’s article in WaPo on Sept. 1, titled Time To Get Out Of Afghanistan:

Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters. [emphasis added]

So, even a Republican can see that fighting international terrorists – AQ, and not the Taliban – is a special ops/law enforcement job, and NOT a job for a huge military footprint.

George Will continues:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many “accidental guerrillas” to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases — evidently there are none now — must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums? [emphasis added]

Yep, it’s been self-evident to me, for quite a while, that AQ does not need to be in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or any specific locale in order to set up shop.  Are we supposed to put a big military footprint in more equally dysfunctional places around the globe, so that AQ doesn’t open for business there, maybe someday?

Those who want these big military footprints really should be pushing for the draft, just like we had in – you guessed it – South Vietnam.  Hundreds of thousands of troops.



And Sen. Russ Feingold is reading from the same page.  In his Aug. 28 article in the Wall Street Journal:

Ending al Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan is a top national security priority. Yet our operations in Afghanistan will not do so, and they could actually contribute to further destabilization of Pakistan. Meanwhile, we’ve become embroiled in a nation-building experiment that may distract us from combating al Qaeda and its affiliates, not just in Pakistan, but in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and other terrorist sanctuaries.


Some may argue that if we leave now, the Taliban will expand its control over parts of Afghanistan and provide a wider safe haven for al Qaeda. But dedicating a disproportionate amount of our resources to the military occupation of one country is not the most effective way to combat the terrorist threat we face. Even if we invest billions more dollars annually for the next 10 years and sacrifice hundreds more American lives, we are unlikely to get a credible government capable of governing all Afghan territory.

Instead, we should seek to deny al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan in the long term with a civilian-led strategy discouraging any support for the Taliban by Pakistani security forces, and offer assistance to improve Afghanistan’s economy while fighting corruption in its government. This should be coupled with targeted military operations and a diplomatic strategy that incorporates all the countries in the region. We will never relent in our pursuit of al Qaeda, nor will we “walk away” from Afghanistan. But our massive military presence there is driving our enemies together and may well be counterproductive. [emphasis added]



Prof. Juan Cole (his blog is listed on the Dkos front page, and he has exceptional understanding of this area of the world), reiterated a few things in Salon in August titled “What is Obama Defending in Afghanistan?

So the questions that have to be asked are about al-Qaeda’s capabilities. They don’t seem to have a presence in Afghanistan any more to speak of. What is called al-Qaeda in the northwest of Pakistan is often just Uzbek, Tajik and Uighur political refugees who have fled their own countries in the region because their Muslim fundamentalism is not welcomed by those regimes.


The old al-Qaeda of Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri appears to have been effectively disrupted. Terrorist attacks in the West are sometimes still planned by unconnected cells who are al-Qaeda wannabes, but I don’t see evidence of command and control capabilities by al-Qaeda Central. There is frankly no reason to think that if the anti-Karzai guerrillas did gain more territory in Afghanistan, they would suddenly start hosting al-Qaeda operatives who were sure to bring the West back in once they attacked it.

I can see an argument for trying to build up the Afghan army and see that it has long term funding from the international community until such time as Afghanistan’s economy improves enough to pay for it. But I can’t see Afghanistan as a threat to US security. [emphasis added]



I had a recent email exchange with Sen. Durbin’s policy advisor in the Capitol Hill office, inquiring about Sen. Durbin’s pro big-military-footprint stance.  

I’ve asked for explanation of why it is Sen. Durbin thinks that a big military footprint in Afghanistan keeps the U.S. safe.

Mr. Policy has described Sen. Durbin’s stance thusly:

“We know that the Taliban want to regain control of Afghanistan.  We know that if we allow them to regain power, they are likely again to impose total control over the country and to provide protection to al Qaeda, giving al Qaeda valuable space to develop, train for, and try to implement further attacks against the United States.” [emphasis added by the diarist]

Those are some very specific predictions, there.  That’s one heckuva crystal ball.  And I’d like to see what data are going in which result in output like this.

I’ve asked Mr. Policy for transparent, verifiable, publicly available sources for informing and shaping Sen. Durbin’s opinion and for the very specific predictions above.  I’ve asked Mr. Policy to show me primary source material that supports his posture.  

And I’ve been provided with NOTHING of any substance.

Here’s the little I’ve been given:

“Senator Durbin did not get his position on Afghanistan from ‘think tanks.’  He reached his conclusions as a result of his own interactions with experts and officials and his own time in Afghanistan.”


However, if you are truly interested in exploring academic or think-tank arguments for the war in Afghanistan, I’m sure you can find many on the Internet.  You might also find some on the Administration’s websites (White House, Defense, and perhaps State).

So, I’m being told to GUESS what Sen. Durbin is using to justify the occupation of Afghanistan, the casualties, and the enormous expense.

No, Sen. Durbin, that’s not going to cut it.  If you think this constant, endless deployment to Afghanistan and the costs of same keeps us safe, then SHOW ME how it does this.  If you want our troops and their families to shoulder the BURDEN OF BATTLE, then YOU get to shoulder the BURDEN OF PROOF.

Diarist’s note:

As I wrote in rerecent diaries, Sen. Dick Durbin has an office in Springfield, Illinois, in the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  It’s a beautiful little park full of historic Lincoln-era homes, owned by the Dept. of the Interior, and managed by the National Park Service.  Sen. Durbin has rented office space in the George Shutt House since Sen. Durbin was a member of the House of Representatives.  As is shown on the bottom of his Senate web site home page, the address is 525 S. 8th St, Springfield IL 62703.


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  1. ….and head to the coffee shop for refreshments…..

  2. under the sun has tried to get Obama to re-think his position on Afghanistan. We need a masive campaign. Everyone is in agreement here-including the American voters and taxpayers. It’s only the white House that truly appears to be out of the loop. We-obviously-need to bring the president into the loop! The majority of citizens want us out of Afghanistan. Are we all to be ignored-here?

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