Okay, one more post-mortem


This is a good one, and to make it more blog- and game-relevant I will try and relate it to A Distant Plain’s mechanics and event cards, where appropriate.

Remember, this game was researched in 2012/13, but it looks as if we hit the high spots. 

From The Intercept, by James Riser, 26 August 2021. https://theintercept.com/2021/08/26/afghanistan-america-failures

It contains a link to a very important document, the last report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR): https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf

For Two Decades, Americans Told One Lie After Another About What They Were Doing in Afghanistan
James Risen
August 26 2021, 9:35 a.m.

IN THE IMMEDIATE aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, U.S.-backed Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum’s forces murdered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners by jamming them into metal shipping containers and letting them suffocate. At the time, Dostum was on the CIA’s payroll and had been working with U.S. special forces to oust the Taliban from power.

The Bush administration blocked subsequent efforts to investigate the mass murder, even after the FBI interviewed witnesses among the surviving Afghans who had been moved to the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and after human rights officials publicly identified the mass grave site where Dostum’s forces had disposed of bodies. Later, President Barack Obama promised to investigate, and then took no action.

Instead, Hollywood stepped in and turned Dostum into a hero. The 2018 movie, “12 Strong,” a jingoistic account of the partnership between U.S. special forces and Dostum in the 2001 invasion, whitewashed Dostum — even as his crimes continued to pile up in the years after the prisoner massacre. At the time of the movie’s January 2018 release, Dostum was in exile, hiding from criminal charges in Afghanistan for having ordered his bodyguards to rape a political opponent, including with an assault rifle. The movie (filmed in New Mexico, not Afghanistan) was based on a book that a New York Times reviewer called “a rousing, uplifting, Toby Keith-singing piece of work.”

68. Dostum WGCT
Uzbek warlord returns from exile: 2 Support and 2 Opposition non-Pashtun spaces to Neutral. Replace 3 Govt or 3 Warlord pieces in non-Pashtun spaces with any pieces of the other.
Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek, had been a military commander in Afghanistan’s wars since the 1970s, fighting first against the mujahideen and then the Taliban. For a short time he was the Deputy Minister of Defense in Hamid Karzai’s Government, but clashed with him and went into exile in Turkey. In 2009, he returned to Afghanistan and established a near-independent, Uzbek-dominated zone in northern Afghanistan.

For two decades, Americans have told each other one lie after another about the war in Afghanistan. The lies have come from the White House, Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the CIA, as well as from Hollywood, cable news pundits, journalists, and the broader culture.

Americans have hungered for a simple storyline, with heroes and villains, to make sense of the longest war in U.S. history. They have wanted stories like “12 Strong” to make them feel good. But at the very edge of the American empire, the war was nasty and brutish, and brought out in Americans the same imperial arrogance that doomed the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

The 9/11 Wars
This month, as the Taliban swiftly took control of Kabul and the American-backed government collapsed, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the government’s watchdog over the Afghan experience, issued his final report. The assessment includes remarkably candid interviews with former American officials involved in shaping U.S. policy in Afghanistan that, collectively, offer perhaps the most biting critique of the 20-year American enterprise ever published in an official U.S. government report.

“The extraordinary costs were meant to serve a purpose,” the report notes, “though the definition of that purpose evolved over time.”

Released in the days after Kabul fell, the report reads like an epitaph for America’s involvement in Afghanistan.

ONE OF THE first things the U.S. did after gaining effective control over Afghanistan following the Taliban’s ouster in 2001 was to set up secret torture chambers. Beginning in 2002, the CIA tortured both Afghans and foreign prisoners flown to these torture rooms from all over Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The worst torture chamber was nicknamed “The Darkness” by the prisoners sent there, who suffered such complete sensory deprivation that they did not even know they were in Afghanistan. They were chained in solitary confinement with no light and music blaring constantly. They were hung by their arms for as long as two days, slammed against walls, forced to lie naked on tarps while gallons of ice water were poured over their bodies. At least one prisoner died in CIA custody after being left shackled in frigid temperatures.

No one was ever held to account for the American torture regime in Afghanistan.

American drone strikes also started early in Afghanistan. The CIA killed Al Qaeda operative Mohammed Atef and others with a drone there in November 2001, just two months after 9/11. Afghanistan soon became the beta test site for high-tech drone warfare, leading to countless civilian casualties and deep resentment among the Afghan people, who felt helpless against the unseen threat circling overhead.

America’s early adoption of drone warfare in Afghanistan helped make a fortune for Neal Blue, the chair of General Atomics; the Southern California energy and defense corporation manufactured the Predator, the first armed drone to fly over Afghanistan. (General Atomics subsequently produced the Predator’s follow-on model, the Reaper.) Blue and his brother, Linden Blue, vice chair of General Atomics, maintained low public profiles throughout the war, but as owners of privately held General Atomics, they were among the first — but hardly the last — American contractors to enrich themselves as blood spilled in Afghanistan.

Before long, the CIA’s drone campaign shifted from going after the few Al Qaeda operatives it could find in Afghanistan to targeting the Taliban — thus placing the drone campaign squarely in the midst of the Afghan domestic insurgency.

2. Predators CTGW
Sanctuary denied: In 1 space per Air Strike, 1 target piece may be Under-ground and ignored for Islamabad.
Collateral damage: Each Air Strike space adds +1 Taliban Resource.
The Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was used by the Coalition in Afghanistan from the very beginning of hostilities in 2001. It could spend up to 24 hours in the air, flying at altitudes of up to 26,000 feet. Some models were unarmed and carried only TV cameras, radar and a laser designator; others also carried Hellfire guided missiles. In either case they were controlled by pilots sitting over 7,000 miles away, watching on screens in trailers at Air Force bases across the United States. (Singer, p. 32-35)

3. Reapers CTGW
Drone war: Air Strikes may remove up to 2 Active Guerrillas (or 1 Base last) per space.
Controversy: Air Strikes affect only 1 space.
After the Predator came the Reaper UAV, first fielded in Afghanistan in 2009. It was bigger, faster, and more heavily armed than the Predator. Still faster, stealthier, and more heavily armed models were being developed. (Singer, p. 116)

Drone Wars
The U.S. launched more than 13,000 drone strikes in Afghanistan between 2015 and 2020, killing up to 10,000 people, according to statistics kept by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The CIA, relying on cellphone numbers to find, fix, and finish its alleged enemies, often launched its Hellfire missiles at the wrong targets or at targets standing amid groups of civilians.

The practice devastated Afghan villages, yet the U.S. refused to keep track of civilian casualties from drone strikes. Instead, officials insisted that each strike had hit its intended target, while ignoring the claims of villagers that the missiles had killed a tribal chief or decimated a meeting of village elders.

Former Marine infantry officer Ian Cameron, who oversaw drone targeting in Afghanistan for nine months in 2018 and 2019, wrote in the Washington Post of the “sterility of this type of warfare, which allowed me to kill Taliban fighters in one moment and finish a half-eaten hamburger lunch the next.” It seemed to him a “Sisyphean exercise (since the Taliban never ran out of replacement fighters).”

Along with drone strikes came “night raids,” in which U.S. and Afghan forces would burst into a home in the middle of the night and kill or capture those inside, breeding further resentment. The raids were so deeply unpopular that they sometimes led an entire village to switch its allegiance to the Taliban. What was worse, the U.S. military and the CIA failed for years to fully grasp the degree to which their airstrikes and night raids were being manipulated by Afghans who fed them false information to convince the Americans to launch raids against their local rivals or have those rivals carted off to Guantánamo.

34. Accidental Guerrillas TWGC
Easy come, easy go: Remove Taliban Guerrillas that Redeploy.
Drawn in: After Coalition completes an Assault operation, Taliban may place a Guerrilla into any 1 of the Assault spaces.
David Kilcullen’s 2009 book The Accidental Guerrilla explores in depth the problems posed by Western interventions to counter insurgencies in the developing world. In Afghanistan, the mistrust of foreigners, disruption of traditional networks and power relationships, and regional or global ideological or religious movements all combined to create a complex resistance to what the Coalition was trying to accomplish, as young Afghan males joined in the violence local to their community, on the side resisting foreign invasion.
38. Night Raids GCTW
Effective tactics: Remove all Insurgent Bases from any 2 spaces with Coalition Troops.
Kabul defends privacy: Government free Governs in an Afghan Support space, ignoring Control and Coalition.
“Night raids” were a tactic used mostly by US Special Forces members to kill or capture individuals on the “Joint Prioritized Effects List” of important insurgent commanders and organizers. Because these operations involved sudden night-time forced entries into civilian houses, there were instances of civilian collateral casualties and mistaken identity, as well as anger over violation of the sanctity of an Afghan’s home (a major cultural transgression). In April 2012, the Afghan Government obtained agreement that future night raids would be led by Afghan units, or at least conducted with the Government’s knowledge and approval.

AFTER THE INITIAL invasion that ousted the Taliban, the U.S. shifted most of its military and intelligence resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002 and 2003. The Bush administration believed that Iraq was a more important theater of war than Afghanistan and falsely thought that the war in Afghanistan was over.

The shift of American resources by the Bush administration to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 was the greatest military miscalculation of the entire war in Afghanistan. While the U.S. was distracted by Iraq, the Taliban, which had been all but defeated and dispersed, recovered, and regained strength.

James Dobbins, a career diplomat who served as the Bush administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan, said in an interview with the special inspector general that officials soon realized they had to decide which war would receive the most government resources, and “they chose Iraq. … You had several years of calculated neglect [in Afghanistan]. … It was intentional.”

Yet even as the Bush administration drew down militarily in Afghanistan, it still insisted on creating a new, pro-Western government in Kabul and began a massive nation-building project in the country. It did so without grasping the significance of several basic facts about the conditions it faced.

The shift of American resources by the Bush administration to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 was the greatest military miscalculation of the entire war in Afghanistan.

21. Operation Iraqi Freedom TCGW
Flypaper: Taliban must remove a Base, a die roll of Guerrillas, and a die roll of Resources.
Quagmire: Coalition removes 2 of its pieces from Available to Casualties and is Ineligible through next card.
It was a common criticism that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the lengthy insurgency that followed it proved a fatal diversion from the US-led effort in Afghanistan. This was neither completely true nor false: the modest commitment of US forces to Afghanistan in 2002-04 was not yet opposed by a strong Taliban insurgency, and the official focus was on rebuilding Afghan government and society and reconstituting its security forces. By 2005-06, the escalating demands of the Iraqi insurgency did prevent effective reinforcement of Afghanistan, just at the time the Taliban insurgency was gaining traction, but by 2009-10 the winding-down of the force commitment in Iraq permitted a significant “surge” of troops, aid, and resources. (Collins, 77-80)

40. Line Item GCWT
Congress appropriates: Add the lesser of Aid or +15 to Government Resources.
Cuts: Cut Aid to half its level (round down). Executing Faction remains Eligible
To quote Ronald E. Neumann, then United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, in 2005: “Iraq and hurricane relief won, and we lost.” (Collins, p. 78)

The first was that the Afghan militias with whom the United States had joined forces to overthrow the Taliban in 2001 were largely composed of and loyal to the country’s minority ethnic groups, while the Taliban were Pashtun, by far the largest ethnic group in the country, representing more than 40 percent of the population. The Tajiks, who dominated the Northern Alliance, were America’s most dependable allies throughout the war, but they accounted for only a little more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s population.

Even after the Taliban were ousted from power, they largely retained their support in rural southern Afghanistan, the country’s Pashtun base. The U.S. and the government it installed in Kabul never figured out how to gain the loyalty of the rural Pashtun heartland.

The U.S. failed to fully understand how deeply those ethnic divides would undercut nation-building in a country whose national identity had been weakened by decades of war. Even years after the U.S.-backed government was installed, it was still easy in Kabul to identify which government ministers were Tajik. They were the ones whose offices were dominated by large portraits of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the so-called Lion of the Panjshir, who led the Northern Alliance until he was assassinated by Al Qaeda two days before 9/11.

60. Tajiks WCGT
Tajiks rally against Taliban threat: Shift 2 non-Pashtun spaces each 1 level toward Support.
Tajiks rally against Pashtun rule: Transfer a die roll of Patronage to Warlords Resources.
Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, after Pashtuns. They comprise about 30% of the population and are concentrated in the northern and northeastern regions of the country. Tajik fighters dominated the Northern Alliance that resisted the Taliban during the Emirate period (1996-2001), and as such were important figures in the reformation of the Afghan Government. However, Tajik dominance in certain critical areas, such as the ANA officer corps, was later scaled back to a more nationally representative percentage. (Collins, p. 8; Moyar, p. 196; Brookings Afghanistan Index)

Designer’s notes:

Taliban – the Quetta Shura Taliban, Haqqani Network and Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin – plus an indeterminate number of smaller groups and “accidental guerrillas” (see David Kilcullen’s book of the same title) who may temporarily join with them. The great majority of Taliban members are Pashtun in origin, therefore they are allowed to move faster through Pashtun spaces and are easier to detect when they March into a non-Pashtun space. Also very significant is the Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan: while it is not impervious to attack, it forms a vital rear area for this insurgent player. Taliban victory is predicated on placing enough Population into Opposition, plus entrenching itself sufficiently in the social fabric of the country by a large network of Bases.
• The Warlords forces represent an even greater abstraction than the Taliban – not only do they represent organized crime groups and dissident Pashtun tribes, this faction also encompasses many of the non-Pashtun ethnic groups of Afghanistan: Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and so on. They exist in opposition to the Taliban and the national government, both of whom pose the threat of establishing a centralizing and dominating authority. Hence, the Warlords’ victory condition relies on a large uncontrolled Population and acquisition of Resources, which they can accumulate by Cultivation and Trafficking of drugs and contraband, or receiving payments from the Coalition or Government when these players Surge or Transport.

Another fundamental miscalculation involved Pakistan. In the 1980s, the CIA had worked with Pakistan’s intelligence service to support the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan. But following the U.S. invasion in 2001, the Taliban leadership found sanctuary in Pakistan. The Taliban were able to reorganize and recruit new forces from among the more than one million, mainly Pashtun, Afghan refugees on Pakistan’s side of the Durand Line, the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan established by the British at the end of the 19th century.

Pakistan’s intelligence and military services played a double game with the U.S. throughout the American war in Afghanistan. For years, Pakistan provided America with logistical support, allowing supplies for U.S. forces in landlocked Afghanistan to be transported through its territory. It also sometimes provided critical intelligence on Al Qaeda and terrorism suspects believed to be traversing the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet many officers in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence were Islamists who were sympathetic to the Pashtuns and the Taliban, and had a long history of support for related Pashtun groups like the Haqqani network, whose founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, had been on the CIA payroll during the 1980s campaign against the Soviet occupation.

What’s more, Pakistani officials saw the war in Afghanistan through the lens of their ongoing cold war with India. They were deeply suspicious of the ties between India and the Northern Alliance-based government installed by the U.S. in Kabul.

The U.S.-Pakistan alliance, built on lies, proved unsustainable. The Taliban survived the initial American onslaught in 2001 in large part because it had Pakistan’s backing. A decade into the war, Pakistan began to tighten its grip on American supply routes. Relations worsened after protests erupted in Pakistan against U.S. drone strikes there, and they nearly broke down following the U.S. raid on Abbottabad in May 2011, in which American special forces killed Osama bin Laden. A subsequent NATO airstrike that hit two military facilities in Pakistan and killed 28 Pakistani troops in November 2011 further strained ties. The U.S. was eventually forced to rely on far more costly supply routes through Russia and Central Asia.

Designer’s Notes on the Taliban generally, and:

• We were often asked during testing and development why Pakistan is not included as a fifth faction. The Islamabad Track, which changes according to events during the game, is critical to the Taliban’s freedom of action within Pakistan, but we felt that it was neither borne out historically nor particularly realistic to expect this country to come to the point of acting as a full ally of any other player; doing so would in the end compromise its interests. In concrete game terms, there would also be very little for a Pakistani player to do.

4. #2 Is Dead CTWG
Leadership loss: Remove a Taliban piece from Pakistan. Subtract a die roll from Taliban Resources.
Martyr: Place a Taliban piece in Pakistan. Add a die roll to Taliban Resources
For every #1 insurgent leader, there is a #2 – and several of these were eliminated in Afghanistan or Pakistan by drone strikes (because there is always a #3 to take #2’s place). Sometimes these drone strikes missed their mark but were still taken as malicious acts, further intensifying feeling against the Coalition. (Singer, p.399)

6. US-Pakistan Talks CTWG
Feathers smoothed: Shift Islamabad 2 boxes toward Hostility.
Frenemies: Shift Islamabad 2 boxes toward Sponsorship.
There were many meetings between American and Pakistani government officials for them to bring pressure on the Taliban’s sanctuary in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) that form part of Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The Government of Pakistan, struggling simultaneously with religious extremism, unstable politics, a weak economy, poverty, unemployment, regional separatism, domestic terrorism, constant tension with India, and a desire to exert influence on Afghanistan, was unable to muster more than token crackdowns on Taliban fighters and occasional cooperation with Coalition forces at border crossing points. (Giustozzi p. 21-28; US DIA “(New) Great Game”)

22. Border Incident TCWG
Taliban insertion foiled: Remove any 3 Taliban Guerrillas in or adjacent to Pakistan.
Pakistan furious: Shift Islamabad 2 boxes toward Sponsorship.
Executing Faction remains Eligible
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan maintained considerable forces in a system of garrisons and outposts to maintain control over the border between the two countries, and Coalition forces often operated very near the border to try and interdict insurgent movements. Exchanges of fire occurred and sometimes escalated into diplomatic incidents.

27. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan TGCW
TTP attack in Pakistan: Shift Islamabad 2 boxes toward Hostility.
TTP support Quetta Shura: Taliban place 2 pieces in or adjacent to Pakistan and add +3 Resources.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) or “Pakistan Taliban” was a religious extremist movement within Pakistan that was mainly active in the Northwest Frontier Province dominated by the Pashtun nationality. The TTP and Quetta Shura Taliban, the main Afghan Taliban organization, had similar beliefs and objectives and occasionally cooperated; the TTP also was responsible for a large number of incidents in major Pakistani cities, provoking a violent response from the Army. (Kilcullen Accidental Guerrilla, p. 237-238)

28. Karzai to Islamabad TGWC
“I’m listening”: Shift Islamabad 2 boxes toward Hostility.
“I hear you knocking but you can’t come in”: Taliban Resources +6. Government Ineligible through next card.
The main diplomatic issue between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been the Durand Line, an artificial creation of the British Empire that divides the Pashtun nationality in two, and the associated issues it raises of territorial integrity, tribal revolt, and the use by Afghan insurgents of Pakistani territory as a sanctuary. Pakistan would prefer a stable and functioning Afghan Government, as a counterweight to the influence of India, but the frequent border skirmishes put both governments in a difficult position. (US DIA “(New) Great Game”)

39. Trilateral Summit GCTW
US spurs Pak-Afghan ties: Shift Islamabad 1 box toward Hostility.
Double game: Shift Islamabad 2 boxes toward Sponsorship. Aid +3. Patronage +3.
The United States would have much preferred to see stable and productive relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, its two main recipients of military and economic aid in the region. But Washington’s actual ability to make this so varied. (US DoD Report on Progress, p. 82)

43. Pakistani Offensive GTCW
Militant hunt: Shift Islamabad 2 boxes toward Hostility. Remove 2 Taliban pieces from Pakistan.
All show: Shift Islamabad 1 box toward Sponsorship. Executing Faction remains Eligible.
Coalition forces operating near the border with Pakistan were not able to achieve consistent interoperability with the Pakistani Army. However, the Government of Pakistan was acutely aware of the threat posed by so many different insurgent organizations operating from its territory, from Baluchi separatists and the Quetta Shura Taliban to the Pakistani Taliban. It launched a number of offensives into the north-west, sometimes taking heavy casualties. (Donahue,
p. 98; Kilcullen, Accidental Guerrilla p. 238-244) 

44. Pakistani Politics GTCW
Shift Islamabad 1 box toward Tolerance. Then, if at Pressure, remove 1 Taliban Base from Pakistan. If at Backing, +6
Taliban Resources. Executing Faction remains Eligible.
The 2007 Red Mosque Incident (in which religious students occupied a mosque in Islamabad that was then stormed
by Pakistani security forces, with considerable casualties) and suspected involvement of the Pakistani Taliban in the
assassination that year of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were examples of the turbulent relationship between extremist organizations and Pakistan’s politics. (Afsar)

48. Strategic Partners GTWC
New Delhi help: Aid +6, Govt Resources +6, Patronage +1.
Pakistani fears fed: Shift Islamabad 2 boxes toward Sponsorship
India was the largest regional donor to Afghanistan during the period and had an interest in the creation and maintenance of a stable regime there, both as a counterweight to Pakistan’s influence and to contain the spread of extremism and terrorism. (US DIA “(New) Great Game”)

65. Islamabad Blocks Resupply WTGC
COIN effort, Taliban taxes both hurt: Sabotage both Roads adjacent to Pakistan. -7 Taliban Resources. Coalition and Govt Ineligible through next card. Executing Faction, if Insurgent, remains Eligible.
In retaliation for incidents where Pakistani soldiers manning border posts were killed in accidental exchanges of fire
with Coalition troops, the Pakistani Government twice shut down the two main routes for Coalition supplies to reach landlocked Afghanistan from Pakistani seaports: once in 2010 for a week, and once in 2011-12 for almost nine months. The Coalition was forced to fly supplies in or use the Northern Delivery System of minor roads entering from the “Three
‘Stans”. This expedient was extremely expensive, but it did sidestep the network of Taliban “taxation” and raids on supply convoys along the southern routes.

Another miscalculation came when the United States turned its back on an early opportunity to work with Iran on Afghanistan. Iran has a long border with western Afghanistan, and the Persian influence in Herat and the surrounding region dates back to the days of the ancient Silk Road trade route. When the Taliban came to power in the 1990s, Iran saw the group as its enemy. Iran is predominantly Shia Muslim, while the Pashtun are Sunni, and the Taliban had a history in the 1990s of persecuting the Hazara minority group, which is predominantly Shia.

64. Hazara WTGC
Ethnic cleansing: In each of 2 nonPashtun Mountain spaces— If Taliban present, set to Opposition. Then, if Warlord pieces exceed Govt, remove 2 Govt or Taliban pieces. If Govt exceeds Warlords, remove 2 Warlord pieces.
The Hazara are Shia Muslims and compose about 9% of the population. (The great majority of Afghans are Sunni.) Historically they have been threatened and discriminated against by the other ethnic groups, particularly the Pashtuns, and have received few benefits from associating with the Government. (Afghanistan Smart Book) Across the border, in Quetta, Hazaras responded to extremist attacks with plans to organize for self defense, and persecuted Hazaras in
central Afghanistan might have done the same.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when the U.S. was preparing to invade Afghanistan, U.S. and Iranian officials secretly met in Geneva to discuss possible collaboration against the Taliban. Iranian officials even provided the Americans with targeting information for its anti-Taliban air campaign in late 2001, according to former U.S. officials.

But the brief possibility of an opening with Tehran ended as the Bush administration decided to widen its war on terror beyond Afghanistan. In his 2002 State of the Union, George W. Bush declared Iran a member of the “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea. Iran then reversed course and began to provide covert support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, while also supporting the insurgency against American forces in Iraq.

As the Taliban revived, the Bush administration had few troops left in Afghanistan to counter the threat. Within a few years of its initial victory in 2001, the U.S. was stuck in a quagmire of its own making in Afghanistan, just as it was in Iraq.

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION decided to stay in Afghanistan, but it no longer had any clear objectives. The original targets of the military mission — Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda leadership – had clearly escaped. So what was America’s new mission?

Despite years of debate, the Bush White House couldn’t decide. The Bush administration wanted to leave Afghanistan and focus on Iraq — yet it didn’t want to leave the military field open to the Taliban. Bush didn’t want to engage in nation-building in Afghanistan, yet his government remained committed to creating a new, Western-style central government with modern roads, schools, hospitals, and a national army. (The CIA even quietly did nation-building of its own, creating the Afghan intelligence service, called the National Directorate of Security, and filling it with Tajiks on the CIA payroll.)

The result was that throughout his time in office, George W. Bush had one foot in and one foot out of Afghanistan. Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser in his second term, weakly told the special inspector general that “there was just no process to do post-war mission planning.”

The U.S. installed Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun who had been living in exile in Pakistan, as Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban leader, and he went on to become Afghanistan’s president. The Americans literally escorted Karzai into Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2001; when a U.S. aircraft accidentally bombed the group of Special Forces and CIA personnel bringing Karzai into the country, CIA officer Greg Vogle famously dove on top of Karzai, saving his life.

Karzai had been chosen largely because he was pro-Western and because, in the view of the ethnic groups and warlords in Afghanistan at the time, he was the least offensive candidate. The fact that he was an ethnic Pashtun was thought to be an important olive branch to Pashtuns resentful of the U.S.-backed victory of the Tajiks and the Northern Alliance. But he was from a small Pashtun tribe based in the village of Karz, outside Kandahar, and was not considered a prominent leader among the major Pashtun tribes.

51. Karzai GWCT
President taps cousins: +1 Patronage per space at Support.
President deals to keep office: Transfer 2 die rolls of Patronage to Warlord Resources.
Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, was appointed President at the Bonn Accords in 2002. He thereafter was elected twice, though the legitimacy of the elections was disputed. The office of President exerted considerable power under Afghanistan’s new Constitution, but this document also required Karzai to give up power in 2014. Like most men who had reached the height of national leadership of Afghanistan, he survived by making deals and brokering relationships
among a complex web of family, ethnic, and religious organizations in a continuous and delicate balancing act. (Collins,
p. 92-93; Moyar, p. 201-204)

It didn’t take long for corruption to become rampant under Karzai. With the CIA’s backing, the new president made his younger half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the de-facto viceroy of Kandahar and southern Afghanistan — and the boss of the massive Afghan heroin trade.

Ahmed Wali Karzai’s power over the heroin business meant that when tractor-trailers loaded with drugs were stopped by local security forces, he could call their commanders to order the release of the trucks and their contents.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration repeatedly uncovered evidence of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s leading role in the Afghan drug trade; in one instance, American investigators discovered links between a truck found with 110 pounds of heroin and an intermediary for Ahmed Wali Karzai. The White House refused to allow the DEA to take any action against Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was secretly on the CIA’s payroll.

The willingness of the U.S. to turn a blind eye to Ahmed Wali Karzai’s role as a drug lord was just one symptom of a much larger problem. The U.S. had invaded a country whose most lucrative businesses, besides war, were opium production and heroin smuggling, and yet American officials could never figure out what to do about it. In the end, they did nothing.

For 20 years, America essentially ran a narco-state in Afghanistan.

During the initial invasion and bombing campaign in 2001, the Bush administration ignored the drug problem, believing that it was a distraction from America’s main counterterrorism mission, and refused to bomb drug-related facilities.

Later, American officials assigned to deal with Afghanistan would occasionally push for greater counternarcotics measures; at one point they even brought in Colombian counternarcotics agents to try to train a new Afghan counternarcotics force. The Justice Department also built a special Afghan drug court, while the State Department launched a campaign to eradicate poppy crops.

But the efforts were just window dressing. The Karzai government refused to allow aerial chemical spraying of poppy fields, fearing a backlash among farmers. As a result, the State Department relied on manual eradication, which meant that hundreds of Afghans with tractors and sticks were sent out to manually rip up poppy fields — thus risking the wrath of the farmers. State Department officials soon realized that the fields identified for eradication by Afghan officials and local leaders were those of their rivals or of unimportant farmers. The crops of powerful Afghans were almost never touched.

Each time American officials sought to make counternarcotics a priority, they ran into the reality that the drug lords of Afghanistan were also the warlords of Afghanistan who were on the CIA payroll and who the U.S. military relied upon to battle the Taliban.

The U.S. spent nearly $9 billion on its token counternarcotics programs in Afghanistan, yet opium production and heroin smuggling in Afghanistan skyrocketed under the U.S.-backed government. Afghanistan now produces more than 80 percent of the world’s heroin supply.

Afghanistan’s opium production soared in 2002 — and just kept growing. By 2020, 224,000 hectares of land were under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, compared with 123,000 hectares in 2010, according to the United Nations.

Besides notes on Warlords, passim:

49. Crop Substitution GWCT
Slash and burn: Govt free Eradicates in any 1 Province with Govt cubes. Remove all Warlord pieces there.
Diversify: Govt removes 1 Warlord Base. Warlords then free Cultivate in up to 3 eligible spaces (as if Rallied there).
Eradication of opium crops proved to be effective only on a very temporary basis, and usually worsened the situation
of the small farmers who did most of the work of raising poppies. Afghanistan was also the world’s leader in production of hashish, although the amount of land used for cultivation and the amounts of money involved was much smaller. (CMFC Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan, p. 14-15, 25-26)

58. Counter-Narc WCGT
Interdicted: Until Propaganda, halve (round down) Resources to Warlords from each Traffic.
Kabul buys crop: Transfer 1 Govt Resource to Warlords per COIN Control space with Warlords. +1 Patronage.
Increased presence of security forces, especially Coalition troops, tended to reduce the amount of opium produced in major growing areas such as Helmand Province. However, troop presence was only a temporary solution, and the process of interdicting and arresting the people responsible for trading opium was susceptible to corruption (US DoD Report on Progress, p. 94-95; CMFC Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan, p. 26-27, 48-49). In strict dollar terms, it might
have been cheaper for the Afghan Government, with support from Coalition nation governments, to simply buy opium from farmers and either destroy it or process it into morphine and other drugs for legitimate medical use, as done in India. The latter measure might even have been profitable. However, these expedients would not address the deeper issue of the narcotics trade, addiction among the civilian population, corruption, and the great distortions that opium production as a cash crop produced in Afghanistan’s largely agricultural economy

63. Teetotalers WTCG
Strictly Koran: Remove 1 Warlord Base from each Taliban Control space, –1 Taliban Resource each.
Lighten up, man: Each space with Warlord pieces, Warlords may pay –1 Resource per Taliban Guerrilla to remove any of them.
During the period of the Taliban Government, opium production was discouraged, and indeed was almost completely shut down in 2001. (CMFC, Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan, p. 13) After the “re-launch” of the Taliban insurgency in 2003-04, opium production reached higher and higher levels. While the Taliban found participating in the process profitable (about 10% of the entire value of the opiates trade ended up in Taliban hands, estimates of the value varying between 70 and 400 million dollars a year: CMFC, Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan, p. 44-45), they might again have
decided that narcotics were a social ill with too high a social price (for example, there are an estimated 1.5 million opium addicts in Afghanistan, about 5% of the population).

72. Poppy Crop Failure WGTC
Output plummets: Remove 1 Taliban or 2 Warlord Bases.
Prices soar: Remove 1 Warlord piece. Then Insurgents each add +1 Resource per their Guerrilla at Warlord Bases.
While the amounts of money involved in the opium trade are spectacular (over $2 billion annually), prices are highly volatile and crops can easily fail. (CMFC Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan, p. 8-13) Sometimes a major failure would hurt small farmers but enabled big dealers who had built up stocks to raise their profits as prices responded to the limited overall supply.

AMERICAN AID AND reconstruction money overwhelmed Afghanistan’s economy. The U.S. provided $145 billion over 20 years to rebuild a country that had a gross domestic product of just $19 billion in 2019. As recently as 2018, nearly 80 percent of Afghan government spending came from Western donors.

The combined effects of the massive flows of Western aid dollars, funding for combat operations, and the river of narco-dollars created a surreal economic bubble in Afghanistan. A new, Western-style urban professional class sprang up in Kabul, many of whose members are now fleeing the Taliban. But the money also triggered an epidemic of corruption and insider dealing that thoroughly discredited both the Afghan central government and the United States.

Development detachments: Coalition Training Operation may buy Civic Actions in 1 or 2 spaces.
Defensive posture: Coalition Assault may target only 1 space per card.
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were created by the United States Army as small joint civil-military organizations with the triple aim of creating local security, fostering better cooperation between different agencies working in the same area, and promoting reconstruction. By 2011, there were 27 PRTs operating in the majority of
Afghanistan’s provinces, about half of them commanded by United States officers. The PRTs were a generally positive development in that they delivered several billion dollars of economic aid and initiated thousands of projects. But there were tensions between the civilian, military, and non-governmental organizations that worked within the concept. (Collins, p. 66-67; Moyar, p. 200)

50. Development Aid GWCT
Funds to projects: Coalition and Govt conduct Civic Action as if Support Phase, but spending Aid instead of Resources.
Local diversion opportunity: +3 Patronage. Warlords add a die roll in Resources.
Billions of dollars flowed into Afghanistan from foreign donors to improve the country’s infrastructure and economic function. Thousands of large and small projects were completed, to address all sectors of need in Afghan society, but progress was hampered by pervasive corruption, lack of security to protect completed projects, diversion of funds, and a thriving illegal economy based on narcotics that was far more profitable than any legitimate business. (Collins p. 66-71; Giustozzi 198-200)

Much of the American money enriched U.S. contractors without ever entering the Afghan economy. Much of it also disappeared into secret bank accounts in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, held by Afghan government officials, warlords, and their families, a phenomenon described in a 2020 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as “the cross-pollination of criminality between Afghanistan and Dubai.”

IN this game we talk about billions and billions of dollars in aid and support to Afghan people and organizations. But over $2 TRILLION was spent to prosecute the war, and the great majority of it went to American corporations… where we talk about corruption in Afghanistan, it is really about a lot of struggle over a small slice of a very large pie.

70. Contractor Surge WGTC
Everyone gets a slice: Shift up to 3 spaces with Coalition and Govt pieces 1 level toward Support. Add +1 Patronage, +1 Taliban Resource, and +1 Warlord Resource per shift.
Wide use of private contractors, especially private security companies employing local nationals, has been a hallmark of both the Iraq and Afghanistan counterinsurgencies. A case could be made that, while the behavior of these companies might be effective in solving immediate problems, it might in the long term work against the counterinsurgents’ interests. For example, it was found that millions  of dollars, paid to private trucking and security companies to run supply convoys to Coalition bases, ended up in the hands of the Taliban as a result of side deals by the warlords who ran the companies. (Schwartz, p. 11-18; US HoR Warlord Inc., passim)

The frenetic example set by Kabul Bank provided the model for how the Afghan elite could efficiently and blatantly move American aid money out of Afghanistan and into their private offshore bank accounts. The bank, once the largest in Afghanistan, was founded by Sherkhan Farnood, a money-exchange dealer with operations in Kabul and Dubai who had fled Russia under suspicion that he was a money launderer. After he obtained the bank charter from the Karzai government, he used Kabul Bank to embezzle money from Afghan depositors to pay for his personal investments in Dubai real estate. Farnood also took out a $100 million loan from Kabul Bank to buy Pamir Airways, which flew commercial routes from Kabul to Dubai.

Farnood’s couriers transporting cash from his money exchange in Kabul could “now more easily transport money embezzled from a Farnood-controlled bank (Kabul Bank) on a Farnood-owned airline (Pamir Airways) and deliver it to a Farnood-owned exchange house (Shaheen Money Exchange) in Dubai,” the Carnegie report concluded.

Before the bank finally and spectacularly collapsed in 2010, Farnood enjoyed plenty of political protection, because he was also using Kabul Bank to help Afghanistan’s most powerful politicians launder their ill-gotten cash in Dubai.

Meanwhile, petty corruption — bribes to local officials to obtain any service or job — was endemic, stoking more resentment against the government among average Afghans. The U.N. found that by 2012, Afghans were paying $3.9 billion in bribes per year; half of all Afghans paid a bribe for a public service.

As the U.S.-backed government continued, petty bribery and corruption grew worse, not better. Militias “were using their position and closeness with the government and U.S. military to control roads, secure lucrative contracts, establish themselves as regional powers, and sometimes serve both sides, cooperating with both international and Taliban forces to maximize profits,” concluded a 2018 report from the Institute of World Politics.

The government-fueled bribery and corruption forced many Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, who gained a reputation for settling financial and other disputes using more straightforward — if far more brutal — methods. “Trying to compete with the Taliban’s successful dispute resolution would have meant allowing sharia, and that’s not something we could do politically,” Barnett Rubin, a longtime Afghanistan expert who advised the State Department, told the special inspector general.

13. Anti-Corruption Drive CWTG
“We mean it this time”: Until Prop, Govern transfers no Patronage.
Game the system: Government selects Troop or Police targets for a free Suborn in 1 space and adds +3 Patronage.
Widespread corruption, especially bribery, was a major issue in Afghanistan and a formidable obstacle to the Government’s gaining any legitimacy or trust from its citizens. President Karzai issued several decrees directing crackdowns on corruption in the judicial, law enforcement, and local government sectors. While some progress was made in the later years of the Coalition’s time in Afghanistan, the country remained one of the most corrupt in the world. (UNODC Report on Afghan Corruption, passim; US DoD Report on Progress, p. 78-80)

Often, American reconstruction projects provided funding directly to the Taliban and related extremist groups. Afghan contractors frequently had to pay off the Taliban so they wouldn’t attack U.S.-backed projects, “making the insurgents in effect unofficial subcontractors to the U.S. government,” the special inspector general concluded. One example was a U.S.-funded project to build a highway from Gardez to Khost in southeastern Afghanistan. In order to avoid attacks in 2011, the road’s contractors paid $1 million a year to a local figure known only as Arafat, who was believed to have ties to the Haqqani network.

14. Economic Project CWTG
Erode networks: In each space with cubes, replace an Insurgent Faction’s Base with its Guerrilla.
Civil-military friction misdirects aid: An Insurgent gains +3 Resources per space with both a COIN Base and its piece.
Billions of dollars were spent in Afghanistan in the attempt to re-activate the country’s moribund civilian economy. But such large amounts of money went astray as often as they benefitted or stabilized communities, due to such factors as poor police and administrative leadership, corruption, theft, abuse of civilians, or the inability of security forces to protect Non-Government Organizations. (Moyar, p. 208)

PERHAPS THE MOST cynical decision in the war in Afghanistan was taken by Obama in 2009. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama sought to distinguish himself from his main political rivals with his emphatic denunciations of the war in Iraq. Fearful of being attacked from the right for being too dovish, Obama balanced his attacks on the Iraq War by claiming that he would do more than the Bush administration had done to win “the good war” in Afghanistan.

In 2009, Obama announced that he was escalating U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan: his ill-considered Afghan “surge.” The surge came with no real long-term strategy, and it is hard not to see Obama’s decision as little more than a political calculation to live up to his earlier campaign promise, which had only been made to insulate him from attacks on his position on Iraq.

As American troops flowed steadily into Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, combat operations were focused on the south, notably Helmand Province, a stronghold of both the Taliban and opium production. U.S. troop levels peaked at about 100,000 during the surge, the highest levels of the entire war in Afghanistan.

But the surge quickly descended into an inconclusive war of attrition. U.S. casualties reached their highest levels of the war during the surge, with fatalities rising to 496 in 2010. Obama drew down U.S. forces to around 8,400 by the time he left office.

Surge mechanic – but flooding the map with tan coloured cubes doesn’t always work. 

Donald Trump came into the presidency in 2017, having campaigned on a vow to end America’s forever wars. He was determined to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But he was easily distracted by cronies eager to make money. Erik Prince, the infamous founder of Blackwater, nearly convinced Trump to let him take over the entire combat mission in Afghanistan by using paid mercenaries instead of U.S. troops. Instead, Trump got so sidetracked that he let the Pentagon talk him into increasing troop levels to about 14,000 in 2017.

Trump finally got his way in February 2020, when the U.S. and the Taliban signed an agreement setting the conditions for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. After the 2020 presidential election, Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller announced that U.S. troop levels had been reduced to 2,500.

Joe Biden came into office this year, making the case that, after 20 years, the war in Afghanistan had to end. Getting out of Afghanistan was perhaps the only issue on which he publicly agreed with Donald Trump.

On April 14, he announced that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn by September 11, 2021: the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Trump promptly criticized Biden for failing to meet the May 1 deadline he had negotiated with the Taliban, saying that “we can and should get out earlier,” and that “getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.”

The Taliban also issued a statement in April criticizing Biden for failing to meet the agreed-upon deadline. They warned ominously that the delay “opens the way for [the Taliban] to take every necessary countermeasure.”

The meaning and consequences of that Taliban statement in April are now playing out at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

THE U.S. CERTAINLY did some good in Afghanistan. Its nation-building created a new educated, urban middle class, and the U.S.-backed government offered unprecedented rights to women. By 2018, life expectancy had increased by nine years, literacy rates rose, and child mortality fell.

But the special inspector general’s final report, which documents those gains, concluded that they were not “commensurate with the U.S. investment.” A former Pentagon official told the special inspector general that “when you look at how much we spent and what we got for it, it’s mind boggling.”

In an interview with the special inspector general, Douglas Lute, who coordinated strategy for Afghanistan at the National Security Council from 2007 to 2013, gave a brief and devastating critique of the American enterprise in Afghanistan.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan,” Lute said. “We didn’t know what we were doing.”

See my earlier posts on deliberately bad play….

About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

2 Responses to Okay, one more post-mortem

  1. Pete S/ SP says:

    Interesting post once again- shows the depth of the game and how it reflects the history of what happened.

    The book that inspired the film ’12 Strong’ is very different- to the point that I didn’t recognise what I was watch on the screen when I saw the film….



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