War, Will and Warlords: An Interview, Part I

Government Book Talk editor Michele Bartram writes a two-part interview with author Col. Robert Cassidy about his new, critically acclaimed book, War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011, which covers the causes and consequences of counterinsurgency in that troubled region and recommendations for future American approaches there and in similar operations. Part I goes into the cause of the war there and explanations of the key concepts. Click here to read Part II of the interview.


Since World War II, the character of the wars America has fought has changed radically. Traditional methods of warfare, technology, training and strategies designed to counter national armed forces, are not suited for today’s counterinsurgency operations often where civilians mingle freely with enemy combatants in complex urban terrain or remote encampments, and which can be carried out by local warlord-led troops, small guerrilla groups or even individual insurgents. First in Iraq and now honed by the war in Afghanistan, American military (operations), tactics and technology have required reengineering to adapt to this new reality of war.

Soldier-scholar Col. Robert Cassidy, Ph.D., is a military professor at the U.S. Naval War College and a senior fellow with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies who served on operations in Grenada, Egypt, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and most recently as the special assistant to the commander of ISAF Joint Command in Afghanistan from June 2010 to June 2011.

As an expert in strategy and irregular warfare, Cassidy has authored the recently published War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011 which is featured this month in our U.S. Government Bookstore’s special War in Afghanistan collection.

Foreign Policy magazine lauds War, Will, and Warlords as a “must read for all scholars, policymakers, diplomats, and military practitioners seeking to understand the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus” which provides invaluable analysis “concerning uneven U.S. involvement in the region, the contradictions of Pakistan, and the counterinsurgency (COIN) approaches implemented on both sides of the porous region” between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Some refer to the War in Afghanistan as America’s longest war, but to Afghans, conflict has been going on there continuously for almost four decades. Today, July 17, 2012, actually marks the 39-year anniversary of when continual tumult and conflict began in Afghanistan. In July 1973 Afghanistan’s last King or Padishah, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was ousted in a coup d’état by his first cousin and former Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan, who established a republican government. Years of conflict followed, including war with the Soviet Union, rise and fall of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and today’s insurgency.

Image: (Left) Zahir Shah, King of Afghanistan, with his first cousin and Prime Minister Daoud Khan (right) who later deposed Zahir in 1973, beginning Afghanistan’s slide towards forty years of war. Source: CivFanatics Forum.

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR

In this two-part special feature, Government Book Talk was pleased to be able to interview Col. Cassidy about the book, his personal observations about the conflict and the countries, and his recommendations for the future.

Government Book Talk: What inspired you to write this book?  

Colonel Robert Cassidy: I had written a study about the Soviet War in Afghanistan at the French École de Guerre in 2000-2001 and I continued to study our war in Afghanistan after September 2001.   The proximate reason was that I was at the Naval War College in 2009-2010 between tours in Afghanistan and I thought it would be helpful to capture and compare what happened for the first eight years to those years after the surge.  Also, I knew that researching and writing this book would make me more knowledgeable and useful as an adviser in Afghanistan during my tour in 2010-2011.

GovBookTalk: I understand that this was not the original title for the book. How did you arrive at the final choice?

Cassidy: Two initial titles were vetoed. First, I suggested “Malice in Wonderstan,” and my editor then suggested “Ten Years Gone,” which I liked because of its triple reference to the Afghan War’s length, the Led Zeppelin classic song, and the subject of that song, an ancient Greek war.  In the end, I picked “War, Will and Warlords” because these three things are so salient in terms of Afghanistan and what we have done or not done there since we supported the anti-Soviet insurgency in the 1980s.

In the excerpted piece of the preface below, I explain the meaning behind the title because “War, will, and warlords…are central to any understanding of what has transpired in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

WAR: First, the Afghan people have faced tumult, conflict, and war since July 1973… A corollary to this is the fact that the Pakistani state has helped foment insurgent proxy war and terrorism in Afghanistan since 1973. In fact, fomenting insurgencies in Afghanistan by proxy is in the metaphorical DNA of the Pakistani security apparatus.

WILL: Second, protracted irregular wars are a contest of will, as insurgents use the art of the ambush, armed propaganda in the form of spectacular violence, and cross-border sanctuaries to protract the war to erode the will of the counterinsurgents so they give up the fight. The insurgents can win if they can prolong the war while not exhausting their own will.

WARLORDS: Third, warlords, or feudal barons, run criminal patronage fiefs or insurgent-terrorist networks that operate across the borders and exist outside and inside the states as well as serve as state proxies in some cases. Patronage has long been a reality in South Asia. However, the growth and scope of warlord-led insurgent and criminal networks that began before the Soviet-Afghan War… have helped catalyze support for the insurgencies.

Image: Afghan warlords and power brokers. Source: WorldNews,

GovBookTalk: What is the overall message in the book that you want readers to grasp?  

Cassidy: To understand the catalysts for and the ineluctable links between security and insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan; to know the grave consequences if we ultimately fail, and to fathom the odious role of Pakistan’s perfidy in its persistent support of terrorism and insurgency in Afghanistan.

GovBookTalk: You have been on multiple tours in Afghanistan. What surprised you most about either the people or the country itself? 

Cassidy: I would not use the word surprised, but what intrigued me and enthralled me were the country’s beautiful diversity and the Afghan people’s formidable resiliency.

GovBookTalk: What was the single most important “don’t miss” chapter and page in your book and why?

Cassidy: The most important chapter is Chapter 3 because it explains why and how the Taliban regenerated from sanctuary in Pakistan and what catalyzed the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency within and against that state.

The most important single page is page 6 because it elucidates why and how the tribal areas in Pakistan along the Durand Line are the most dangerous places on earth in terms of the terrorist and militant machinations to support attacks on the U.S., other western states, and non-western states.

Image: [GovBookTalk] The Durand Line: Established in an 1893 treaty between Amir Abdul Rahman Khan of Afghanistan and Sir Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of the British Indian government, the Durand line set up the border between Afghanistan and then British India/now present-day Pakistan. Not recognized today by Afghanistan and a source of contention with Pakistan, this poorly marked buffer zone cuts through the Pashtun tribal areas, dividing ethnic Pashtuns (Afghans) on both sides of the border. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. Source: IntelliBriefs and Wikipedia.

READ PART II: In PART II of this interview, Cassidy describes Pakistan’s role, hard lessons learned, useful resources and more…

HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN a copy of War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

To learn more about America’s involvement in Afghanistan, browse our new Afghanistan Collection of Federal publications:

5 Responses to War, Will and Warlords: An Interview, Part I

  1. [...] In this second part of a two-part interview by Government Book Talk blog editor Michele Bartram,  Col. Robert M. Cassidy, author of the new, critically acclaimed book, War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011, describes the lessons learned after ten years of war in Afghanistan. Click here to read Part I of the interview. [...]

  2. Lawrence Michael says:

    The fantastic news for the USA seems that Ronald Reagan should have yeilded a place to Sly Stallone. That would not have encouraged a pre-modern state with modern gadgets like the USA to attempt turn the world in its own image – which patently is illiterate, boorish, religious & pre-modern (where you merely need the last term to emphasize the meaning of those preceeding it). Of course, it has Great Britain as its able partner. History is always elusive. The French took the Arabic version of the Upanishads to translate it into French and have an equally able comprehension of it – though the French would probably do better than most Indians as they amply have been demonstrating to me since 2003! In how good serfs/slaves they can be of the “West” while destroying it! Or so I thought till I realized that Stallone would have been a better person as the US President than a Ronald Reagan. Why? Stallone has better IQ and a better worldview!

  3. [...] How does Led Zeppelin, a “porous line” and fighting cousins relate to war and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan? Read about it in Part I of our interview with Col. Robert Cassidy, author of War, Will, and Warlords: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2011, on Government Book Talk: http://govbooktalk.gpo.gov/2012/07/17/war-will-and-warlords-interview-part-i/ [...]

  4. armansyahardanis says:

    Islam and The Wars.-

    The moslems have motto to be lonesome meet for the god and they will do anything to hope that, including died. If the patronages lost, they should arrange the powers to survive for meeting with the god. They just hope it. They don’t care war, or anything……

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