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Break it Down Show – LTG Daniel P. Bolger

Monday, March 30th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
  

Friend of ZP, Pete Turner and his partner Jon interview LTG Daniel P. Bolger, author of Why We Lost, at The Break it Down Show:

The General’s Account – With Daniel P. Bolger 

This is a great episode, a “must listen” event – insurgency, accountability, the GRU, the Taliban, counterinsurgency theory, ISIS, Boko Haram, strategy, “powerpoint generals”, ” the Fulda Gap Model”, ” we are the most irresponsible superpower in any era that I am aware of” and…..More!

In Brief: Azzam illustrates Levi-Strauss on Mythologiques

Friday, March 6th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the geometry of two miracle stories from Abdullah Azzam ]
.

SPEC DQ Azzam honey & vinegar

These two tales are taken from Abdullah Azzam, Signs of ar-Rahman in the Jihad of Afghanistan.

**

Binary oppositions seem to be basic to the human thought process, and this simple, elegant observation has in turn given rise to a number of interesting philosopphical explorations, some of which are expressed perhaps most powerully in diagrams. I am thinking here of the medieval square of opposition — as in this diagram taken from Georg Reisch, Margarita Phylosophica tractans de omni genere scibili, Basel 1517:

square_of_opposition SEMBL

Algirdas Greimas developed his semiotic square from this medieval diagram —

greimas_semiotic_square

— and defines his square as the “visual representation of the logical articulation of any category”. In his “Towards a Theory of Modalities”, Greimas writes:

the terms manifestation vs. immanence .. can be compared profitably with the categories surface vs. deep in linguistics, manifest vs. latent in psychoanalysis, phenomenal vs. noumenal in philosophy, etc.

Then there’s Levi-Strauss and his triangle, essentially a variant on the same idea, applied by LS in his magnificent 4-volume Mythologiques to a wide range of myths — here’s the basic triangle for the first volume, The Raw and the Cooked:

LS culinary_triangle

**

What Reisch, Greimas and Levi-Strauss are all doing lies in its own distinct area of “visual thinking” at the confluence of logic, algebra, geometry and conceptual graphs — the same area my own DoubleQuotes and the HipBone and Sembl games are found in.

When people think about narrative — and it is or should be as hot a topic in strategy and counterterrorism as it is in myth, story-telling, film and their various related forms of criticism — they tend to think linearly, from beginning to end, noting the emotional expansions and contractions, the narrative shifts, the crescendos before the climax and its resolution.

My own style of thinking leans more to the atemporal or synchronic, which in turn is closer to the logical-algebraic-geometric-graphical mode of visual expression. Thus, for me, the “myth of Narcissus” is not a story-line but a geometry, a narrative formulation of the concept of reflection, or “bouncing back”. To adapt the Levi-Strauss triangle to the Narcissus narrative, then, we have:

Reflection triangle

while the two Azzam miracle tales in my DoubleQuote at the top of this post give us:

Azzam triangle

This in turn can become a square if we allow the four coordinates to be wine (intoxicant, bad), water (sobriety, good), vinegar (sour, bad) and honey (sweet, good). We notice here that water (sobriety, good) is the fourth which hovers unmentioned over the twin tales, just as Jung argued the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin into heaven was the “fourth” which “completed” — nb, this is from a psychological perspective — the celestial Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It remains for Jalaluddin Rumi to transcend the duality of the halal (sobriety) and the haram (intoxication) in his praise of his master, Shams of Tabriz:

In Shams al-Din-i Tabrizi you will discover a heart which is at once intoxicated and very sober.

**

In what sense or senses are Azzam’s two tales two, and in what sense are they one and the same?

Sources & suggested further readings include:

  • The Raw and the Cooked: Mythologiques, Volume 1
  • Anthropology for Beginners
  • Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
  • The Dual and the Real
  • Semiotics for Beginners
  • Semiotics and Language
  • Visual Memory (handbags!)
  • Punctualization: Law and Greimas
  • Square of Opposition
  • Visualizing knowledge
  • Signs of Ar-Rahman
  • Mystical Poems of Rumi
  • Two new “must read” books

    Monday, March 2nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Hamid & Farrall, Stern & Berger, full reviews coming up shortly ]
    .

    Farrall & Berger

    **

    I recently received a review copy of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s breakthrough book, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, courtesy of the publisher, Michael Dwyer of Hurst, and will be writing it up once I’ve finished devouring it:

    A former senior mujahidin figure and an ex-counter-terrorism analyst cooperating to write a book on the history and legacy of Arab-Afghan fighters in Afghanistan is a remarkable and improbable undertaking. Yet this is what Mustafa Hamid, aka Abu Walid al-Masri, and Leah Farrall have achieved with the publication of their ground-breaking work.

    The result of thousands of hours of discussions over several years, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan offers significant new insights into the history of many of today’s militant Salafi groups and movements.

    Huzzah!

    An almost unbelievable and very welcome collaboration.

    **

    And:

    Huzzah!

    Jessica Stern is terrific, while JM Berger is not only one of our ablest analysts, but also a good friend. This book will be an eye-opener.

    Of morale and angels, Kiev and Ragnarok

    Saturday, January 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — not to mention crushing Khomeini, lubing your M16, and that Afghan powerpoint ]
    .

    Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

    Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

    **

    In my previous post, Of morale, angels and Spartans, I raised the question of how our increasingly visual and graphical age could visually represent morale. I noted that the Muslims outfought a larger force at the Battle of Badr, and that the Qur’an suggests that this was because thousands of “angels, ranks on ranks” fought alongside them.

    Dave Schuler suggested the Archangel Michael — which sent me all over in search of a suitable representation. The icon above, by Andrei Rublev, is the most profound and beautiful work I was able to find, but hardly serves our purpose.

    I ran across a politically explicit comntemporary image in which the Archangel wears Airborne insignia:

    Archangel-Michael--airborne

    — but it was this image from the Maidan in Kiev that came closes to the sense of military power in angelic form —

    Archangel Michael Kiev Maidan

    — although I’m not sure that military power or prowess is necessarily the same as morale or esprit de corps…

    **

    Synchronistically — or coinidentally, as sceptics would say — Justin Erik Halldór Smith headed his blog post Ragnarök on the Seine today with an image of Peter Nicolai Arbo‘s Wild Hunt, or Aasgaardreien. Here’s a detail:

    Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt detail

    And here’s “the big picture”:

    Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt 602

    That’s probably closer to “amok” than to “esprit de corps” — although the relationship between them is worth pondering.

    **

    I’m still not convinced that contemporary minds will “get” morale from any graphic image yet devised.. I can’t help remembering the M-16 manual I picked up one day at a library sale or flea market, titled The M16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventive Maintenance:

    Treat your rifle like a lady

    My guess, however, is that we’ll wind up with something closer to this:

    Powerpoint for McChrystal

    **

    Image sources:

  • Andrei Rublev, icon of Archangel Michael
  • Archangel Michael, Especial Forces graphic
  • Sculpture, Archangel Michael, Kiev
  • Peter Nicolai Arbo, Aasgaardreien
  • M16 manual, DA Pam 750-30
  • Powerpoint, Afghanistan Stability
  • The photo of the Kiev St Michael is by Mstyslav Chernov, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 license
  • New Article at Pragati: Diplomatic Warfare?

    Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen”]

    I have a new article up at Pragati: The Indian National Interest. A review of Warrior Diplomat by Michael G. Waltz

    Diplomatic Warfare? 

    ….Waltz, now the president of Metis Solutions, brings to the table a powerful juxtaposition of perspectives on the Afghan war. As a Department of Defense civilian official, he served variously as an Interagency Counter narcotics Coordinator in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) developing strategies to combat opium trafficking in Pashtun regions, as the Pentagon’s Afghanistan Country Director, as the Special Adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney on South Asia and Counterterrorism and finally, as an adviser on negotiations with the Taliban to the deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration.

    This is “making policy at 50,000 feet”, briefing and advising senior administration officials on national policy formulation and implementation. No contrast could be more dramatic with Waltz’s alternate role as a Green Beret company commander living among Pashtun tribal villagers, drinking tea with tribal elders, working with village police chiefs, engaging in brutal firefights with Haqqani network insurgents, disarming IEDs and delivering medical care to remote Afghan districts. Like few other officers, Waltz could see the life or death impact of policy he had helped craft on his own soldiers, Afghan farmers, and the Taliban enemy; but at other times, the blindness of policy or its complete irrelevance to the often ugly ground truth of counterinsurgency warfare.

    Though the story of Waltz’s gritty experience in combat looms large in Warrior Diplomat, he also lays out a hard analysis regarding the self-created problems that impaired the American war in Afghanistan, including a paucity of resources, the incapacity of NATO partners, a muddled strategy, bureaucratic and political risk aversion and micromanagement of military operations down to the smallest units, a stubborn refusal to confront Pakistan over Taliban sanctuaries and announcing an early withdrawal date from Afghanistan. There is an additional subtext to Waltz’s story; the transformation of the legendary Green Beret Special Forces, intended to work autonomously in small groups training and fighting with indigenous forces, to ‘conventionalised’ units of ‘door-kickers’ who spend enormous amounts of time on powerpoint slides, making fruitless requests for helicopters or artillery support and fighting the timidity and capriciousness of Waltz’s own chain of command.

    Read the rest here.

    Some of you may have read American Spartan or my earlier review of that book. The stories of Michael Waltz and Jim Gant are not the same but the setting, their operational environment, largely was. Some of the frankly preposterous, Catch-22 restrictions with which Waltz struggled mightily to comply while effectively circumventing may illuminate some of the unspoken reasons why Jim Gant took a different path.

    I cannot say it was the objective of the US Army and ISAF to prevent effective COIN operations in Afghanistan in writing their regulations and ROE, but it might as well have been


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