No Good Men Among the Living

Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Livinghis new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the [Afghanistan] intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

As Gopal explains, however, the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of two district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.” Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words:

The toll…: twenty-one pro-American leaders and their employees dead, twenty-six taken prisoner, and a few who could not be accounted for. Not one member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was among the victims. Instead, in a single thirty-minute stretch the United States had managed to eradicate both of Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies.

Gopal then finds the interview that the US Special Forces commander gave a year and a half later in which he celebrated the derring-do, and recorded that seven of his team were awarded bronze stars, and that he himself received a silver star for gallantry.

From a 2014 review by Rory Stewart in the NYReview of Books. Have a nice day.


I saw a poll in the Huff Post surveying Afghan attitudes about the 9/11 attacks. It turns out the overwhelming majority of them in this illiterate country were unfamiliar with 9/11 itself. So essentially, if you are an Afghan goat-herder, and you see are are these bigass white-skinned and black-skinned people with bigass guns and occasionally some gigantic explosions coming from the sky. If I was Afghani, I would probably be suspicious of these foreigners too, and it probably would not take much to convince me that these people are a threat to my livelihood and that I should take take up arms against them.

True that.

That's actually relevant.

That incident sure wouldn't be "terrorism", would it? And a violent response by some Muslims would certainly be pathological. After all, nobody in the US got excited by the events at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

I think the real evil here is that Tarrobock would be perfectly fine with every Afghani in the world immigrating to America. So Tarrobock's logic is basically see these Afghani's are right to hate Americans now let's bring them to America.

"I think the real evil"
Apparently, there only can be evil when we, Americans, are affected. If "we" kill them there, no harm done.

Evil requires volition the USA didn't intend for this to happen they were misled. Tarroback willfully promotes the inundation of the US with people he believes have a legitimate reason to hate America. But then again you and Tarroback probally see Cape Fear as an inspirational tale with an unfortunate ending so this wouldn't make sense to you.

I really love the "torturers (they didn't intend it to happen, right?) and murderers (I hope the police back at home is a little more careful when dealing with intelligence than US forces among the heathens are) are a little misguided, that's all", the real evil guys are economists and those subhuman brown people we keep giving 'legitimate reason to hate America''" (at least, it would legitimate if they were human, i.e. Americans) angle.

This is what a real time collapsing of an argument looks like. It would have been far more effective to have just said nothing.

Yeah, because "the real evil here" is not the murdering and the torturing "our boys" do.

Indeed it would, Mr Haysom.

How tiresome the obsessed are. This post has nothing to do with your hobby-horse.

Well, only a tiny minority of Muslims are committing terrorist acts against the US, so the violent ones are indeed pathological.

This also has domestic implications:

How would one design a robust legal system for people who don't believe they go to hell if bearing false witness?

What is the proper design of a robust system that is based on the assumption that law enforcement, prosecutors, witnesses and defendants all lie, and that the current judges feel a kinship with prosecutors through shared experiences, and same employer.

The current system has had serious bugs (or features depending on who is evaluating it) for a long while:

It is interesting how we as a society look at such a travesty as human failings rather than a system failure.

From the experiences of Susanna, Jesus, Solomon, David, Joseph among his brothers among his brotgers and in Egypt, I fear trusting witness fear Hell or equivalent was never a good strategy anyway.

We should invade Syria.

If you left it up to the Army, they'd probably invade Styria instead. Oops.

Better beer.

It'd be genius if IS used Georgia as a staging area.

Nation Building was even more of a disaster

How can you have any success at it when you don’t know the language, culture, religions, economy, politics, history etc etc of a country and in many cases trying to do it with people who were rotated in and out so fast they never were able to figure out what was happening. The military did a little better then the others since they generally kept people in country for a year, some of the civilians were rotating in and out in less then 3 months.

The US likes to pretend that it nation built Germany and Japan after WW2 but in fact those were well established counties long before the US showed up, the US just suppressed some of the politics. Afghanistan on the other hand was never really a nation, it was all the parts of central Asia that the other adjoining countries thought was not worth conquering or holding.

The Marshall Plan was a great model for how to develop a previously highly developed, economically and socially 90%, with a common history, almost identical twin region. Perfect argument for invading the middle east...

I didn't realize that "the most cynical believed" that there were no accidents, collateral damage, or deaths by friendly fire in Afghanistan. If mistakes and accidental deaths demonstrate "failure", then cars must be a failure too since so many people die in accidents. Similarly, if any surgeon accidentally kills a patient, then modern medicine would be a failure.

The purpose of the Afghanistan intervention was to prevent Al Qaeda from maintaining a safe haven there from which they could prepare for future 9/11 style attacks. That result seems to have been achieved. One can always argue for more effective means of reducing accidents, but the the mere existence of accidents does not imply failure.

How is your reading comprehension? There is no direct or implied statement that the most cynical believed there was no collateral damage. Let me spell it out for your grade level:

The most cynical ones believe that gross incompetence describes the actions American occupational forces. What is described by Anand Gopal is beyond gross incompetence.

Collateral damage would be Pat Tillman. Refusing to improve, would be consistent with the cover-up.

Agreed. I'm waiting for Tabarrok to say something that isn't humbug.

Can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

The purpose of the Afghanistan intervention was to prevent Al Qaeda from maintaining a safe haven there from which they could prepare for future 9/11 style attacks.

Donald Trump's moratorium on Muslim immigration, if implemented immediately after 9/11, would have done more to prevent future attacks than all the bombs dropped on Afghanistan. If implemented before 9/11, it would have prevented 9/11.

Al Qaeda had no capability to strike us from Afghanistan, just like ISIS has no capability today to strike us from Syria or Iraq. Instead of bombing them, we should be encouraging Muslims who share their views to emigrate to ISIS-held territory, and not letting them return.

A bunch of Saudis crash planes into buildings so we invade Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, possibly Syria, and the 'real solution' was to ban people immigrating from all over India, Indonesia, Africa, etc?

Well, we can't offend the Saudis who would hurt the profits of big oil and the US defense interests if we blamed the Saudis for all the terrorism they export to prevent the millions of unhappy Saudis from revolting against the House of Saud dictatorship. Saudi terrorism by Pakistani proxies against the USSR seemed like a great idea until it was turned on the US and allies.

But the Saudi sponsored terrorism provided justification for wars to try to boost gdp growth on the theory that it was war that ended the Great Depression, not high taxes on profits to pay for massive government jobs programs and forced savings and reduced consumption. It is a puzzle why tax cuts, higher consumption, rewarding high monopoly profits, war, and debt didn't lead to a thirty year boom that would create a bigger richer middle class....

Saudi sponsored terrorist recruiting in the UK, Europe, Russia, Africa, Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan again, are clearly useful to attack liberals and Democrats, but not reasons to sanction Saudi Arabia which would harm the interests of big oil.

But it would help to go to war with Iran and Russia to cut off the oil they supply to restore oil profits. And maybe that would placate the Saudis so they stop exporting terrorism....

Nah, that would only result in overthrowing the House of Saud dictatorship....

Nope, better wish for more Saudi terrorism to blame Obama for, because he refused to start wars unilaterally with Iran and Russia....

Indeed. The US military are a bunch of incompetent thugs -- who would ever have guessed?

The Taliban were barely in control of their own country and unable to control Al Qaeda inside of it.

On more than one occasion, they tried to negotiate pushing Bin Laden out of Afghanistan with the United States and we rebuked them.

If our only goal was Al Qaeda, we would have been out of Afghanistan in less than 18 months.

An intelligence failure leads to a mis-aimed strike? Will wonders never cease? Has anything so amazing been heard of in all of human history? Is Tabarrok suggesting that military operations are sometimes mislead? My worldview is shattered!

Seriously, this doesn't even deserve a blog post, much less a book. This is called every goddamned day in a war zone. I don't know if a military operation has ever, in the history of ever, gone completely as planned. Hitting completely the wrong people? We call that Tuesday.

If the U.S. is so incredibly incompetent, maybe they should not be getting involved in such wars in the first place. They get bad information, based on that information they torture and kill a bunch of their own allies, permanently destabilizing an entire region, and that's something that happens on a weekly basis? And therefore is of no concern???

Could we at least not give awards to people after they completely screw up? Is it impossible for the government to admit errors?

No apply this logic to immigration policy. Admitting the female attacker was equally as evil (to use Tarroback's terminology). Can we at least stop pushing for immigration reform? Is it impossible for the handmaidens of the cosmopolitan billionaires to admit there are drawbacks to immigration?

Say what you want about Tarroback, but he's a gentleman through and through so turnabout is fair play. Tarroback would be sure the admit that his preferred immigration policies definitely bear some responsibility for the recent terrorist attack in CA and that when it comes to the debate over immigration there are no good men either.

Sorry I can't keep a straight face typing this.

I wonder if anyone ever wants to discuss some topic other than immigration policy.

Toturing innocent people and rewarding murder is just Tuesday. What more is to be said?

The Don Pablo's near where I work has a pretty good Taco Tuesday deal, but you're right, the Army version sounds better.

It's called war mate. If you don't want to get down and dirty, don't send troops off to fight. You want someone to deal with the ISISes of the world, mistakes are gonna be made. Bad shit is gonna happen. If your precious delicate fee-fees can't handle it, best stick about here, post snide bullshit to the internet and bask in your own moral ineptitude.

there was no ISIS before those particular mistakes, mate. Or maybe you meant "if you want someone to deal with the ISISes of the world, mistakes are gonna be made [by the US, so that ISIS can subsequently show up to be dealt with]." That would be a pretty clever observation, mate.

After 9/11 we wanted Bin Laden. Afghanistan made the great mistake of endorsing him, making 9/11 into state terrorism after the fact.

We should have just gone in, made getting Bin Laden the whole priority, and gotten out. The sole lesson should have been "no state terrorism."

But we lost the narrative. We arrived at nation-building and gave the job to hacks. We stayed to fight every goat herd who called himself Al Queda.

We screwed up.

That's about the size of it.

What's most appalling is that after the bungled effort in Afghanistan and Iraq and the implosion of America's economy, it took less than two years for the entire nation to suffer a severe case of amnesia and choose Republicans as the majority party in Congress. And now the country probably will choose another Republican as their president, a Republican promising the same interventionist, and feckless, foreign policy and the same debt financed tax cuts for wealthy Americans economic policy. We deserve what we get.

Nice rant bro. Also, you seem to have a case of amnesia too. Does Libya ring a bell?

Sorry, how many US troops in Libyia? You don't get it, do you?

So what, the Democrats are able to wreck countries abroad and turn them into a feeding ground for warlords, terrorists, and fanatics *without* boots on the ground, and that's so much better than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

At least they don't waste trillions in the process ... Shouldn't that appeal to you?

Chickenhawk Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War

Don't call her a chickenhawk, dude; she almost joined the Marines once.

Be fair, she has one more testicle than our current president.

She has 12 testicles?

"The purpose of the Afghanistan intervention was to prevent Al Qaeda from maintaining a safe haven there from which they could prepare for future 9/11 style attacks. That result seems to have been achieved."

The Taliban is still very active. Do a google news search for the list of attacks and bombings - even in the last week. it is true that there are divisions and internal conflict, but that has little to the do with the US. The Taliban are also still aided by the ISI. Afghanistan is still lawless and and a readily available incubator for terrorism. US actions like the one Tabarrok blurbed about certainly help ignite these feelings. That said, the way forward isn't clear. I saw the merit in US interventions in Afghanistan, though not Iraq, but the real problems are with the funders and enablers. Once you deal with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan then Afghanistan will cease to a problem. But the US supports the Saudis and Pakistanis as part of their strategic goal of keeping Iran, Assad and other Shia powers in check.

My view of the Afghanistan problem and the obvious US failure there is simple. The takeaway should be to less pragmatic and fight every form of religious dogma (or, in this case, radical Islam as you conservatives like to call it). These piece-meal solutions (like US interventions in Afghanistan) do not work in the long run.

Don't forget the big role the Saudis play in all of this to direct internal discontent out of Saudi Arabia and toward Iran, the West, Russia, Shia, Christians, women with rights and education.

It could be worse

If a foreign government provided you with false "intelligence" so that you would invade another country. Or voices of questioning dissent were silenced or never heard because it would be difficult to build a case to elected representatives.

I can't imagine that would ever happen, however.

And even worse a very vocal backer of that war one whose husband repeatedly bombed that country is the inevitable Democrat nominee for president. Makes you wonder how anyone could be so unserious as to support her. Say is that a Hillary 2016 bumper sticker on your Subaru.

Clinton bombed Arabs in a non-Arab nation.

Bush pretty much managed to leave the Arabs responsible for the terrorism against the West unscathed while killing non-Arab Afghans.

Or voices of questioning dissent were silenced or never heard because it would be difficult to build a case to elected representatives.

You weren't silenced and you've hardly shut up since.

But only crazed extremists doubt that we must continue Inviting the World in order to facilitate Invading the World.

The US will take over the world by ensuring everybody moves here.

There should be a way to split post commentary into two sections, one where commentators can discuss the actual subject at hand, and the second where Sam Hayseed, Steve Sailer can rehash old talking points.

Yea it's never useful to tie issues back to the author's pet cause. Do that too many times and like Steve says the who/whom dynamic might became at little too glaring to deny.

I vote for a new policy where Tarroback and AJ get off their butts and go build one those floating cities libertarian nerds are also blabbing about. Then you guys can set the immigration policy you want without effecting anyone but your fellow spergotarians.

The sad part is that I don't fundamentally disagree with you. Either of you.

I just think you are annoying. In real life situations, when adults are having a conversation, do you constantly interject with the tame tired bullshit even after your presence has been acknowledged? Or do you recognize social cues and when its time to grab a glass of STFU?

Were you starved of attention as a child? Are you a child? (Question also applies to Harding)


This is a ridicolous argument. You aren't the host here. If anything I'm a far more quiet and less obtrusive guest than you. I just don't find your hand-wave arguments persuasive and that bothers you. In real life do you get in arguments and then call for the host to kick the other guest out because you are intelligent enough to win the debate. I'm just kidding you are a libertarian a party for you is an ounce of weed and a sex doll.


Full o' murikans.

Recently reported number of foreign fighters in Syria from:

Country OfficialCount NonOfficial

Tunisia 6000 -

Jordan 2000 -

SaudiArabia 2500 -

Turkey 2100 -

Pakistan 70 330

France 1700 -

Afghanistan - 50

And all are implementing a Saudi strategy of salafi wahhabist extremism directed out of Saudi Arabia to prevent revolt in Saudi Arabia.

I wonder how long this strategy lasts and when women voting, holding office and gaining autonomy will trigger civil unrest and war inside Saudi Arabia. Once it starts, tens of thousands will flow into Saudi Arabia from Iraq, Syria, and Africa, all experienced fighters.

About 20 years or so ago US intelligence services were trying to deal with the over-reliance on modern technology at the expense of human intelligence -- spies and field agents. This was to protect the operatives (and probably make it more fun by playing with the cool toys) and one the cold war has largely spun down in the 70s and 80s it may have been more difficult to justify to potential staff that they were likely to be killed or left to die in a foreign prison and never acknowledged. The risk of invasion for the east block or China was low.

We really have not addressed the problem and probably have lost a lot of skills in terms of building reliable networks while realizing you cannot trust your sources to be without their own agendas. What seems to have changed is now we perhaps don't care about getting things wrong as long as the special ops teams get to go play with their very dangerous toys. That was clearly the case with the attack on the DWB hospital -- there's simply no way the location being attacked was not know and easily cross referenced to the hospital.

In Vietnam it wasn't unknown for the U.S. military to get scammed into napalming some farm for being a Viet Cong redoubt when it was actually just home to somebody who had a long-running feud with another landowner who happened to have the ear of the Americans.

Seems like we would've, you know, learned something from Vietnam.

And domestically we call it SWATing, no?

Next time they attack the US, let's give them all a hug and send them flowers.

I mean, that's pretty much what happened between the US government and the House of Saud after 9/11.

Thats why i think, this may be very well no "intelligence failure"... The evidence is out there

Naw, we just let them fly when citizens couldn't.

Nah, save that for your feckless intell agencies who are too fucking stupid to connect the dots and stop it in the 1st place.

The story sounds absolutely horrific. I'm not sure what else can be said.

The obvious solution is that next time we draft the journalists and the econ professors who are all soooo much wiser and would be able to instantly sort the intel out and avoid all mistakes.

On a more serious note, to avoid this kind of thing you need specialized intel officers that know each district.

Its simply not going to happen overnight, and the learning curve will include this sort of thing.

You are calling for the failed policies of investing in labor wages over a long term to build knowledge and human capital.

Everyone knows that simply buying the capital is what makes it valuable because paying a million dollars makes whatever lies you buy have a value of a millionmdollars, and that is worth ten times as much for half the cost as paying someone a two hundred thousand to work for two years to learn complicated facts. It just like paying a billion dollars for a startup that cost fifty million to create, brand, and market.

Judging from the some of the commentary, ROTC recruiters should be innundated tomorrow with Econ types fighting to take the lead and show the world how it's done ... Oh my ... There, there ... I was just kidding ... Why don't you have some nice cookies & milk.

"show the world how it’s done"

Sometimes the best way to do something is to choose not to do something.

reality check anyone?
what are the sources for gopal's story?

I especially liked the part where the evil muricans cuff someone to the bed and then not just kill him but go the extra inch to execute him and then the whole compound is blown to smithereens

so how did gopal find out what "really" happened?

To good to check?

My favorite part is how this book came out 18 months ago. Think about that for a second. Tarroback is able to summon this kind of peevish rage for an event that he took a year and a half to find out about. Compare that to his reaction to the recent terrorist attack in CA.

Which pisses you off more: some kid doing something bad, or your own kid doing something bad?

Nope nope nations are not extensions of families. This is libertarianism 101 nations are nothing but custom houses and factories. And quite frankly to extend your ridicolous analogy to its proper conclusions seeing my kids blown to pieces yesterday pisses me off a lot more than my kids maybe doing something wrong due to the fog of war more than a decade ago.

Again Tarroback's response only makes sense from the perspective you proposed if he in fact sees the Afghani's as his children. Nevermind that Tarroback is one of the most unselfcritical people I know so the whole I'm harder on myself/ my team than I am on other teams doesn't work as a deflection.

Nations are not extensions of families, except when I want to make a stupid argument about how letting refugees into the country is the same as letting them into your house.

Shouldn't you read the book to find out?

Sam Haysom is an utter ass.

This is how third graders say I don't have a persuasive counter-argument. Don't get discouraged you aren't the only one.

Was it really an intelligence failure? hmmmm .... Don't be naive folks...

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