Thursday, July 29, 2010


Recently there has been a lot of talk by pundits, politicians, analysts, and the general public about our involvement in Afghanistan. It has been energized by the downsizing of our Iraq footprint, the change of command there (Patraeus over McCrystal) and the realization that we have been there nine years with rising casualty rates and significant dollar outlays with little positive impact after the first of those nine years. I believe that this talk is generally unstructured and would suggest that using the same analysis model used by the military and civilian national security community at the strategic level would be helpful.
The model is known as “ends, ways, and means,” where ENDS = WAYS + MEANS. Ends are defined as the strategic outcomes or end states desired. Ways are defined as the methods, tactics, and procedures, practices, and strategies to achieve the ends. Means are defined as the resources required to achieve the ends, such as troops, weapons systems, money, political will, and time. The model is really an equation that balances what you want with what you are wiling and able to pay for it or what you can get for what you are willing and able to pay.
Regarding Afghanistan, if you solve the equation from left to right, stating specifically the end “your desire, you then must identify what ways and means would be required to achieve that end. (One basic question in addressing the ends is whether we are conducting counter terrorism or counter insurgency operations.) You would have to identify how many U.S. casualties you are willing to suffer (to date 1064 KIA), how much money you are willing to spend (now at $7 billion per month), how reliable the Karzai government is as a partner, and what role the Taliban, Pakistan, India, and our allies are willing and able to play and for how long. Solving the equation from right to left, you would identify the ways and means you are willing and able to generate and thus establish the “end” they are able to achieve.
I would submit that a rigorous, intellectually honest exercise of this model explains the frustration we now feel with Afghanistan. If we state unambiguously a worthy “end,” we may be unable or unwilling to generate the ways and means to achieve it. If we honestly state the ways and means we are willing and able to generate, the end they deliver may be suboptimal at best and an outright loss at worst. Two questions then may emerge. One, do we want to lose sooner or do we want to lose later? Two, do we want to lose big or do we want to lose small? Referencing Alexander the Great, Britain, and Russia, Afghanistan has never provided happy endings.


  1. All equations balance, or else they aren't equations. In your example, there is a balance. The only missing component in the equation is time. The equation balanced before we entered the war, and will balance after the war is over.....

    What is interesting is that we know "for sure" the WAYS and MEANS, here in August of 2010..... As for the ENDS, I might suggest:

    ENDS (Simply observed results)

    - A politically corrupt Afghan bureaucracy, taking full advantage of the monetary support being infused by the US.

    - A developed media campaign to promote the Afghan war as America’s commitment to waging the “War on Terrorism”.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Afghanistan is better off with a US presence. I just don't think that the WAYS and MEANS are worth the ENDS.

  2. I like your ways, means, and ends explanation- I was looking for a validation. In my terms, they are: the tools, how the tools are used, and what the tools accomplish.

    Politically, I believe the military is the vanguard of business. Business people (American, Afghani, and international) want sales in Afghanistan and other places, and the military (coupled with other agencies) is the 'way' we will improve stability enough to allow reasonable levels of economic activity.

  3. Hi General, Hi Clam
    Well explained.
    Can u attempt the analysis of US Iran standoff ie sanctions, threat of force and regime change etc. Can u identify ways, means and ends here.

  4. Sir your method of simplifying this operational art methods is great. I am a student at the USASMA and since I read your article I have become an expert at explaining it. Thanks

  5. The Islamic Art of War and the use of Suicide Bombers as replicated from the Peoples' Will and the practical self-immolation of Ignaty Hryniwiesky is beyond the scope of American Art of War.

    Islamic Jihadist

  6. I firmly believe that a failure to understand the culture of both Iraq and Afghanistan was a major cause of failure. Working with the local population in "wars of the people" requires cultural engagement. This was missing.

  7. Interesting article and discussion. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the importance of tracking 2nd, 3rd, 4th-order effects over time. We can never fully know the extent of an action's success or failure by its immediate outcome. Or, by assessing these outcomes *only* in relation to the intended strategic goals.

    The replies about (1) the scope of American war, (2) that the military is the vanguard of business and (3) the importance of understanding the people and culture are all areas that might never be fully understood with regard to how a particular military action impacted them, or caused consequences for them, if the breadth of outcomes/consequences due to the military action aren't tracked over all related broad topics and over time.