Withdrawal and War Termination – 1

I have got a hunch that there will be multiple posts on this subject, so have already labeled this post such. The United States just signed a peace agreement today with the Taliban. The United States had agreed to reduce the presence of U.S. troops to 8,600 within 135 days (around 13 July 2020). It is currently around 13,000. The U.S. also agreed to completely withdraw all troops in 14 months (by April 2021?). In exchange, “the Taliban promise to not let extremists use the country as a staging ground for attacking the U.S. or its allies” (to quote from Yahoo news). The withdrawal is “conditions-based” to quote Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. This is more to this 4-page agreement, which I have yet to see. I may get into later.

There will be a separate peace deal between the Afghan Government and the Taliban will begin on 10 March 2020 which will included a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” (to quote from the U.S. State Department). We shall see how that goes. On 10 March the U.S. will review its sanctions against the Taliban with the goal of ending them by August 27.

In my book America’s Modern Wars (2015) I have a chapter called “Withdrawal and War Termination.” It is Chapter 19 and covers pages 237-242. It is a short chapter because we never really did any work on the subject. Not that we didn’t want to, but we could never get anyone to fund such work. Most of our customers were U.S. Army or Department of Defense (DOD). They were not particularly interested a decade ago in work on “withdrawal and war termination.” Now I think they should have been, but I don’t get to make those decisions.

My chapter starts:

The missing piece of analysis in both our work and in that of many of the various counterinsurgent theorists is how does one terminate or end these wars, and what is the best way to do so? This is not an insignificant point. We did propose doing exactly such a study in several of our reports, briefings and conversations, but no one expressed a strong interest in examining war termination.

Obviously, if the insurgents are driving tanks through the streets of the capital city, the war had ended, and not favorably for the counterinsurgents. But many insurgencies end with some form of negotiated settlement. Many insurgences end with the slow collapse and disintegration of the insurgency. Many of these end with some form of political compromise. Most of them end with some form of negotiation and political agreement, regardless of victor.

And then there is a multiple page discussion on 1) determining winners and losers (easy to determine insurgent victories, but “around one-third of counterinsurgent wins are clouded, or somewhat less than clear victories“), 2) force draw downs during an insurgency (there are only three cases: Malaysia, Northern Ireland and Vietnam, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan) and 3) then we go to these concluding statements:

A basic examination needs to be done concerning how insurgencies end, how withdrawals are conducted, and what the impact of various approaches towards war termination is. This also needs to address long-term outcome, that is, what happened following war termination.

We have nothing particularly unique and insightful to offer in this regard. Therefore, we will avoid the tendency to pontificate generally and leave this discussion for later. Still, we are currently observing with Afghanistan and Iraq two wars where the intervening power is withdrawing or has withdrawn. These are both interesting cases of war termination strategies, although we do not yet know the outcome in either case.

Anyhow, more to come on this.


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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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