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Planning for the Aftermath: The Most Difficult Part of Regime Change Operations

photo: © UNICEF/Lindsay Mackenzie
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By 2014, the Global War on Terrorism had gone into full swing. The United States had formally entered and intervened in the Syrian Civil War by launching an air campaign and had established a Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). U.S. soldiers were stationed in Afghanistan, despite being declared formally over, and ISIS had claimed a substantial portion of Iraq under their control. Terrorism was (and still is to a large degree) one of the greatest threats the world as a whole faced in terms of national security and foreign policy.

In 2014, Max Boot, a Conservative journalist and historian, wrote an article for Foreign Affairs focusing on Counterinsurgency (COIN). Boot’s most insightful point is in his discussion of planning for what comes after a regime change operation occurs, describing how it is the most difficult part of such a military endeavor to pull off.

I agree with Boot that the aftermath of a military operation, in terms of U.S. operations, is forgotten, mismanaged, or nowhere near fully thought out by the time the initial combat operations are completed. As Boot mentions, this can be seen in various world events, notably with the Treaty of Versailles resulting in the sowing of the seeds of World War II, the lack of forethought in determining the outcome of the Korean War, and the blinded and deliberately manufactured entry into Iraq in 2003.

Due to the U.S.A’s history of being poor at having a solid plan for the aftermath of a military operation, this is the most insightful lesson from Boot’s article. 

Planning for the afterword of a combat operation is essential. While winning the war is half the battle, ensuring a stable democracy is in place and that the civilians of that country have access to proper social services and the ability to freely decide what kind of country and government they wish to become is important. However, this is far easier said than done, as we have seen in Iraq and Vietnam that animosities between groups arise and result in tensions along ethnic and religious lines in addition to political ones. The best way to illuminate how disastrously a country can become without a solid, clear, and concise aftermath plan can be seen with Iraq.

The Aftermath of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

In the lead up to the conflict, there was much discussion about which battle plan the U.S. government was going to accept and follow, be it the “Generated Start” or the “Running Start” options; Gordon and Trainor’s seminal book on the conflict Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq documents heavily, easily over 100 pages, the entire planning process, from the morning of September 11th to the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square in April of 2003. In all of this, no one was discussing the aftermath of what to do with Iraq or how to go about making it into a viable democracy with a clear and strong leadership.

While the Bush administration tried to say that they had a clear aftermath after taking Baghdad, many military officials who were closely involved have said otherwise. As Thomas Ricks notes in his book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005, Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg (former director of communications and computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later Chief Operating Officer for the Coalitional Provisional Authority (CPA)) said, “There was no real plan [meaning what to do after toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime]. The though was, you didn’t need it. The assumption was that everything would be fine after the war, that they’d be happy they got rid of Saddam”. A Marine by the name of Nicholas Reynolds, a Colonel and official Corps historian, also told Ricks, “Nowhere in Centcom [sic]…has there been a plan for Phase IV that was like the plan for Phase III, let alone all of the preparations that accompanied it…”.

The only time a workable plan for Phase IV (the plan meant to rebuild Iraq and bring peace to the country) was even mentioned was in the immediate aftermath of 2003. Using the recollections of Colonel Alan King, the head of civil affairs for the 3rd Infantry Division, “On the night of April 8, Col. Sterling, the chief of staff of the 3rd ID, came to me and said, ‘I just got off the phone with the corps chief of staff, and I asked him for the reconstruction plan, and he said there isn’t one. So you’ve got twenty-four hours to come up with one”. Despite the administration’s multiple reassurances that a reconstruction plan would be available when the time was right, it ended up being developed in the middle of occupied Baghdad.

The result of this was the complete disintegration of order within the country, exacerbated by the CPA’s barring of any high to mid-level Ba’athist figures from government work in the new regime and the lack of broad, coordinated effort against an insurgency (the barring of former Ba’athist members too assisted in the creation of the insurgency). Despite the U.S. having begun this intervention nearly twenty years ago, Iraq is still incredibly volatile and is short of being a recognizable democracy.

Why Regime Change Failed in Iraq

The lack of a viable and effective Phase IV has led to much tension in the country and resulted in many deaths of Iraqis, Americans, and others involved in the coalition forces. This is why having a pre-made reconstruction plan is a necessity for any operation, before a government begins their military invasion. The need for decision-makers to realize that military operations must have a practical, already devised, rebuilding plan in place for utilization after major combat operations have ended is extremely vital to the success of any operation. Having input from academics with firsthand and historical knowledge of the country’s economic, social, political, military, and public works centers, input from business experts in re-developing destroyed financial markets and utilizing the country’s best assets to its advantage, and taking the advice of citizens of the country, the broad public, in devising a new form of government and an entirely new system of government is extremely necessary to the success of such an operation. However, the biggest challenge in doing this is having the right people in power.

With Iraq, those at the top of the planning (Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowtiz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage) were not thinking in terms of a reconstruction plan, only devising ways to ensure that Saddam was toppled and that the U.S. had control of the country. As General Anthony Zinni, the former Commander in Chief (CINC) of United States Central Command (CENTCOM – the command directly responsible for devising both the invasion, occupation, and rebuilding plans for Iraq), stated, “I think – and this is just my opinion – that the neocons [Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Armitage] didn’t really give a shit what happened in Iraq and the aftermath…I don’t think they thought it would be this bad. But they said…We’ve taken out Saddam. We’ve asserted our strength in the Middle East”. Having those in power who are thinking in a forward mindset and caring about long-term and strong solutions is the biggest help to ensuring that a viable reconstruction plan is in the works and is developed before a military operation is complete.

Some of this surely must be blamed on the perception by senior commanders that this would be a short conflict and would be an easy mission to undertake. It’s the common assumption that has often been encapsulated by commanders saying to those under their authority, “You’ll be home by Christmas”. As well, some officers likely were also anticipating this to be a short war based upon past and previous experiences in Iraq; most of those commanders who led divisional and combatant commands (Generals Jim Mattis, David Petraeus, Peter Schoomaker) had been involved in the 1991 Gulf War serving as Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels and saw firsthand how seemingly easy that victory was, the entire operation taking only six months.


The majority were not thinking in a long term mindset, instead being purely focused on taking Baghdad and Iraq and removing Saddam from power; no one, save for a few field grade officers and those truly experienced general officers who were shut out from the development process, was thinking about an insurgency or how to effectively fight one. Most likely, many of those in command were simply not thinking in a long-term mindset and were not considering that an insurgency would be as large of a problem as it had become. As well, some, certainly those in charge of the Defense Department and within the U.S. Intelligence Community, were blinded by their own personal desire to settle old scores and purely concerned with the desire to gain additional money and power through an invasion of Iraq.

If anything, the 2003 invasion of Iraq is a lesson for future policymakers, military officers, and civilians alike to avoid reckless or ill-thought out foreign policy and military endeavors and work to press for a more complete and well-formed answer from elected officials. While Americans have struggled in the past with learning lessons from foreign engagements and military disasters, like Vietnam and Korea, optimistically the next generation of Americans and Europeans can be able to learn from past regime change and stability operations and be able to effectively, justly, and democratically carry out such missions.

Alan Cunningham is a graduate of Norwich University's Master of Arts in International Relations program. He is currently working as an AP U.S. History Teacher in San Antonio, but intends to join the U.S. Navy as an Officer in the Summer of 2022. He has been accepted to a PhD in History program with the University of Birmingham in the UK. He has been published in the Jurist, the U.S. Army War College's War Room, Security Magazine, and the Asia-Pacific Security Magazine, in addition to many others.

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Pakistani Intelligence Agencies ignite Tribal Conflicts in Pak-Afghan Region

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According to the intelligence information, Pakistani intelligence community supported by some international rings want to once again spread dispute and disharmony among the tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan; subsequently the centuries-old evils and wars between the tribes will once more take a new color and become fresh. Recently, rumors of the discovery of a mass grave in Kandahar province in the southwestern zone of Afghanistan are spreading; the blame for this mass murder falls on the former police chief of Kandahar province and the former leader of the Achagzai tribe, General Abdul Razaq Achagzai.  In order to afresh raising the reaction of the Norzi tribe against the Ackzai and anew the evil and war between these two tribes. Even though the current governing body of Afghanistan is completely under the control of the Noorzi tribe, because most of the high-ranking leaders of the Taliban, including the leader of the Taliban, Sheikh Haibatullah, are related to the Noorzi tribe, so there is a greater threat posed to the Achakzi tribe.

Even now, in spite of such menaces, more than 6000 Achakzi families live in Kandahar province, whose members served in the security departments under the command of General Abdul Razaq Achakzi, a staunch opponent of the Taliban.  Currently, in such a tense situation that the Taliban administration has control over Afghanistan and the head of this administration is connected to the Nurzi tribe, the harsh criticism of General Abdul Razaq Achakzai’s mass killings is logical, which can cause international and internal outcries.  As a result, the major victims will be the youths and leading tribal leaders of the Achakzai tribe.

By the advent of Taliban on August 15, 2021, in the first four months, more than 600 youths and tribal leaders from the Achakzi tribe were killed in the southwest zone of Afghanistan, while applying night operations or raids by the Taliban. The most famous case happened to the family of Haji Fida Mohammad Achakzai in Spin Boldak district. Haji Fida Muhammad Achakzai, known as Haji Fida Aka, is a leading leader of the Achakza tribe of Spin Boldak district and had close relations with the family of General Abdul Razaq Achakzai.

 When Kandahar province fell to the Taliban before August 15, the two young sons of him were killed by the Taliban on the first night, unfortunately none of the Taliban officials took any action to prevent the tragedy. Nevertheless, this time, there is a plan going on at the international level to renew the age-old differences between the Achakzai and Norzai tribes, which the international media warmly supports.  If this time the internal differences and conflicts between the Achakzai and Norzai tribes in Afghanistan get sturdier, then it will have damaging effects not only in Afghanistan, but also, serious negative measures will be taken against the Norzai under the leadership of Mahmoud Khan Achakzai, the head of the Achakzai tribe, in the Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan.

In the meantime, the decision of the Pakistani government to hand over the Pashtun areas in Pakhtunkhwa provinces to the Taliban was approved and supported by the Nurzi tribe, conversely, this action of the Pakistani government was strongly condemned by Mahmoud Khan Achakzai and PTM leader Manzoor Pashtun.

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Afghan Zarqawi is shot dead in Panjsher valley of Afghanistan

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According to intelligence information, the leading Taliban commander Maulvi Habibullah Sheeran, who was known as Zarqawi, a resident of Zhrhai District, Kandahar Province, in the southwestern zone of the Taliban was killed in Panjsher battle.

Meantime, the intelligence report indicates, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, the general military officer of Panjshir and Andrab and the deputy of the Ministry of National Defense, was injured in Panjshir on Friday, September 16 at 3:25 p.m.

Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, who is considered one of the leading and influential war commanders in the southwest zone of the Taliban, has the support of about 4,000 low-ranking and high-ranking Taliban fighters. He is one of the Taliban military commanders who, during the first mobilization of the Taliban, formed the Taliban group with the support of Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, the founder of the Taliban, and attracted hundreds of young men from Helmand province to the Taliban group.

When the Taliban came to power for the second time in Afghanistan, due to internal differences among the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir left the Taliban for a short time and went to his native Kajki district of Helmand province. However, due to the many efforts of the Taliban, especially Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir’s assistant and the current head of security of presidential palace  Mullah Mutaullah Mubarak, He joined the Taliban again and was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Defense.

Taliban leaders made more efforts to reunite Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir with the Taliban, because he was an influential military leader, and on the other hand, Taliban leaders were receiving reports that Mullah Qayyum Zakir wants to join ISIS against Taliban. Nevertheless, when he joined with the Taliban leaders for the second time, he was assigned the position of Deputy Minister of Defense, So, for a period, he cooperated with the Minister of Defense Maulvi Yaqoub as a military advisor in the Ministry of Defense.

 When the rumors of the fall of the northern part of Afghanistan were spread and the fighting between the NRF or the National Resistance Front and the Taliban in Panjshir and Andrab intensified, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, based on the special permission of Sheikh Haibatullah, Appointed General Military Officer of Northern Afghanistan. In addition, from September 9, under his leadership, a special military operation named Al-Fath began in Panjshir and Andarabs to clear and liberate northern Afghanistan from the fighters of the National Resistance Front.

As a result of the operation, from September 9th to September 16th, dozens of NRF fighters were also killed but the casualties of Taliban fighters are methodically shown below, although scores of Taliban fighters were destroyed.

  • The bodies of 60 to 70 Taliban fighters who were killed in the battle of Panjshir have been transferred to Uruzgan province.
  •  The dead bodies of 50 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Kandahar Province.
  • The dead bodies of 33 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Helmand Province.
  •  The dead bodies of 22 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Ghor Province.
  • The dead bodies of 11 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Takhar province.
  • The dead bodies of 6 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Kunduz Chahar Dara.
  •  The dead bodies of 12 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Zabul province.
  • The dead bodies of nine Taliban fighters have been transferred to Wardag Province.
  • The dead bodies of 10 Taliban fighters have been transferred to Dandi Ghori in Baghlan province.  

Last Friday, September 16, in the bloody battle, Mullah Qayyum Zakir, the military officer in charge of Panjshir and Andrab, was seriously injured and eight of his bodyguards, who were residents of Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, were killed. Mullah Qayyum Zakir was transferred to the 400-bed hospital in Kabul at 10 o’clock in the evening on September 16, and former Taliban doctor Atiqullah was invited to Kabul from Al-Khair Hospital of Balochistan province of Pakistan for treatment.

There is a bloody war going on in the north of Afghanistan and around 300 al-Fatih forces are going to Panjshir from Kabul tonight and may reach tomorrow. Meanwhile, in Vienna, the plan for the formation of a new military and political movement was announced in a three-day meeting of the anti-Taliban political officials of the former government of Afghanistan. Moreover, based on that military plan, after dividing Afghanistan into five major parts, the political and military leaders of each zone will start preparing their organizations against the Taliban, and they will use such political and military tactics as the Taliban used against the government of the Republic of Afghanistan during the last 20 years of resistance.

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U.S. Finally Admits Ukraine Bombs Zaporizhzhia’s Nuclear Power Plant

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The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Ⓒ IAEA

Unnamed American officials, according to the New York Times, have admitted that the explosives fired against Ukraine’s nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia have been fired against the plant by Ukraine’s Government, not by Russia’s Government, and furthermore these officials make clear that Ukraine’s attacks against the plant are a key part of Ukraine’s plan to win its U.S.-backed-and-advised war against Russia, on the battlefields of Ukraine, using Ukrainian soldiers.

Zaporizhzhia is a city in Ukraine that is in Russian-controlled territory, and Ukraine’s strategy is to destroy the ability of the plant to function, so that areas controlled by Russia will no longer be able to benefit from that plant’s electrical-power output. The United States Government helped Ukraine’s Government to come up with this plan, according to the New York Times.

This information was buried by the Times, 85% of the way down a 1,600-word news-report they published on September 13th, titled “The Critical Moment Behind Ukraine’s Rapid Advance”, in which it stated that, “Eventually, Ukrainian officials believe their long-term success requires progress on the original goals in the discarded strategy, including recapturing the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, cutting off Russian forces in Mariupol and pushing Russian forces in Kherson back across the Dnipro River, American officials said.” 

When IAEA inspectors arrived at that plant on September 1st, after a lengthy period of trying to get there to inspect it but which was blocked by Ukraine’s Government, and the IAEA started delivering reports regarding what they were finding at the plant, no mention has, as-of yet, been made concerning which of the two warring sides has been firing those bombs into the plant. Even when the IAEA headlined on September 9th “Director General’s Statement on Serious Situation at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant”, and reported that the plant’s ability to operate “has been destroyed by shelling of the switchyard at the city’s thermal power plant, leading to a complete power black-out in” the entire region, and that “This is completely unacceptable. It cannot stand.”, and closed by saying they “urgently call for the immediate cessation of all shelling in the entire area,” no mention was made as to which of the two sides was shooting into the plant in order to disable it, and which of the two sides was firing out from the plant in order to protect it against that incoming fire. Previously known was only that the city of Zaporizhzhia has been and is under Russian control ever since March 4th. Consequently, all news-media and reporters have known that (since Russia was inside and Ukraine was outside) Russia has been defending the plant and Ukraine has been attacking it, but until “American officials” let slip, in this news-report, the fact that this has indeed been the case there, no Western news-medium has previously published this fact — not even buried it in a news-report.  

So, although nothing in this regard may yet be considered to be official, or neutral, or free of fear or of actual intent to lie, there finally is, at the very least, buried in that news-report from the New York Times, a statement that is sourced to “American officials,” asserting that this is the case, and the Times also lets slip there that this “shelling” of that plant is an important part of the joint U.S.-Ukraine master-plan to defeat Russia in Ukraine. It is part of the same master-plan, which the U.S. Government recommended to Ukraine’s Government, and which also included the recent successful retaking by Ukraine of Russian-controlled land near the major Ukrainian city of Kharkov, which city’s recapture by Ukraine is also included in the master-plan. Both operations — the shelling of the nuclear power plant, and the recapture of that land near Kharkov — were parts of that master-plan, according to the New York Times.

The Times report asserts that

Long reluctant to share details of their plans, the Ukrainian commanders started opening up more to American and British intelligence officials and seeking advice. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, spoke multiple times about the planning for the counteroffensive, according to a senior administration official. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and senior Ukrainian military leaders regularly discussed intelligence and military support.

And in Kyiv, Ukrainian and British military officials continued working together while the new American defense attaché, Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, began having daily sessions with Ukraine’s top officers.

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