Col. Christopher Kolenda (ret.)

Zero Sum Victory: What we’re Getting Wrong about War

Adjunct Senior Fellow, the Center for a New American Security; Founder of the Strategic Leaders Academy, Retired Army Colonel

DATE: Tuesday, January 10, 2023
TIME: 6:00 PM
LOCATION: World Trade Center, Baltimore

The American withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 was unscripted, chaotic and a profound embarrassment for the United States. The Afghan government fled Kabul, and the same Taliban extremists U.S. forces had toppled 20 years earlier returned to power. They’re the ones who’d given Osama bin Laden a base for organizing the 9/11 attacks.

U.S. taxpayers spent $2.3 trillion dollars in those 20 years fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  A quarter million people died, mostly Afghans, among them some 7,400 western troops or contractors including 2,324 US military personnel. Afghanistan is now sunk in poverty, its population abandoned and its women headed back to second class status

What went wrong? What can we learn from the debacle?

Our next distinguished speaker, retired Army col. Chris Kolenda, has a lot to say about the lessons learned. He served four tours in Afghanistan and commanded 800 paratroopers in the east between 2007-2008. He became a top advisor to three US commanders there and special advisor to the Undersecretary of Defense from 2009-2014.  He’s a West Point graduate who later became a West Point instructor; he has Ph.D. from Kings’ College, London.

He’s distilled the lessons into a book (which we’ll have available for sale) called: Zero Sum Victory. What We’re Getting Wrong About War.

Here a few nuggets:

  • the United States deploys for war like a bureaucracy, in which government agencies operate independently in “silos” without coordination — and without a single ground commander who’s accountable for achieving U.S. war aims.
  • The American obsession with decisive victory gets in the way of developing a strategy to achieve a lasting result. It  substitutes destruction for negotiation and violence for politics.
  • The detachment of American forces from the ground alienates the population. It encourages them to seek an end the unwanted military occupation and to support a national insurrection.

But this is just a sampling of his insights.

Please join us for what promises to be a fascinating discussion. We invite members to a reception starting at 5 pm. The main presentation begins at 6 pm, with Q&A to follow. For those who cannot attend in person, we’ll have a Zoom live feed.