Thursday, May 07, 2009

Just Count the Feet and Divide By Two

100, 113, over 130 - who knows just how many Afghans were killed in the recent US airstrike in western Afghanistan? Who cares? Apparently our side doesn't care because we keep doing the Taliban's work for them by bombing villagers and turning the civilian population against us.

Dumb as mud.

Coming on the heels of video of American officers discussing how to poach Muslim Afghans over to Jesus, the mass annihilation of Afghan villagers is just sure to give a real boost to the insurgents - and to Islamist extremists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and throughout the Middle East.

Counterinsurgency wars like the one we're running in Afghanistan are a tough go for conventional, military forces like ours. We almost never win. They almost never lose. When we do win, we stick to a precise set of proven tactics. We know these tactics and so does the other side. We've even written down these rules. They're in military field manuals, especially the American FM3-24. No one can explain why, in Afghanistan, we're flaunting almost every one of those rules. It's impossible to believe that we're trying to lose but it's really easy to believe that we're not, and never have been, in this fight to win.

Where has this ever worked before?

C'mon, that's a simple question, isn't it? Better yet, it has a really simple answer too. And that kids is why the question is never asked. Let that sink in for a minute. We don't ask any of the simple questions because we don't want to hear the answers. We have several examples of our current tactics - French Indochina is probably the best - where our tactics were tried and failed miserably. We've got books stuffed with critiques of France's folly and the victory of the Viet Minh, many of them written by senior officers from the same armies now treading water in Afghanistan.

Here's another point our people never want to discuss. Just what in hell are we hoping to achieve in Afghanistan? And here's the answer. We're hoping to hang on long enough to flip this insurgency over into a civil war. We want to recruit, train and equip an Afghan army that can give the insurgents enough of a run for their money that we can get out 'with honour.' If we really set our sights higher than that we wouldn't tolerate the Karzai government in Kabul, the guys instrumental in organizing their very government as an integral part of the criminal enterprise we know as Afghanistan. The mind reels, it really does.

Why don't we discuss these things? That's because the answers would raise holy hell with the folks at home. You can't go to them after eight years and tell them these things. They'll kill the messenger, even if the generals and politicians who hatched this harebrained nonsense are long gone. George w. Bush's greatest, perhaps only, success was in dragging out these wars long enough to foist them off on his successor, to make the wars and their failure someone else's nightmare.

I suspect we're probably in the last act of this counterinsurgency screw up. This is the part where the military war drags on for a few years well after the important conflict, the political war, has been decided. The military war continues because it's our war, the conventional war the other side can't win. They can't win because they don't have jet fighters and attack helicopters and they don't have artillery or tanks or reconnaisance drones or anything that would be needed to defeat us militarily.

Here's another simple question that never gets asked. Why are they fighting us at all when they don't have any of this high-tech wizardry? Because they don't need that stuff to fight - and win - their war, the political war, the only war that matters. They don't have to defeat us, they merely have to survive and wait us out. Their weapon is the one we can't defeat and can't withstand - time.

Time was never on our side in this war and yet we squandered it as though that didn't matter. We're still carrying on as though we can just begin again from scratch. Eight years. Amazing.

Any time you hear a politician or a general telling you that we can't afford to lose in Afghanistan, remember the simple questions set out here and ask yourself why these hucksters won't and can't answer them.


LeDaro said...

My question is that Afghanistan never invaded Canada or US or any of the NATO countries. 9/11 attackers were neither Afghanis nor Iraqis then why are we destroying Afghanistan and Iraq? What justification we have? These are blatant illegal invasions and wrong people are being killed and destroyed. As far as Taliban are concerned we have only strengthened them and now they shall survive and may even control the area for many decades to come.

The Mound of Sound said...

It seems to be a 21st century affliction to avoid asking the simplest, most obvious and plainly most relevant questions. From climate change to this abortion of a war on terror most of us seem content to chug along with our heads nestled comfortably in the sand.

Fish said...

Gentlemen, I still cannot agree with you on the subject of Afghanistan.

What should the U.S have done after the 9/11 attacks? I say they had a right to demand the cooperation of the Afghani governemnt in hunting down Bin Laden. The Taliban refused and so they were overthrown.

I still say that President Obama is taking the correct course of action by withdrawing troops from Irak and focusing on the hunt for Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

In war, you have to understand that even the winning side will suffer defeats and nothing goes according to plan.

Of course the war is not going well if you expect it to be over in a heartbeat. Whether we like it or not, the Taliban will not just roll over and die just because we want them to. They're going to fight hard as they always have and they're going to keep coming back until the Afghans forces are able to stand up to them on their own.

As we've discussed before, rebellions and guerilla armies have been put down before, unfortunately the tactics used to destroy them are completely unfit for use by any civilized nation. For that reason, we are left only with the "hearts and minds" approach (which would probably go a lot better if we were not dropping bombs on their hearts, minds and all of their other parts).

You're both pretty smart guys. What would you have done in President Bush's situation back in 2001? I wish I could offer a solution of my own, but it'll take a wiser man than I.

LeDaro said...

Fish, you are a good guy and I have lot of respect for you. As far as Bush is concerned, had he not been from rich Bush dynasty he would have been janitor somewhere. Okay, I might have insulted janitors here because many of them are lot smarter than Bush and it is their personal circumstances which put them there.

If diplomacy would have been used and pressure would have been put on Pakistani leaders and Afghani leaders with help from Saudi Arabia there is a strong possibility that Osama Bin Laden would have been handed over. What have we achieved now after killing 10’s of thousands of people and no Osama Bin Laden? We have destabilized both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bush had the illusions of being a conqueror. Bush is prime example how democracies can fail at times and fail miserably.

Fish said...

Thanks Ledaro, you're a pretty good guy yourself!

I'm not sure if pressure would have been enough in Afghanistan's case, since Bin Laden is surrounded by his own private army (and a well equipped one at that, thanks to the CIA!).

I could see the Taliban handing him over under intense pressure from the international muslim community if he was just a lone nut that could be apprehended with little trouble, but actually fighting a war on a Western "infidel" nation's behalf for the purpose of handing over a fellow Muslim is something entirely separate.

You make a good point about how sending troops to Afghanistan did not helo us catch Bin Laden, but then again, just because the war has not been fought well does not mean it could not have been fought well.

If president Bush had not invaded Irak, there would have been more troops available to fight in Afghanistan, which would have increased their odds of catching Bin Laden. And of course if he had done a better job of courting the Pakistani people, rather than just Musharef, he might have had some better luck on that fron as well.

LeDaro said...

Fish, we agree that it is a completely botched war. Osama Bin Laden may have private army but he was at the mercy of Taliban. If you alienate them in this manner how are you going to catch him? Now it has become a Muslim vs. infidel war thanks to the botched war and under those circumstances Bin Laden will continue to have all the help he needs. Please don’t tell me Taliban are bad as they are not any badder (sic) than Saudis.

The Mound of Sound said...

Well Fish, this isn't about the merits of invading Afghanistan. The focus is solely on how the 'mission' has been botched, thoroughly screwed up, perhaps to the point where it's no longer redeemable.

This isn't about occasional reverses in an otherwise winning campaign. There have been no significant successes and prospects of any have dwindled with each of the eight passing years.

First rule - go big or go home. In a country the size and population of Afghanistan, current counterinsurgency doctrine calls for a force of at least 400,000. When you add in factors such as Pakistan's porous border and large ethnic Pashtun population, that's not an unreasonable figure.

We've never fielded half of the required force and we're on the receiving end of the fallout from that right now. Even our Western commands' recent surveys have shown we're losing the support of the population. Years back America's counterinsurgency guru, David Petraeus, pointed out that when you get to the point that you've lost the support of the population, it's over. You've lost.

Fish, you're caught in the same mentality that hammered our American cousins in the late 60's - "we can't lose." We can lose. Any of these COIN wars can be lost, most of them in fact turn into failures. Get your head around that fact.

Somewhere on this blog you'll find a bibliography of some of the leading works on this type of warfare. What's astonishing is that guerrilla warfare is about the simplest type of organized conflict that exists. Yet we keep trying to fight these asymetrical or unconventional wars the wrong way, ignoring the accumulated lessons.

Fish, we have never been in this war to win. Not from the outset in 2001 nor at any point since.

You're right that the Taliban are not going to roll over and die. They are, after all, the home team. We're the visitors, a concept well understood by Afghans. This is their land. But the 'insurgency' has morphed also from a Taliban venture into a more broad-based coalition incorporating other warlords, crime groups, foreign fighters and even university kids from Kabul who just want the foreign occupiers gone.

We've been struggling to build an Afghan army but we're deluding ourselves in believing that it will exist after our departure to serve a civilian administration as corrupt and criminal as the Kabul bunch. I think it's far more likely to dissolve back into ethnic militias with its soldiers rallying to their warlords.

Afghanistan was a bone-weary civil war when we got involved and it'll go back to a civil war when we leave. In our eight years we've done virtually nothing to get rid of tribalism and warlordism, two factors that utterly extinguish any hope for a viable national government.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me but the 911 was done by Saudia Arabia wasn't it? Pilots were from there so what does the Taliban have to do with 911?