Friday, October 15, 2010

Is Our Afghan War About to Fizzle Out?

What most signifies the endless war in Afghanistan?   For me it would be it would be the appalling military and political leadership shown by America and her allies.  They've come and gone, in succession, but they've all been the same - bloody awful.

Look at the spectre of the world's inarguably most powerful military, multi-billion dollar budgets, the latest and greatest in high-tech firepower, fielding weaponry the other side couldn't dream of having, yet getting its shoelaces tied by a ragtag bunch of farmers turned rebels armed with Korean-war vintage assault rifles, rocket launchers, and miscellaneous explosives leftover from the past 30-years of conflict.  We've even got them outnumbered, massively outnumbered - 10, 20, maybe 30 to one.  We fly and truck our stuff in.   They make do with what they can lug on their backs or pack on mules as they cross hundreds of miles of treacherous mountain terrain to get to our people.    This is David versus Goliath - on acid.

So why are the bad guys winning and why are we losing (and make no mistake about it, we're losing)?  It's because the idiots political and military leadership of America and her allies ordained our failure.   They sent our forces over there to give the primitive heathen a good taste of our 21st century, high-tech lash.   We were going to show them a thing or two about warfighting and we did and they watched and then they went about fighting their war, the one that matters, the one we're losing.

Our war is tanks and armour, field artillery, attack helicopters and ground attack strike fighters and a variety of unmanned drones.   The bad guys don't have any of that stuff so why would we expect them to fight the sort of war we can wage with that technology?  They would literally have to stand up, en masse, to be mowed down, en masse.   That sort of war would be over in a matter of months.  To stand and die fight, the rebels would have to be even bigger idiots than our generals.

The bad guys don't have a manpower advantage.   They don't have a firepower advantage.   They don't have a technology advantage.   But those things that are so vital to  our war don't count for much in their war.   All the King's horses and all the King's men still don't allow us to kill enough of them to make them quit.  In fact, in their war, all our Big Boom stuff works against us.   They dupe us into attacking civilians as we attack them and, in this country, tribal custom requires the survivors of those civilian dead to avenge their deaths.

We moan and bitch about the filthy insurgents using civilians as shields.  We dodge the real issue.   It is our job, the only way we can hope to win this sort of war, to protect those civilians from the Taliban, to prevent the Taliban from getting among them in the first place.   If you can't safeguard the civilian population by keeping the insurgents out of their villages, not for a few days here and there but permanently, all you're doing is banging on a drum.   So why haven't we done that?   Because the incompetents we know as our political and military leaders wanted to fight this war on the cheap.

Holding the Taliban at bay until a stable government defended by a competent military was established would have required far more troops than we've ever deployed to Afghanistan.   Not just far more troops (think 400,000+) but far more troops taking far greater casualties.  It would have meant flooding the countryside with small units of infantry defending each village and hamlet.  Those small units are very vulnerable to being ambushed or overrun but that's the blood price you have to pay to win this sort of war.  You can't win it hunkering in the safety of garrisons, fighting by day and yielding the countryside to the bad guys at night.   All that does is leave you precisely where we are today.

And just where are we today?  Well, according to The New York Times, we're doing just about everything we can to find the exit.  It's come to the point where ISAF commanders are giving the Taliban leadership safe conduct to meet with Karzai's people in Kabul while, at the same time, trying to egg them into a deal by bombing the hell out of rebel forces wherever they can be found:

 American pilots pounded the Taliban with 2,100 bombs or missiles from June through September, with 700 in September alone, Air Force officers here said Thursday. That is an increase of nearly 50 percent over the same period last year, the records show.

The stepped-up air campaign is part of what appears to be an intensifying American effort, orchestrated by Gen. David H. Petraeus, to break the military stalemate here as pressure intensifies at home to bring the nine-year-old war to an end. In recent weeks, General Petraeus has increased raids by Special Forces units and launched large operations to clear territory of Taliban militants.

And it seems increasingly clear that he is partly using the attacks to expand a parallel path to the end of the war: an American-led diplomatic initiative, very much in its infancy but ultimately aimed at persuading the Taliban — or large parts of the movement — to make peace with the Afghan government.

This probably sounds sort of reasonable but it's way off the mark.  For starters it's aimed at breaking a "military stalemate."   What military stalemate?  Only in our war, the military war, is there anything resembling a stalemate.  Their war, the political war, is going just dandy (from their perspective) and terribly (from ours).   No stalemate there.  The rebellion (it long since evolved past an insurgency) is growing stronger and it won't take much more to tip more fence-sitting warlords into the rebel forces.

This notion of "stalemate" would amuse a Talib leader because, for them, that is a victory.  They're the home team and they'll settle for a tie any day because, at the end of the game, the visitors get back aboard their bus and head out of town.  We can't fight an inconclusive military war in Afghanistan for another ten or fifteen years.   There's a whole world full of bad guys out there and far too many challenges we need to deal with to remain tied down in a place like Afghanistan.   We know it.   So do the Talibs.


double nickel said...

Vietnam redux.

The Mound of Sound said...

In one or two aspects you may be right. Sad, really.