Thursday, August 24, 2017

Still Crazy After All These Years

Apologies to Paul Simon but the phrase, "still crazy after all these years," speaks perfectly of America's inability to either accept or learn from its past. The proof is manifest in the current administration's blustering posture over Afghanistan.

Trump has chosen to hit the reset button on America's Afghan War. He doesn't want to go down in the history books as the president who threw in the towel and handed the country back to the Taliban and so he's made the latest iteration of the war, Afghan War 3.0, his very own. Trump says he's going to win, he's been saying that since he ran for the Republican nomination, but he doesn't seem to have a clue, beyond tossing in another 4,000 troops, of how to go about it.

The US force in Afghanistan peaked in 2010 at around 100,000. Those troops, blended in with forces from NATO and other countries, formed the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, that totaled 140,000 in 2011. During most of this period another group, usually described as "contractors," often exceeded in total numbers the actual military force strength. These mercenaries during the Obama draw down at one point outnumbered American military forces by a 3-1 margin.

During Afghan War 1.0 and 2.0, our side had the Taliban massively outnumbered. Our side also had all the strike fighters, attack and transport helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery, drones and satellite reconnaissance and communications.  We had the professionally trained soldiers with their myriad, state of the art skills. We had all those mercenaries to boot. Our adversaries? They had a gaggle of illiterate Afghan farmboys equipped with Korean-war vintage assault rifles and light machine guns and a mountain of high explosive left over from decades of previous wars.

Now we have secretary of state Tillerson delivering a rather pompous sermon from the mount on the way things are going to be in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the era of Trump's Afghan War 3.0.

"This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand you will not win a battlefield victory -- we may not win one, but neither will you," Tillerson said. "At some point we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end."

Rex doesn't get it. The Taliban isn't out to win a battlefield victory over the Americans. They know who has the jet fighter-bombers, the helicopters, the tanks and artillery, all the really good stuff and they know it's not them. But, to the Taliban, being outnumbered and massively outgunned doesn't much matter.  There are two wars going on, a military war and a political war. We've been fighting a military war since Day One but that's not the war that matters and they know it. The political war, the one we're not fighting, will decide the issue. 

The Taliban strategy emulates the same strategy that carried the day in Vietnam, Algeria and elsewhere including the Soviet foray into this same territory. They avoid the military war to the extent possible, carrying out skirmishes, IED and suicide attacks, at a level just sufficient to stay in the game while they focus on the political war, taking over territory, establishing alternative political, judicial and security structures and thereby displacing the central government.  They seek to outlast us in the military war by maintaining a minimal but credible presence and they can wait us out. If three successive presidents cannot win this war how long will the American public support this war without end?

Donald Trump has warned about "hasty withdrawal" from Afghanistan. The fact is Western forces have been withdrawing from Afghanistan since 1842 the year that ended Britain's first failed Afghan War. We're closing in on two centuries of showing Afghans our invincible military prowess and then hightailing it, often under fire.

Rudyard Kipling captured the essence of waging war against the Afghan tribesmen when he wrote:

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.


Anonymous said...

Want to win in Afghanistan? Then learn the real lesson from Vietnam and pull out completely.

The great irony of the Vietnam War is that the US succeeded only after the military left. Billions of dollars in US annual aid were no longer needed, while Americans were no longer killed or maimed.

The Chinese communist takeover of the region never materialized. Indeed, traditional rivalries resurfaced leading to a short war between China and Vietnam in 1979.

Afterwards, without the distraction of war, the Vietnamese government was forced to address economic problems. It recognized the need for foreign trade and the value of business and become an economic power that hosts American and other foreign factories.

While Afghanistan may never be an economic power, it will certainly stop being a drain on US lives and funds the minute the military leaves.


rumleyfips said...

Not that illiterate Mound. A Taliban spokesperson alluded to the graveyard of empires the other day . I doubt Trump knew what he was talking about.

Trailblazer said...

I wonder when the USA will have difficulty in recruiting more cannon fodder?
The British Army have problems recruiting perhaps because the youth are better informed than ever before.

According to a NGO worker ,I know, who spends considerable time in Afghanistan and Pakistan the Taliban should not be underestimated.
They are not one group but many and of different education levels.
Whilst many are illiterate there are many who are educated and would fall into the north American equivalent of born again or evangelists.


The Mound of Sound said...

There are some well educated types in the upper Talib ranks. The same holds true for many of Afghanistan's other warlords.

The "illiterate farm boys" are the cannon fodder they send into contact with our military forces.

The "graveyard of empires" reference has been around for a very long time. I've found few who dispute it.

Trailblazer said...

The "illiterate farm boys" are the cannon fodder they send into contact with our military forces.

The illiterate "farm boys" are the excuse to impose racial ( not that we are not of the same race)superiority upon other nations.
And so it goes on !!