Monday, November 12, 2018

Now That's It's Over for Another Year

A still from a film shot on November 11, 1918

Today is a stat holiday, Remembrance Day, and the malls are sure to be swamped with those getting a head start on their holiday shopping.

I posted nothing on Remembrance Day. I watched no televised spectacles at national and provincial cenotaphs. I avoided the gathering of world leaders in Paris.

For Remembrance Day I watched Peter Jackson's brilliant documentary, "They Shall Not Grow Old." My daughter asked what I thought of it and I replied honestly that I don't know. Then she asked if it was good and I told her it was brilliant, just really hard to digest.

On November 11th we stage these elaborate ceremonies supposedly to honour our war dead but we do a miserable job of it.  Wearing a poppy, showing up at a cenotaph, some young men in uniform, a piper or two, perhaps a fly past, the thinning ranks of the Legion, a moment of silence and then we wrap it until next year.  When it comes to honouring our dead, that's pretty thin gruel.

Our young men and women just went through a war, of sorts. We lost more than 150 men and women, mainly to improvised explosive devices and small arms fire. Yet we don't honour their deaths enough to have an honest discussion of why they were sent to their deaths, what they sacrificed for, and who should be held responsible for it all.

We need to have that conversation. Somebody has to explain what we sent them there to do and why we never gave them a chance to succeed. Those soldiers didn't fail. Our leadership, political and military, failed them. We sent them to a war when we weren't in it to win.

No one, it seems, sat down and figured out what would be needed to tame and secure Kandahar province for the central government. Counterinsurgency doctrine holds that it is the most labour-intensive of all forms of warfare. You must secure the towns and villages and the people from the coercion and predation of the insurgents.

The French in Algeria and again in Indo-China and the Americans in Viet Nam demonstrated that you can't defeat a determined insurgency with a garrison force that retreats behind the wire at night, ceding the contested population centers to the enemy except when you show up.

For a province with the population of Kandahar, something in the order of fifteen to twenty thousand combat troops would be needed. We sent a contingent of two thousand, later bumped up to 2,500, out of which we might on a good day field a maximum force of twelve hundred for daytime assaults.

Failure was pre-ordained which makes the loss of those 150+ lives obscene. Sure we killed a good many more of them but, at the end of the day, we left them in possession and control of the field.

If we want to honour those dead, we can start by ensuring that we never send those like them into a war that we are not prepared to win. We have to understand that wars that are not fought to win are fought to lose. They give rise to quagmires, perma-war, of the type that now plagues the Middle East.

Make no mistake about it. There is going to be an immense amount of conflict in the decades ahead. Climate change alone guarantees that. We'll see a spread of failed states and the sort of "new wars" they engender. These are wars that combine state actors (military forces supporting civilian governance), quasi-state actors (regional militias) and a bevy of non-state actors (tribal warlords, drug lords, rebels, insurgents and even organized criminals) each pursuing its own agenda and marked by shifting alliances. If we cannot win we must not drop our soldiers into these quagmires.


Toby said...

Agreed. Adding to your comments I would add that we have to get control of the arms industry. This business of arming anyone and everyone has to stop. It is not only extremely dangerous, it drains resources (both material and human) that could be put to better use.

Deacon Jester said...

What? And lose all those jobs? Are you nuts?

The essential character of homo sapiens is that of an ape. As times get tougher and life becomes more fraught we will be reverting to form more frequently and with more and more vigour until we have returned to our essential state full time. Just in time for our auto-extermination.

It's probably for the best all things considered.

Jay Farquharson said...

The Afghan War was won, then lost at the first Loya Jurga.

The Bush Regime elected to return the Warlords, Drug Lords and Warcriminals who broke Afghanistan in the '80's back in charge,

over the objections and resistance of the Tribal Elders, Reformers and Activists.

All so that Bush could invade Iraq.

Then, in their "Hunt for Bin Laden", who was already being sheltered by the Pakistani ISI in Pakistan, the US "Op's Teams" started raiding and renditioning the Talib who had taken the Amnesty, buried their weapons, and had gone home to wait and see what would happen.

Given a choice between being renditioned, tortured and killed, or dying on the battlefield, the Taliban came back to fight.

Being "hoaxed" by the Warlords, Drug Lords and War Criminals into acting as their personal enforcers against their opponents and as an unlimited ATM didn't/doesn't help.

Building "gazebo's" with venal Corporations and Temporary Foreign Workers/Imported Slaves didn't/doesn't help.

Despite many attempts to "reset the clock", "we" kept looking for bandaide olutiins for ailments requiring massive surgeries.

Now of course, most of the Afghan people who could have build a democratic country are dead or in exile.

the salamander said...

.. ergh .. agh .. you sure get some comments Mound..
Some I have no idea how to relate to or comprehend ..
but then, maybe my comments are hard to swallow too ..

I have my own views re Afghanistan .. that being its not 'conquerable' .. so stop wasting lives on it. Yes yes.. into the valley of death rode the 600.. on again on again.. Reminds me of the Iroquois and Huron curious at the British and French habit of sending troops in marching blocks preceded by drummers.. along roadways.. easy prey for arrows or long rifle, and take their scalps after .. then disappear into the dark forest .. just evaporate.. did the Brit n French generals think the injuns would fight by Queensbury Rules ?

We have no place in Afghanistan.. Yes, we or rather our politicians think we do.. its a NATO obligation .. but essentially just another Viet Nam.. a 'crusade' .. but its not whether 'we can win' .. its about what are we even doing there.. ? Are we seeking tribes we believe we can convert to .. uh .. some twisted sort of converting infidels to christianity ?

The Mound of Sound said...

I disagree that the Afghan war was ever won. There has never been a successful country that emerged without first overcoming the dual scourges of tribalism and warlordism. Afghanistan has both writ large. You've got Pashtun, Tajik, Baloch, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen, Nuristani and several others. Both the Pashtun and Baloch occupy tribal lands that are almost evenly divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Driving the Pashtun Taliban into their second homeland in Pakistan was futile.

America and her allies were never committed to defeating the Taliban. They played "whack-a-mole" at best. How would they have subdued the warlords in a country that was not prepared for civil society? Hell they couldn't even establish a national police force or a judicial system that wasn't rife with corruption.

The idea that America had the war won is fanciful and flies in the face of the facts. I know a fellow from McClatchey who spent years running the hills with the mujaheddin during the Soviet occupation. He'd tell you the same thing.

Jay Farquharson said...

Won, as in the shooting parts were over, the Taliban had fled to Pakistan or taken the Amnesty and gone home, al Quida was gone from Afghanistan.

Much like WWI was "won", but the conflicts never really ended, they just smoldered for decades and still burst into flames these days.

There was an over year long period where the "conflict" was political, no military, and "we" blew the political.

John B. said...

I often wonder whether the top guys look at participation in these conflicts primarily as good training opportunities and a means of maintaining the “fighting edge”, particularly for those to be employed later in positions of leadership.

The Mound of Sound said...

John, I understand the need to keep troops in fighting trim but that's no excuse for throwing such a minuscule force into an unwinnable conflict.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, the Taliban briefly fled to Pakistan where they regrouped, playing footsie with Hekmatyr's crowd. As for al Qaeda, the US lost the initiative when they failed to nail bin Laden in Tora Bora. After that pretty much everything America did was a giant recruiting campaign for Sunni Islamist terrorism. Both the Talibs and al Qaeda became more resilient, more flexible. It was all "you have the fancy watch but we have all the time" dynamic that has bedeviled counter-insurgency fighting in the post-war era. You can't defeat the Taliban without some vehicle of surrender. You can't defeat a terrorist movement unless, like the Brits in Malaya, you have tactical advantages and plenty of determination. How can you hope to defeat religious fanaticism when it was supported under the table by most princes, sheikhs and emirs of the Gulf States, especially the House of Saud? America made it all the worse when it toppled Saddam, installing Iran as the dominant regional player and driving Sunni Islam nuts.

This whole business was wheels spinning within wheels. Some see it as a string of proxy wars that underlie a religious war between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudia Arabia. America never understood it as such a shifting, chaotic and ultimately complex dynamic. Once again, hubris begat nemesis.

Jay Farquharson said...

You don't win wars,

You win peace.

"We" blew the peace big time.

Purple library guy said...

Practically the only way to win against a determined insurgency is not to provoke one. The only way not to provoke one is to genuinely on balance do more good than harm to the country you've occupied. The only way to do more good than harm is to rein in the elites (including local ones) who want to profit by milking the place. But you can't do that if you're in an occupation beside the United States of America.
So, never join the USA in occupying a place. It will always go sour.