My battalion commander over at Ranger Against War has had a series of blisteringly deadly five- to seven-round bursts targeting the Obama Administration's apparently reflexive continuation of the loyal Bushies' drive to civilize and Christianize the heathern wilds of The Grave of Empires. We've seen the latest installment of the "We Can't Not Escalate Because Failure Would Lead To Failing" announced this week. Where we go from here seems to be up for grabs, and the apparent Revolt of the Generals doesn't seem to be helping us any.
Now I don't pretend to be a good tactician. As an NCO my tactics never took me above platoon level. And, besides, Jim pretty much has papered that grid square.Nope, even as a buck sergeant my interest in war outside my lane was at the strategic and political levels. And all my reading and studying on the conduct of this latest of American military affectations, counterinsurgency (or "COIN"), keeps leading me back to the same conclusions:
First, foreign armies don't beat native insurrections without massive, ruthless, overwhelming violence.
Which leads directly to:
Second, if you don't or can't apply this heinous level of savagery, either accept that you cannot win or find a reliable local proxy who can and will.
Where does this leave us in Afghanistan?
The piece of the Central Asian massif we dignify with the title "Afghanistan" has never been a particularly easy or worthwhile place to rule. The Mughals did it for a while, though they pretty much forgot about it once they had India (a much more desirable address), and Alexander kept the pot from boiling over by marrying one of the local royals and then grabbing a hat as soon as possible, although the effects of his conquest may well have been the most long-lasting of the various outsiders who have transited the place.Add to that the reality that the Afghan plateau is poor in resources, politically and socially so divided as to make the designation of the place as a Westphalian "country" risible, and a logistical and strategic nightmare to successfully attack, conquer and defend. It has little or no value as a geopolitical asset; indeed, it's only real value is denial - preventing it from becoming a center for regional mischief is more value than controlling it directly.
So, in effect, every dollar, every soldier, every element of military or economic wealth that is put into Afghanistan will produce, at best, a geopolitically neutral result; it might, if correctly employed, deny a potential enemy the use of the land and peoples of the Afghan region.
And, what's more, the employment of those elements of foreign power are likely to provoke a vicious backlash from a region known for its distrust of and resistance to outlanders.So 17,000 troopers (which, by the way, actually translates to less than 5,000 trigger-pullers, assuming the reports of this deployment as composed of two maneuver brigades is correct - figure six infantry battalions for a total of 2,400-3,000 marine and Army infantrymen plus the brigade DS artillery battalions for another 1,000 and the ash-and-trash aviation and mech elements) are being sent, at vast expense of time and steam, to slay Afridis where they run.
And what will this buy us if they succeed?
Well, we'll own that portion of Waziristan, or the Black Mountain, or Swat. As long as we can pay for and replace our soldiers there. To...to...
Waziristan provides us no treasure, unless we desire its opium or its goats. It yields us no strategic advantage, no jumping-off place for Asian conquest assuming we were mad enough to desire such a thing. It yields, if it yields anything, a stony wilderness populated by the most warlike peoples on Earth.
And why in the name of Eblis would we want that?
Well, these fellas here say that if we don't hold this place it will "allow al-Qaeda central, which intelligence agencies identify as the greatest national security threat to the United States, to operate with impunity under a resurgent Taliban."
So, in essence, we will be holding it...so that the Bad People don't hold it. We'll be buying the flophouse with our blood and treasure not to renovate it and flip it (we can't bar an insane expense, since the foundations are rotten to nonexistent and the neighbors sullenly or violently hostile) but just to keep the gangsters and druggies and whores out.
Forever. Since there will ALWAYS be gangsters and druggies and whores...and Taliban...and al Qaeda. An American ground force. Forever. In Central Asia.
This is almost the definition of insanity.
Back in November we talked about this in this post over at RAW. It made a HELL of a lot of sense to me then and it makes even more sense now. We don't need to send three fucking maneuver brigades to fight an enemy and a war that, if it is ever to be "won", needs to be fought by Afghans. Any success we can win can and should be won by 5,000 Jedburgh teams, SF-type trainer/leaders organizing the so-called "Afghan National Army". The fact that this clusterfuck is less then three divisions is criminal. A former ambassador to Afghanistan points out:
"During the Korean War in the 1950s, the United States helped build a 700,000-man (ROK) army in a nation with a population only about two-thirds that of Afghanistan. In the Greek civil war in the 1940s, we helped build a Greek security force of 182,000 soldiers in two years. These armies were not as sophisticated as today’s forces, and they did not require new body armor, high-tech communications equipment and armored Humvees. But they were sufficient to overcome threats greater than those Afghanistan now faces."Ambassador, let me let you in on a little secret: the Afghans don't require all that high-tech crap anyway. They did pretty damn fine against the Soviets armed with donkeys and a bunch of old Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles. Lend 'em a couple of AK-47's and a Land-River or two and, if we've got 'em anywhere near where and what they want to fight for they'll do just fine...Because the alternative is...
An American ground force. Forever. In Central Asia.
And we would want that...
Update 2/22: Here's John Robb over at Global Guerillas making essentially the same point. One thing he stresses which I don't think is being hit on hard enough is the recent CW that the "success" in Iraq is a result of the "new" COIN methods employed in 2007-2008 (i.e. "the surge"). Coincidence isn't consequence, guys, and the notion that we've "won" and that somehow suggests we do anything but organize a bug-out as expeditiously as possible is fucking nuts. And the parallel notion that we can duplicate the lower level of chaos in Iraq in the 'Stan using the same methods?
Complete fucking nuts.
And check out this particular bit of creative insanity from Tom Ricks, who compares the occupation of Iraq to...wait for it...the Reconstruction of the South after the civil war and demands, although he points out that after six years of occupation that Iraq is essentially politically nonfunctional and the Iraqi Army, the only real "institution" we've spent any time "building" is both dangerously sectarian, unsable and fundamentally undemocratic, that we keep tens of thousands of troop maneuver units there because the haven't fought their civil war yet! Because...being a foreign soldier on the ground thousands of miles from your base of logistics in the middle of a multi-sided foreign civil war in a traditionally treacherous and unstable land is...a Good Thing!