Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Captives of our Bow and Spear

You can take an Afghan to Hell with kindness,
but never to heaven by force

--Afghan proverb

Tribe wars with tribe. Every man's hand
is against the other and all are against the stranger
... the state of continual tumult has produced
a habit of mind which holds life cheap
and embarks on war with careless levity

--Winston Churchill

Chief advocates viewing the Battle of Little Bighorn as another fight in the progression of events which began in 1492. This perspective helps in
understanding the totality of the situation. Using that viewpoint, let us extend lessons from LBH into current scenarios in Afghanistan dealing with Counterinsurgency, unconventional/guerrilla war (UW/GW) and terrorism. This may seem a stretch, but saddle up . . .

The hostiles in both scenarios did not have a problem in the world until the outer world forcibly imposed progress upon them. The Afghans have much experience repulsing the outsiders, be they Greek, Persian, British, Russian, Paki, Indian, Chinese, American or even present-day Iranians.Minus external forces, the Native Americans and the Afghanis would do fine, thanks, without the education or whatever the interlopers wish to impose. Both nations (or more precisely, confederation of nations) would be happy to continue killing each other before it became necessary to reach out and kill The Other. The only thing better than killing each other would be to kill invaders.

Following are some ways LBH can be compared to the Phony War on Terror (PWOT):

[1] "Fighting Season" -- both the Indians and the Afghans could only fight when they could support themselves operationally. Where the Afghans gather support external to the group, the Indians had to follow the cycle of nature. Both groups were sidelined by deadly winter weather, but of course, they continued to train, plan, maintain equipment, etc.[2] Militarily, both the Afghan and Indian War campaigns had the same goals. The hostiles were given a Hobson's choice: Submit to government control or pick up the lance. There is no discernible middle ground.

[3] The Afghan fighters have a force structure similar to that of the Indians, one based upon tribal loyalties and realities. The groups are usually as strong as their leaders. Both groups possess limited ability and opportunity to isolate the battlefield, but both have the luxury and will to prepare the field before they willingly engage government forces. Both are fighting for their survival as discrete entities; neither care to subsumed into their own loosely confederated nation nor into a construction fashioned by the invaders.[4] Both must apply the concept of Mass and Economy of Force. The LBH demonstrated Mass as the prevailing principle, where most fights in Afghanistan demonstrate the principle of Economy of Force. The U.S. Army must gain and maintain contact with these adversaries, while it is the opposition's job to break contact until it is advantageous for them to turn and face the enemy. This was shown at LBH, Waygul and Wanat.

[5] Government forces used indigenous members to neutralize the indig. The government elevated the indig that they chose either to leadership positions or as judas goats.At LBH they were called Scouts and in Afghanistan they are called the Afghan National Army.[6] Intelligence is mitigated: In 1876 intel was negligible to nonexistent regarding the Indians' intentions. In Afghanistan there is so much intel that analysis is hampered. The reliability and validity in both cases is always in doubt.

[7] Concealment: In the Indian Wars, there was no place for the Indians; in Afghanistan, the hostiles hide in plain sight and there is no place for U.S. forces to hide.

In conclusion, the best hope of prevailing in the Afghan leg of the PWOT would be to use a tactic that worked with the Indians: Give them tax-free cigarettes, legal gambling casinos and tell them they are free and autonomous. Facts be damned.


All I can add to what jim has written is that when tribal cultures war with outsiders there are only two outcomes; the outsider is pushed back out (or destroyed) or the tribesman is assimilated and destroyed (with this conquest there is no "or"; in order to make the tribesman into the image of his conqueror his culture and entire way of life must be destroyed, and that almost always involves massive butchery among the natives.).

Anything else lends itself to the continual low-grade warfare endemic to tribal and especially nomadic tribal societies. The skills of a pastoralist or a horse-nomad lent themselves entirely too well to warfare; the tribes will nearly always want to retain their freedom to raid when they want, to battle for mastery when they choose.

The British took 100 years to acquire India, from Clive's victory at Plassey to the crushing of the Bengal Revolt of 1857. They then spent the next 100 years trying to remake the Indian peoples into a Western-style nation. By and large they succeeded. But it took a century, billions of pounds, and hundreds of thousands of lives; both in lives taken and lives spent in the service of that immense colonial enterprise.If the United States is willing to pay that price, no one has yet informed the U.S. public.


Leon said...

One thing to remember is that those campaigns were conducted out of sight of the general public and civilian casualties (of indigenous population) be damned. Now with the 24hr news cycle plus our modern moralities mean it's very difficult to "pacify" the population to bring them to the gov's side.

rangeragainstwar said...

The problem is that the gov is a non-entity in most COIN scenarios.
BTW i doubt that most folks much care about the indig lives since we're so ethnocentric.