The familiar road to failure in Afghanistan

#1
Sir Rodric Braithwaite writes in the FT

Excerpt ;

The 40th Army, as it was called, was inadequate. It was put together in a hurry and, though it grew to about 100,000 men, it was always too small: the military later came to believe that they would have needed 32 divisions to subdue Afghanistan and close its border with Pakistan. It was designed to fight on the North German plain, and so was neither equipped nor trained to face an insurgency. The Russian soldiers did eventually learn to fight effectively in the mountains and in what they (and the British soldiers who followed them) called the “green zone”, the lethal tangle of booby-trapped irrigation ditches, vineyards and narrow village streets of the cultivated valleys. But it took time. They lost a lot of people in the process. And they killed a great many Afghans in a war as brutal as the American war in Vietnam.

Two-thirds of the soldiers were engaged in defence: garrisoning the towns, searching villages, manning guard posts along the roads. The aggressive fighting was done by special forces, paratroopers and reconnaissance troops, supported and transported by armoured vehicles and helicopters.

Despite their losses, the Russians won most of their fights. They kept the main roads open, something we cannot always do today. They broke mujahideen attempts to besiege cities. They mounted large operations, mustering up to 12,000 troops, to suppress mujahideen bases and formations. They put together an Afghan army, armed with heavy weapons, which often fought well enough, despite the distressing tendency of Afghan officers to change sides and of soldiers to return to their villages when the going got rough.

But the Russians never got over their basic weakness: they could take the territory, but they never had enough troops to hold it. As one Russian critic put it, they had tactics but no strategy.
Continues here

Familiar road
 
#3
Good article that. However, it doesn't take much in-depth analysis to realise that a Government that will rob Peter to pay Paul - in the form of ravaging the rest of defence to fund a few helicopters - is far from committed to any sort of victory in Afghanistan.
 
#4
Thanks for posting that PTP, an interesting if sombre read.

One wonders if the faith we place in our diplomats and senior officers is not just so much whistling in the dark.

I would be very interested to read the opinions of people far more qualified than myself to comment on this issue. I realise of course the difficulty of airing private linen in public.
 
#5
Fallschirmjager said:
The Russians didn't go down the 'Hearts and Minds' route either. Without it it is virtually impossible to win a war of insurgency.
Not quite true, Ruskies built schools and hospitals along with social housing, 5000 Afghan students every year went to the soviet bloc for paid education and all senior officers and senior civil servants had paid for holidays.

I would agree that your average farmer did not benifit but all the educated Afghans I have talked to have expressed the view that the "Russian" times were the best of times.
 
#6
dante242 said:
I would agree that your average farmer did not benifit but all the educated Afghans I have talked to have expressed the view that the "Russian" times were the best of times.
Percentage of educated Afghans compared to rural Afghan farmers?
 

RP578

LE
Book Reviewer
#7
dante242 said:
I would agree that your average farmer did not benifit but all the educated Afghans I have talked to have expressed the view that the "Russian" times were the best of times.
Yeah, pretty much all the terps I spoke held that view and it's easy to see why. But as you point out this only effected a small minority of the population. One of the reminders of that conflict is all the empty compounds around the Sangin area, a legacy of the scorched earth tactics by the Soviets that turned a third of the population into refugees.

Whenever one of the lads would go on about how we should 'just blow the whole place up' I'd point out that it didn't really help the Soviets in the long run.
 
#8
No agree rural farmers under any regime will be treated like shit but then most farmers do not know the Russians were there let alone left......When the Russians invaded/came to the aid etc most of the initial troops were selected from Dari/Farsi speaking areas and cultural and language training was given to Russian troops and vice versa to Afghans. Up and till recently we (ISAF/NATO/UN/OEF)* have not even tried to to do this.

Under Monty python rules ("What have the ....ever done for us" ) we* will fall very short of what the Russians achieved with regards "Hearts and minds"
 
#9
The Russians would probably have pulled it off, less for the military intervention by the US and other countries. At that time, the Soviet Union was very succesful at influencing third world populations through the supply of infrastructure and other benefits - much as modern China is doing now throughout the non-aligned world.

Today's western military leadership - especially our own - has written doctrine to fit decades of budgetary constraints, and has successfully conditioned itself into thinking that technology/economy can replace military mass/expenditure in achieving military ends - including the occupation and stabilisation of entire countries. I'd bet that if you'd given the Iraq/Afghanistan situation to a 1945 General Staff that had just finished dealing with a liberated Europe and about 30 other territories, they'd have come up with a DS solution that would have centred around the commitment of forces perhaps ten to twenty times the numerical strength the current generation have blundered around with. I find it profoundly depressing that, even now, our CoC keep the party line that, say, half a dozen extra helicopters and 500 troops constitute adequate reinforcements, when perhaps a 1945 general might have done a real-world appreciation and considered that two or three infantry divisions might have been needed to sufficiently dominate the real estate.
 
#10
4(T) said:
The Russians would probably have pulled it off, less for the military intervention by the US and other countries. At that time, the Soviet Union was very succesful at influencing third world populations through the supply of infrastructure and other benefits - much as modern China is doing now throughout the non-aligned world.
In a round about way you could be suggesting that had 'we' not interfered in Afghanistan and let the Russians resolve the insurgent problem successfully, there may not have been a 9/11 and the turgid mess 'we' now find 'ourselves' in.

Interesting thought. :wink:

4(T) said:
Today's western military leadership - especially our own - has written doctrine to fit decades of budgetary constraints, and has successfully conditioned itself into thinking that technology/economy can replace military mass/expenditure in achieving military ends - including the occupation and stabilisation of entire countries. I'd bet that if you'd given the Iraq/Afghanistan situation to a 1945 General Staff that had just finished dealing with a liberated Europe and about 30 other territories, they'd have come up with a DS solution that would have centred around the commitment of forces perhaps ten to twenty times the numerical strength the current generation have blundered around with. I find it profoundly depressing that, even now, our CoC keep the party line that, say, half a dozen extra helicopters and 500 troops constitute adequate reinforcements, when perhaps a 1945 general might have done a real-world appreciation and considered that two or three infantry divisions might have been needed to sufficiently dominate the real estate.
I have long opined that the DS solution to 'nation-building' requires the political, financial, and resource uplift seen in post war Germany. Moreover, the time period for that model is also instructive.
 
#11
Fallschirmjager said:
The Russians didn't go down the 'Hearts and Minds' route either. Without it it is virtually impossible to win a war of insurgency.
Like the Americans.... in Vietnam.......that worked too :wink:
 
#12
I think the first thing any DS would ask is how many Afghans have attacked any Western country?

The second question is what facilities there are in Afghanistan to support high tech terrorism?

Did the 9/11 attackers do their flight training in Afghanistan?

How many Boeing 747 flight simulators have been discovered in Afghan caves?

How many viral warfare laboratories?

Are Afghan cities noted for the high bandwidth internet connections need to support cyber warfare?

Is the country well provided with the high grade technical experts capable of inflicting real damage on our national infrastructure?

If there is really an effective and potential dangerous group of Muslim fanatics with the capability to do us serious harm, why would they locate themselves in Afghanistan of all places? Assuming they have money and serious smarts, why wouldn't they be in one of the fifty or so other Muslim countries?

In fact, why would they even be in a Muslim country at all? The best educated, most technically qualified and most politically aware Muslims are walking around the streets of London, Paris and New York. What the hell would they be doing fooling around in Afghanistan with AK 47's? That's not what you use university degrees for. Nor is any kind of meaningful way of negotiating with the West. Until the Muslims have acquired some way of killing Westerners by the hundreds of thousands, the same way as we've killed Iraqis, they're not players. Everybody knows that. Nobody wastes time talking to people who can't hurt you.

Which, of course, is exactly why the Israelis have so much clout in the US and the UK. They control votes, money and the media. If you don't play the game their way you don't get elected. You don't even have a career anymore: ask David Irving. Come to that, ask anybody at the BBC.

So if there is anything in the Al-Qaeda issue to fight a war about, the last place that matters is Afghanistan. Because there's nothing there that can hurt us.

Al-Qaeda? They were the people we were supposed to be fighting in Afghanistan. Only they had the good sense to bugger off and leave the place -- and the Pathans -- to us. Years and years ago. But somebody somewhere still thinks that bin Laden has got some James Bond chrome plated home of evil underneath an Afghan mountain. All the soldiers have to do is to walk about long enough and they'll find it.

Of course the only thing they're finding is what's written down in a dozen British Regimental histories: walk onto Pathan territory with a rifle in your hands and you can expect trouble. With a big, big T. And it's all completely unnecessary. Pay the buggers off in gold and tell them who you want killed and the job's done. But that wouldn't generate any profits for US defence companies, would it? There's got to be some American and British blood flowing to keep the taxpayers paying.

This isn't a war, it's a pantomime staged by spin doctors with straw villains on a dimly lit stage. It's just an illusion to make money for the Carlyle Group, Fox Media and all the other war mongering prats around. And everybody else claps and applauds because otherwise the Americans would have to admit that either they're trying to destroy something which no longer exists, or is so well hidden they can't find it.

As for comparisons between what happened after WWII and now, they're ludicrous. No soldiers were needed for 'nation building'. Nobody had to force the Germans to rebuild their factories. The Germans didn't need any military help or protection internally to do that -- the reason why they begged for American troops in West Germany was because if the Americans weren't there, the Russians soon would be.

The Japanese were in exactly the same situation except that what was protecting them from the Russians was the US Navy. The only US troops ever required in Japan was an honour guard outside MacArthur's HQ. Of course there were more than that, and a less fit, less trained, less warlike collection of pampered luxury loving occupation soldiers never existed, not even in Germany. When they were suddenly committed to the Korean war MacArthur's troops got shot to ribbons.
 
#14
The Great Gamble is a semi-interesting book on the Soviet Afghan experience. Soviet conscripts were apparently so skint they would knock off Afghans so as to pinch their watches and motorbikes.

Todays Afghan surge might go down in history as the equiv of the Soviet 1985 surge?

Interesting that the rural insurection that grew into the various Mujahideen groups started as a rural rejection of the Kabul regimes attempts at female emancipation. The rural hillbilles wiped out female clinics, schools, etc. Pretty much the same as todays Taliban, except that when President Reagan described the western backed Mujahideen as 'freedom fighters equal to the US founding fathers' he was bullshitting abit.
 
#15
Pilbara, a couple months ago I found myself in a conversation with a bloke I was on course with about something quite similar.

He was of the opinion that continuing the presence in Afghanistan was directly responsible for preventing terrorism in the UK.

I am of the opinion that AQ and other such international terrorists were the threat to the UK, not some disaffected goatherd or farmhand with an AK. If terror is the problem then deal with the terrorists - and thats largely done by police/int services.

I understand the attraction of ending the threat at source, but to be honest I don't think thats whats being achieved in Afg. Any half-decent terrs would have scattered themselves to the four winds by now, and in any case, the whole idea of terrorism as opposed to conventional warfare is that they don't need an entire nation-state of a permissive environment like Afghan to organise themselves in. They can do that perfectly well right under our noses and in our cities in the West, as has been seen, and the terrorist threat is often even home-grown. If anything the presence may be compounding any terror threat as it potentially further alienates people who may then take up terrorism. Also, you will never remove a terrorist threat, it is more of a case of reducing the risk - there is no such thing as an unconditional victory in this sort of realm.

The only other way to justify it, if not on preventing terrorism in the UK, is as a humanitarian or counter-drug op. But to be honest, if we are going to justify this on humanitarian grounds in helping a disadvantaged people who've had to live in poverty under a persecutive regime, then when are we going to wade into Zimbabwe and half the rest of the world as well? Disingenious. And if its a counter-drug op then when are we going to tackle the poppy growing and provide an alternative for their rural economy?

TBH I think we're there because we're there, and the Govt want to suck up to the US, are afraid of cutting and running after the initial intervention in 2001 and letting the Taliban back in, and because Pakistan would take a pounding from the Talibs too if we left. But none of this serves the purpose of keeping the UK safe from terrorism or defeating AQ.

Don't get me wrong, I still want to go - and hopefully get the chance before we no doubt leave with the US - but that is more for personal reasons and the fact that this is the biggest thing going on at the moment than in any belief in the worth of the mission. As an aside, it would be good to be able to improve the lot of the Afghan people, but the idea that any improvements will be lasting and fundamental is just an illusion in the event that the Taliban come back in, or even in the event that the Afghan Govt revert to type.

In geopolitical terms, I just don't see how this is helping us. We'd be better off conducting short term interventions based on killing, capturing and disrupting potential terr bases of operation as in late 2001, then leaving before we get lumbered with the whole irrelevancy of COIN against people who do not threaten us in the UK. Less humanitarian to the locals, yes, but it would avoid the sapping of national strength and will that the current model fives us. Rates higher on selection and maintenance of the aim and economy of effort for me.
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#16
Unlike the myriad "Great Game" historical comparisons in the press, this one is actually informed and germane. Thanks for posting. I suspect his book will be worth getting hold of.

Moreover, a decent critique of the whole engagement by Littlejim. However:

SNIP
And everybody else claps and applauds because otherwise the Americans would have to admit that either they're trying to destroy something which no longer exists, or is so well hidden they can't find it.
SNIP

They are trying to destroy what? AQ? Done deal (at least, in Afghan). Problem is the resurgent Taliban (who have a history of assisting AQ), the woeful central government and the strategic fact that if Afghan falls into chaos, it destabilizes the region - as is happening in Pak. And if the whole region goes to pot, I am pretty sure the world (and the UK) would be a much more dangerous place. The question now must be whether the medicine - ie western military intervention - is worse than the disease.

The (ridiculous) war on drugs is simply not relevent to Afghan as far as I can see.

OTOH, Brown makes the point that 80 percent of attempted UK terrorist attacks originate in the Af/Pak region. This is a claim that needs questioning. Moreover, let us remember that the creation of AQ was inspired by the US troop presence in Saudi. A big question that needs to be asked is simply this:
Is our presence in Afghan fuelling or containing the terrorist threats we now (allegedly) face?


RE: Nation Building
Well neither Jerry nor Jap needed to be told to rebuild, they had something to rebuild and both had a history of industry and of central governance. In Afghan, you have a whole generation that has grown up in what was essentially a state of chaotic tribal leadership with no significant industy working beyond agriculture. Nation building in this sense is virtually going back to square one: Governance, infrastructure, industry. The theory that economically advancing places do not breed terrorists is a decent one (many put the end of terrorism in NI down to the improving economy that held opportunties for both Catholic and Protestant, for eg) but in Afghan there is a long, long way to go. Can it be done? Most people laugh as it is an impossibility, but I think so: In the 50s and 60s Afghan was, AFAIK, a reasonably stable state.
 
#17
The_Big_Floater said:
Fallschirmjager said:
The Russians didn't go down the 'Hearts and Minds' route either. Without it it is virtually impossible to win a war of insurgency.
Like the Americans.... in Vietnam.......that worked too :wink:
The Americans didn't really get the concept right, as one American officer said " Grab 'em by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow!" So no the Americans did not go down the hearts and minds route.
 
#18
llech said:
The_Big_Floater said:
Fallschirmjager said:
The Russians didn't go down the 'Hearts and Minds' route either. Without it it is virtually impossible to win a war of insurgency.
Like the Americans.... in Vietnam.......that worked too :wink:
The Americans didn't really get the concept right, as one American officer said " Grab 'em by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow!" So no the Americans did not go down the hearts and minds route.
The US marines did in I Corp, they had a succesful programme going, which may if rolled out across the country of SA worked, also the SK in vietnam did (though if shot at from a village, destroyed it)

However the Marines in I Corp did have a hearts n minds tactic
 

udipur

LE
Book Reviewer
#19
I agree with Jim up above. Afghanistan is a bit of a pointless war and we are losing good men and women for little reason. Rupert Smith's analysis of modern warfare is remarkably apposite in this instance because we have moved away from "Industrial War" to "War of the People". Afghans do not run around the UK trying to kill us, they just want to get on with their own tribal fiefdoms and make a Afghani or two off their agriculture. Because that is the nation they have always had.

It is easy for the big Yank to emphasise the 'threat' and the justification and our lap dogs of successive prime ministers buy into it. Naomi Klein's analysis of developing National Socialism by stages is spot on:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy - what is the true threat and is it still in Afghanistan?
2. Create a secret prison system - remember the extraordinary rendition policy?
3. Develop a paramilitary force - need I mention Dishwater? How many ops have been outsourced (remember Dyncorp in Kosovo and C America)?
4. Set up internal surveillance society - http://freedocumentaries.net/media/42/Spying_on_the_Home_Front/
5. Infiltrate citizens' groups - defensible as intelligence gathering but offensive in free society.
6. Detain and release ordinary citizens - http://freedocumentaries.org/int.php?filmID=82
7. Target key individuals - is one 6'5" man with a straggly beard and a dialysis problem that big a threat? Or is he totemic?
8. Restrict the press - have you watched the Armed Forces Network? Or Fox?
9. Recast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason - speak up in public against the Yanks and you might be in prison. Or create laws specifically to stop Brian Haws protesting...
10. Subvert the rule of law - how many times have govt agencies used 'anti-terrorism' as reasons for bizarre prosecutions?

Do we really need to be spending all this money on Afghanistan? Or can we give them some money and let them get on with it? Is the problem in Pakistan going to destabilise the region? Or are we still going to have to dance with a regime in Islamabad who is terrified of their Pashtun citizens revolting? The same citizens who were split from their cousins by the British drawn Durand line.

Bring the troops home, let the Afghans get on with their poppy growing and spend some of the saved money on bribes, some on paying off our national debt and some on the civil agencies who can protect the UK internally.
 
#20
Voltiguer said:
Pilbara, a couple months ago I found myself in a conversation with a bloke I was on course with about something quite similar. He was of the opinion that continuing the presence in Afghanistan was directly responsible for preventing terrorism in the UK.
My view is that by pissing off the Muslim radicals by sending predominately Christian troops into Muslim countries they're going to get a sad on. You can't stir up a hornets nest without expecting to be stung. I'm glad I've been to Afghan and Iraq but I don't believe we should have been there in the first place. Even if we defeat the taliban in Afghanistan they'll just relocate to somewhere like Somalia or work out of Pakistan. Total waste of British soldiers lives in my opinion. Won't stop me going back though.
 

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