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To the Brink…An Unnecessary Condition of Affairs

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I have resisted writing much about the shutdown that has beset our nation the past two weeks and the looming debt default. Truthfully I don’t know what to say. I am amazed that we have reached this point, but then at the same time I am not. I saw it coming in 2011 when the I wrote a couple of articles while nursing a broken leg. One The Deal is Done and are We? There are Always Results was written the day the deal was done, the other Be Careful…there is a point of no return and we may have crossed it was written the day prior to the deal.

Both articles lamented the state of the body politic of the nation and recognized that the actions of our political leaders, men and women elected by us were much less about the budget than a cultural war elicited by the unbridled hatred of our fellow citizens.

Back then I wrote:

“The attitudes that we have formed and angry words which we now use so ubiquitously are reflective of a deep hatred that now is becoming what defines us as a people.  In fact the deep and abiding hatred which now permeates our society is now threatening the international standing and I would say the national security of the United States.  We have only ourselves to blame because through our actions and inactions of the past decade we have made our choice to be what we have become and there is no one group especially in our political, media and business elites that have served us well.  In fact we have as voters chosen this toxic mix of elected officials often more influenced by hate spewing pundits and our own self interests rather than that of the nation and future generations much as we would like to claim that we are looking out for the future.”

I am an American. I serve my country regardless of who the President is. I have served under five Presidents now. In each case there have been things that I have liked and disliked about each of them as well as policies with which I have disagreed. But for me the fundamental principle was always the good of the country. That is something that I cannot say exists, especially in the Jacobins of the Tea Party who have driven the country to the point of default for no good reason.

People can say that their opposition to the Affordable Health Care Act is a matter of principle. But it is law and has been deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court. Shutting down the government and bringing about default is not the means to change a law, even one that some despise.

The government shutdown, the default and the Sequester brought about by the Budget  Control Act of 2011 are dangerous. I see them from a national security point of view. In national security parlance our national power is not merely based on military power. It is what we call the DIME. The Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic power of the nation. These factors all have been weakened by the shutdown, the threatened default and the sequester. Our status as a world power is directly affected by these actions, and like it or not in our globalized interconnected world all these factors matter. The actions of Congress, particularly the members of the House precipitating these actions are dangerous, irresponsible and stupid.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that the Chinese in particular are attempting to use this to their advantage. The are lobbying for a new world economic order which would replace the Dollar as the world wide reserve currency. The loss of this would harm us immeasurably as many of our advantages in trade, finance and other economic matters are directly related to our economic and political stability and trust of other nations believing that we will act in a responsible matter.

Likewise there are people that have become unhinged. Today I had a comment on the site which I did not allow from a man in Louisiana (IP address lookup is a cool tool) who was more extreme than many of the more extreme Tea Party extremists I have encountered. By labeling these particular people extreme I am not making a blanket statement about people in the Tea Party because I know many good people who I count as friends in the Tea Party movement who are rational, reasonable and non-violent.

That being said I have gotten past the point of needing to engage unhinged internet trolls or giving them room to spout their hatred on this site. The man was spouting the most insane babble, a mixture of Alex Jones paranoia and simple hate devoid of any real real arguments. I went to his site and saw that this was his normal writing style. It was scary because his answer was violence.

I am reminded of what Robert E Lee testified before a Senate hearing after the defeat of the Confederacy.

“I may have said and I may have believed that the position of the two sections which they held to each other was brought about by the politicians of the country; that if the great mass of the people, if they had understood the real questions would have avoided it. I did believe at the time that it (the war) was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”

That is what we face today. There is a hard core of idealist who will not compromise, who see compromise as weakness and defeat. They lack the understanding that the very narrow latitude prescribed in our governmental structure and Constitution prescribed by our founders demands compromise. Otherwise the system cannot work. It is not perfect by a long shot. There will always be things about the country that one faction or another does not like and attempts to change through the normal legislative process. That is what is supposed to happen in order to form “a more perfect union.” However that is not what is happening in this case. The radicals appear to want to destroy the country allegedly to save it.

I know not what tomorrow holds. I hope and pray that the shutdown will be ended, a continuing resolution passed and default averted. However I do not know if it will happen, and that should cause all of us regardless of our political views to ask just what the hell are we doing?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Why History Matters: The Disastrous Effects of Long Insurgency Campaigns on the Nations that Wage them and the Armies that Fight Them

French Mobile Group in Indochina

“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

The effects of the wars Indo-China, Algeria and Vietnam on the French and American military organizations internally and in relationship to their nations piqued my interest in 2005. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan forced me to start asking the question of what short and long term effect that these wars might have on the U.S. military. As such I wondered what historical precedent that there was for the question. My interest was furthered by my deployment with Marine and Army advisors to Iraqi Army and Security forces in 2007-2008. My search led to the French experiences in Indo-China and Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam. Recently with the Iraq war winding down and ongoing war in Afghanistan which has gone from apparent victory to mounting concern that we are losing the war in Afghanistan as Taliban and Al Qaida have regained momentum amid widespread corruption by the Afghan government and weakness of NATO forces.
The counterinsurgency campaigns conducted by the French and American militaries in Vietnam and Algeria had deep and long lasting effects on them as did the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The effects included developments in organization and tactics, relationship of the military to the government and people, and sociological changes. The effects were tumultuous and often corrosive. The French Army in Algeria revolted against the government. The US Army, scarred by Vietnam went through a crisis of leadership and confidence which eventually resulted in end of the draft and formation the all volunteer military. The Soviet not only lost their war but they saw their country collapse and the military with it. The effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are yet unknown but could result in similar situations to the militaries and governments involved.

French Surrender at Dien Bien Phu

There is a wealth of data regarding these wars. There are several types of materials. The accounts of soldiers, diplomats and reporters who experienced these events contained in memoirs and diaries. The best include David Hackworth’s About Face and Steel My Soldiers Hearts; and General Harold Moore’s We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. French works include Jules Roy’s The Battle of Dien Bien Phu and General Paul Aussaresses’ The Battle of the Casbah. There are innumerable popular accounts written by NCOs and junior officers. These accounts may contain a wealth of information, but are limited by a number of factors. First, the authors, veterans of the wars, only saw part of the overall picture and first-hand experience in war can skew a writer’s objectivity. Those who have been through the trauma of war interpret war through their own experience. Physical and psychological wounds can have a major impact on the interpretation of these writers as can their experience and political ideology. Finally few of these writers are trained historians. Despite this they can be a valuable resource for the historian.

Viet Minh Main Force Soldiers

Another source is found in the official histories written by the military forces involved in the wars. Often these incorporate unit histories and individual narratives and analyze specific battles and the wider campaigns, but do little in regard to broader conditions that affected operations. While a good source, many are not as critical of their institutions as they should be.

Histories by trained historians and journalists provide another view. The most insightful of the journalist accounts include Bernard Fall’ Street Without Joy and The Siege of Dien Bien Phu: Hell in a Very Small Place. A limitation of all of these is that they are often heavily influenced by the political and societal events. This means that earlier accounts are more likely to be reactive and judgmental versus critical and balanced. Later accounts have the benefit of access to the opposing side and documents not available to earlier writers. Alistair Horn in A Savage War of Peace provides one of the most informative and balanced accounts of the war in Algeria. Martin Winslow does the same regarding Dien Bien Phu in The Last Valley.

Foreign Legion in Algeria

Another source is the writings of participants who critically examine their participation in the wars. Many of these, French and American provide insights into the minds of leaders who are reflective and critically examine what happened to their military institutions in these wars. The best of these is French Colonel David Galula whose books Pacification in Algeria 1956-1958 and Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice provide first-hand accounts of the subject combined with critical reflection. Galula’s works have been important to John Nagl, General David Petreus and others who helped write the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency manual. Andrew Krepinevich in The Army and Vietnam provides a critical analysis of the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Other sources, both online and print, such as RAND, provide excellent analysis of selected topics within the scope of this essay, especially COIN.

Battles in the Streets of Algiers

The ability to dispassionately and critically examine and evaluate these sources over a period of several years was and integrate them with my own experience has been a critical to me. It has changed the way that I look at sources, and caused me to be much more aware of bias, the limitations of sources and the need to have a multiplicity of sources and points of view and to be suspicious of contemporary reports and accounts of the war in Afghanistan regardless of the source.

The conflicts in French Indo-China, Algeria and Vietnam had major effects on the French and American military institutions. These effects can be classified in a number of ways. First, the manner in which each military waged war, including tactics employed and use and development of weapons systems was changed. The use of airpower, especially helicopters and use of riverine forces provided an added dimension of battlefield mobility but did not bring victory. As John Shy and Thomas Collier noted regarding the French in Indo-China: “French mobility and firepower could take them almost anywhere in Vietnam, but they could not stay, and could show only wasted resources and time for their efforts.”[1]

Assassination and Terrorism in Algiers

The use of intelligence and psychological warfare, including the use of torture became common practice in both the French and American armies. The wars had an effect on the institutional culture of these armed services; neither completely embraced the idea of counterinsurgency and for the most part fought conventionally. Galula notes how the “legacy of conventional thinking” slowed the implementation of proper counterinsurgency tactics even after most commanders learned that “the population was the objective.”[2] Krepinevich notes that “any changes that might have come about through the service’s experience in Vietnam were effectively short-circuited by Army goals and policies.”[3] Finally the wars had a chilling effect on the relationship between the both militaries and the state, veterans from each nation often felt betrayed or disconnected from their country and people. Unfortunately instances of all of these have occurred or can be seen in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US Army in Vietnam

The French Army had the misfortune of fighting two major insurgencies back to back. The French military was handicapped even before it went into these wars. The Army came out of World War II defeated by the Germans, divided by loyalties to Vichy or one of the Free French factions. They were humiliated by the Japanese in Indo-China, while in Algeria France’s crushing defeat was devastating. “Muslim minds, particularly sensitive to prestige and baraka, the humiliation made a deep impression.”[4] French society was as divided as the Army; the economy in shambles, the government weak and divided. The Viet-Minh had prepared well making use of time and training to get ready for war. “Once full-scale hostilities broke out, the French, for budgetary and political reasons could not immediately make the large scale effort to contain the rebellion in the confines of small-scale warfare.”[5]

Paras of the 1st Colonial Parachute Regiment jump in Algeria

In both Indo-China and Algeria the French attempted to fight the budding insurgencies in a conventional manner. This was particularly disastrous in Indo-China when on a number of occasions battalion and regimental combat team sized elements were annihilated by Viet-Minh regulars. Between October 1st and 17th 1950 every French garrison along the Chinese border was over-run. The French lost over 6000 troops and enough equipment to outfit “a whole additional Viet-Minh division.” It was their worst colonial defeat since Montcalm at Quebec.[6] In Algeria when the fight began in earnest France’s “ponderous ponderous N.A.T.O forces found themselves at an impossible disadvantage,”[7] unable to have any influence off the main roads.

Marcel Bigard: One of the most effective French commanders in Indochina and Algeria

In Vietnam the French did not absorb the lessons of fighting a well established insurgent force. French forces hoped to draw the Viet-Minh main forces into battles of attrition where their superior firepower could be brought to bear. Such was the case at Na San in December 1952 where the French established an “Air ground base” deep in Viet-Minh territory to draw Giap’s forces into open battle. This worked, but just barely. General Giap, short of artillery and not planning on a long battle frittered away his troops in mass charges. However, the French, because of Na Son assumed they had found the key to victory. In their embrace of the “air ground base concept, French staff officers were following an intellectual tradition that had long been prone to seduction by elegant theories.”[8] The result was the disaster at Dien Bien Phu the following year. The destruction of the elite Group-mobile 100 near Pleiku in 1954 was the coup de grace. In Indo-China the French made limited use of helicopters, used paratroops widely, and developed riverine forces. One thing they were critically short of was significant tactical air support.[9]

Roger Trinquier helped develop tactics in Indochina which helped turn the tide in Algeria, until the French Government ended the war leaving their soldiers to feel betrayed

The most inventive French creation in Indochina was the GCMA/GMI forces composed of mountain tribesmen led by French NCOs and Junior Officers. They were designed to provide “permanent guerilla groups rooted in remote areas” to harass and interdict Viet-Minh forces.[10] Trinquier noted that at the time of the Dien Bien Phu defeat that these forces had reached over 20,000 trained and equipped maquis in the Upper Region of Tonkin and Laos. These forces achieved their greatest success retaking Lao Cai and Lai Chau May 1954 as Dien Bien Phu fell.[11] Trinquier stated that “the sudden cessation of hostilities prevented us from exploiting our opportunities in depth.”[12] The GMI units and their French leaders were abandoned fighting on for years after the defeat. One account noted a French NCO two years after the defeat cursing an aircraft patrolling the border “for not dropping them ammunition so they could die like men.”[13] In the end the French left Indo-China and Giap remarked to Jules Roy in 1963 “If you were defeated, you were defeated by yourselves.”[14]
Algeria was different being part of Metropolitan France; there the French had support of European settlers, the pieds-noir. Many French soldiers had come directly from Indo-China. There French made better adaptations to local conditions, and realized that they had to win the population and isolate the insurgents from it and outside support. As Galula said, victory is the destruction of the insurgent’s political and military structures, plus “the permanent isolation from the population, not forced upon the population, but by and with the population.”[15] The lessons learned by the French in both Algerian and Indo-China were lost upon the Americans.

US Armored Cavalry in Vietnam

The United States military, especially the Army approached the Vietnam War with a conventional mindset, referred to as the “Army concept.” [16] It not only approached the war in this manner, but it trained and organized the South Vietnamese forces, ARVN into the American model. Americans re-organized ARVN into divisions “based upon the U.S. divisional force structure.”[17] Due to the imposition of an American template and organizational structure upon it, ARVN was not structured appropriately for the threat that it faced.”[18] The results were as to be expected. Large numbers of American troops poured in taking the lead against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong . The American method of counterinsurgency was costly. It was “almost a purely military approach”[19] which ignored political and social realities on the ground. Instead of focusing on protecting the Vietnamese people and denying the Communists a safe haven the Army in particular believed that massive firepower was the best means to be “utilized by the Army to achieve the desired end of the attrition strategy-the body count.”[20] In the end the American defeat was a “failure of understanding and imagination.”[21] The one shining success was the Marine Corps experimentation with “Combined Action Program” platoons which lived in the villages with militia for long periods of time. This program produced great results “in eliminating local guerillas”[22] but was killed by the Army.

US and ARVN Soldiers in Joint Operation

These wars tore the heart out French and American armies. For the French the defeats inflicted a terrible toll. In Indo-China many French career soldiers felt that the government’s “lack of interest in the fate of both thousands of missing French prisoners and loyal North Vietnamese…as dishonorable.”[23] Divisions arose between those who served and those who remained in France or Germany and created bitter enmity between soldiers. France would endure a military coup which involved many who had fought in Vietnam and Algeria. Having militarily won that war, were turned into what Jean Lartenguy called The Centurions had been turned into liars.”[24] They were forced to abandon those who they had fought for and following the mutiny, tried, imprisoned, exiled or disgraced. Colonial troops who remained loyal to France were left without homes in their “independent” nations. They saw Dien Bien Phu as the defining moment. “They responded with that terrible cry of pain which pretends to free a man from his sworn duty, and promises such chaos to come: ‘Nous sommes trahis!’-‘We are betrayed.’”[25]

War Protests in the United States 

The U.S. Army left Vietnam and returned to a country deeply divided by the war. Vietnam veterans remained ostracized by the society until the 1980s. As Harold Moore recounts “in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publically questioned.” [26] The Army endured a massive reorganization that resulted in the formation of the All-Volunteer force, which would redeem itself and emerge from the ashes in the Gulf War.

Taliban in Afghanistan

The Americans would not learn the lessons of revolutionary warfare and counterinsurgency until forced to do so in Iraq in 2004-2007. These lessons however were not applied to Afghanistan and the Taliban which seemed to have been defeated have regained the initiative, policy is being debated amid discord in the west and there are reports of American and NATO forces becoming discouraged by the course of the war and concern that their efforts will be in vain. This is a dangerous situation to be in and if we learn from anything from our own history as well as that of foreign military forces in Afghanistan we need to be very careful in implementing strategy to get whatever we do right.

US Advisers with Afghanistan National Army Troops

The greatest success of the war was finally killing the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden at his Pakistani hide-out. That did not occur in Afghanistan and was the result of smart work by the CIA and other American intelligence services and the superb conduct of the mission by Navy SEAL Team Six. It was not the product of our costly counter-insurgency and nation building campaign in Afghanistan. There are many professional think tank “experts” that now urge continuing the Afghan mission indefinitely despite its massive cost and questionable strategic value. The costs of the war which are over 2 billion dollars a week are staggering with little to be shown from the hundreds of billions already spent in Afghanistan, much of which is spent on projects where corrupt Afghan government officials and tribal leaders are the only ones to benefit. Likewise the long term health of the military is imperiled. The money that should go to modernizing the force and replacing equipment worn out by war as well as the enormous costs in lives and the continuing care needed by military personnel wounding in body, mind and spirit remaining on active duty and those in the Veteran’s Administration system are imperiled.

Remote Training Team Base in Afghanistan

The effects of the wars in French Indochina, Algeria and Vietnam on the French and American military establishments were long lasting and often tragic. The acceptance of torture as a means to an end sullied even the hardest French officers. Men like Galula and Marcel Bigeard refused to countenance it, while others like Paul Aussaresses never recanted. Americans would repeat the tactic at Abu Ghraib rallying the Iraqis against them and nearly losing the war because of it.

Soviet Paratroops in Afghanistan

For the Americans, the effects of Vietnam continued at home. Race riots tore at the force while drug addictions and criminal activities were rampant. Many incompetent leaders who had “ticket punched” their careers kept their jobs and highly successful leaders who became whistle blowers like Hackworth were scorned by the Army institution. The years following Vietnam were a severe test of the US Military and took years for the military to recover. Likewise it took years before either the French or American veterans again felt a part of their countries. They ended up going to war, and when it was over; feeling abandoned, their deepest bonds were to their comrades who had fought by their side.

Osama Bin Laden leading Mujaheddin in 1984 

If this is not enough we have the experiences of the Soviet Union, the British Empire and others that have attempted to rule Afghanistan as plumb lines to gauge our effectiveness. Others have tried and failed miserably at this. The Soviets learned the hard way and found that Afghanistan was one of the major reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reading the history of Soviet operations in Afghanistan is frighteningly like reading the history of our campaign.

Two Soviet Mi-24 “Hind” attack helicopters flying in an Afghan Valley

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 they used their 40th Army which initially was composed of “two motorized rifle divisions, an airborne division, an air assault brigade and separate motorized rifle regiments.”[27] These forces totaled about 52,000 troops and were “considered sufficient to guarantee the viability of Afghanistan.”[28] The 40th Army was a standard Cold War Soviet Combined Arms Army designed for high tempo conventional operations. It was not designed for nor trained in counterinsurgency operations or what the Soviets and Russians class as “anti-guerilla operations.” It was poorly suited to mountain and dessert combat and at the beginning “not only had no practical skills in the conduct of counter-guerilla warfare, they also did not have a single well-developed theoretical manual, regulation or tactical guideline for fighting such a war.”[29]

Downed Soviet Mi-4 “Hound” with Mujaheddin 

The Soviets did not expect to be involved in combat operations and the Afghan population reacted to their presence with resistance which spread across the country both against their own government which they viewed as a puppet of the Soviets but also against the Soviet Forces. As time went on the Soviets attempted to use raids and large scale operations to attempt to bring Mujahidin forces to battle, however the insurgents were very skillful and the Soviets attempted to increase the training of their forces as well as their numbers. By 1986 the numbers on the ground had increased to 108,000 personnel in four divisions, five separate brigades, four separate regiments and six separate battalions.[30] In the nearly 10 years of operations over a half million Soviet soldiers and support personnel served in Afghanistan. Tours for enlisted personnel who were primarily conscripts served 12-18 months in country and officers 2 years. Few returned for subsequent tours meaning that the 40th Army had few personnel very familiar with the country, its people and the challenges faced by Soviet forces. According to official sources the 40th Army suffered 13,833 killed in action or died of wounds, 49,985 wounded and 311 missing in action a figured of 1 in 8 Soviet Soldiers being casualties. 14.3 percent of the casualties were officers.[31] Of course the official figure is doubted many believing the number killed in action or died of wounds to be closer to 26,000.[32]

Soviet T-62 Tank guarding a convoy in a mountain pass

Like their American and French counterparts the Soviet veterans have experienced the unhealed wounds of war and a country that does not understand their experiences. The stigma of war wounds and PTSD haunt many Soviet veterans and were compounded by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in 1989. They returned home, lost their country and were by and large abandoned by their countrymen. A good number of these men and women travel to one of 5 centers across the country where according to one of the veterans come to for “social and psychological help.” He said that “The best thing about this place is that it provides us with a chance to share our Afghan memories with comrades who understand what we are talking about.” That camaraderie of being able to share their experiences with others that understand is helping some to return to something akin to “normal” life. They are joined by the soldiers that have experienced similar things in Chechnya. Russian veterans of the Afghan War are still so closely linked to it that they refer to themselves as “Afghans.”

Soviet Mi-8 “Hip” Helicopters in Afghanistan preparing for a mission

The Soviet Forces supported the Army of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan which numbered at their peak on average between 120,000-150,000 soldiers.[33] The Afghan forces, then as now were at the mercy of tribal, familial and communist party affiliations. Over 70 percent of the DRA was conscripted, desertions averaged 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers a month and units were usually optimistically 25-40 percent under their TO&E strength.[34]Limitations on training and leadership meant that typically DRA units could not conduct large scale missions without Soviet help. As such most of the fighting was done by Soviet formations.

Soviet Troops preparing to leave Afghanistan

Many of these problems have plagued the United States and ISAF throughout the first 9 years of the current Afghan War. As former Afghanistan Commander General Stanley McChrystal noted in his assessment “ISAF is a conventional force that is poorly configured for COIN, inexperienced in local languages and culture, and struggling with the challenges inherent to coalition warfare. These intrinsic disadvantages are exacerbated by our current culture and how we operate.”[35]

We should have learned. A retired Red Army Colonel who served in Afghanistan from 1986-1988 who learned the Dari language in order to negotiate with the Afghan Mujahedeen warned what will happen when the Americans and NATO leave the country and the mistake that we made in entering Afghanistan. Frants Klinsevich now a member of the Russian Parliament comment to reporters at a wreath laying ceremony at a veteran’s convention that “they (NATO and the United States) are 100 percent repeating the same mistake we made by entering into a war in that country” and that “As soon as the Americans and Europeans leave, the Taliban will crack down on everything.” Klinsevich noted that he understood the American desire to tame Afghanistan but that “the problem of radical Islam will not be solved there, its violence cannot be solved. It is simply unsolvable.” He said that he wished that the United States had consulted the Russians about Afghanistan saying “they should have invited Russian specialists, involved Russia, really studied how they could use Russia. But unfortunately Americans think they know everything.” The former Russian commander understands far more that the majority of American policy makers on this subject. [36]

The fact is that we are hamstrung by the ongoing wars which limit our ability to respond to rapidly changing situations. We are in a similar situation to the Germans in 1942 and 1943 overcommitted, overstretched and lacking true strategic depth to respond to unanticipated situations as are now occurring across the Middle East. In 1942 and 1943 the Germans were always just short of the forces that would have turned the tide. Like the Germans our economy is laboring on the verge of collapse and we have to honestly answer the question “What is the strategic value in continuing to wage war in Afghanistan in the way that we are doing?”

What are the lessons to be learned from these campaigns as well as from the various accounts? Andrew Krepinevich prophetically noted that the failure to learn the lessons of Vietnam “represents a very dangerous mixture that in the end may see the Army again attempting to fight a conventional war against a very unconventional opponent.”[37] Obviously, there are lessons to be learned, especially in understanding the nature of revolutionary war as well as the culture and history of our opponents. The U.S. has made some improvement in this regard but there is still much to be learned, especially since after the war the Army was “erecting barriers to avoid fighting another Vietnam War.”[38] From these wars we learn that nations and incompetent governments who mismanage wars can alienate themselves from the soldiers that they send to fight, with serious consequences. As far as historiography we learn that certain historical fallacies are evident when one reads the accounts critically and recognize the bias and limitations of the various sources.

The fact is that we have learned little about such wars and are paying a terrible price for it. The debate now is should we continue the war as it is with minor withdraws of troops or begin a rapid exit in order to preserve and rebuild our force and to reduce the cost of these operations. But that debate and decision are well above my pay grade. But then maybe we need to remember what Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt told his staff in September of 1944 when asked how to recover from the disastrous collapse of the German front following the Allied breakout from Normandy and dash across France. “Make peace you fools.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch56NAL1C-I

Peace
Padre Steve+
________________________________________
[1] Shy, John and Collier, Thomas W. “Revolutionary War” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age,” Peter Paret editor. Princeton University Press, Princeton N.J. 1986 p.849
[2] Galula, David. Counterinsurgency in Algeria: 1956-1958. RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA. 2006. First published by RAND in 1963. p.244
[3] Krepinevich, Andrew F. “The Army and Vietnam,” The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1986 p.213
[4] Horn, Alistair. “A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962,” a New York Review Book published by the New York Review of Books, New York, 1977, 1987, 1996, and 2006 p 41
[5] Fall, Bernard B. “Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina.”Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA, 2005, originally published by Stackpole Publications 1961 p.27
[6] Ibid. p.33
[7] Horn. p.100.
[8] Windrow, Martin. “The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam,” Da Capo Press, Novato, CA 2006, originally published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 2004 p.63
[9] Fall, Bernard B. “The Siege of Dien Bien Phu: Hell in a Very Small Place.” Da Capo Press, New York an unabridged reprint of the 1st Edition reprinted in arrangement with Harper and Row Publishers, New York. 1967 pp. 456-457 Fall discusses in depth the lack of French Air support and the antecedents that led to the shortage following World War II.
[10] Pottier, Philippe(2005)’Articles: GCMA/GMI: A French Experience in Counterinsurgency during the French Indochina War’, Small Wars & Insurgencies,16:2,125 — 146http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09592310500079874
[11] Simpson, Howard K. “Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot,”Potomac Books Inc. Washington DC 2005, originally published by Brassey’s Inc. 1994 pp. 170-171
[12] Trinquier, Roger. “Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency,” translated from the French by Daniel Lee with an Introduction by Bernard B. Fall. Praeger Security International, Westport CT and London. 1964 and 2006. Originally published under the title “La Guerre Moderne” by Editions Table Ronde. p.87
[13] Windrow. p.652.
[14] Roy, Jules. “The Battle of Dien Bien Phu” Carrol and Graf Publishers, New York 1984. Translated from the French by Robert Baldrick. English translation copyright 1965 by Harper and Row Publishers, New York. p.xxx
[15] Galula, David. “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.”Praeger Security International, Westport CT 1964 and 2006 p. 54
[16] Krepinevich. p.213
[17] Ibid. p.24
[18] Nagl, John A. “Learning to East Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam,” University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2005 p.138
[19] Shy. p.856
[20] Krepinevich. p.202
[21] Spector, Ronald H. “After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam,” Vintage Press, a division of Random House, New York, 1993 p.314
[22] Millett, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter. “For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America.” The Free Press, a division of Macmillian, Inc. New York, 1984 p.555
[23] Windrow. p.655
[24] Ibid. p.657
[25] Ibid.
[26] Moore, Harold G and Galloway, Joseph L. “We were Soldiers Once…and Young: Ia Drang: The Battle that Changed Vietnam,” Harper Collins Publishers, New York NY 1992 p. xx
[27] The Russian General Staff. The Soviet Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost” translated and edited by Lester A. Grau and Michael A. Gress, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS 2002 p.17.
[28] Ibid. p.18
[29] Ibid. p.43
[30] Ibid. p.28
[31] Ibid. p.309
[32] Ibid. p.xix
[33] Ibid. p.48
[34] Ibid. pp.48-51
[35] McChrystal, Stanley. “Commander’s Initial Assessment Commander International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan” dated 30 August 2009 pp. 1-2
[36] “Russian veteran warns of Afghan violence.” Reuters 16 May 2011. Edited by Paul Tait and Daniel Magnowski obtained 11 June 2011 at http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/interview-russian-veteran-warns-of-unsolvable-afghan-violence/
[37] Krepinevich. p.275
[38] Ibid. p.274

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Passionate Moderates Arise!

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Thomas Jefferson

The Reign of Terror, the End Result of Extremist Ideologies

Everywhere I look I see extremism winning. It doesn’t matter which corner of our furry world you look it seems that some sort of extremist group or bunch of radicals is dominating the landscape.  It doesn’t matter what realm of life it is the radicals and extremists dominate be it religion, politics, foreign policy, social issues, the environment, the worldwide economy and the media. I’m sorry to me it is a very unseemly environment and unfortunately will probably get far worse before it gets better.

Just take a look around the country and the world and you can see it. We have Muslim fundamentalist extremists committing acts of terror in the name of their faith against anyone that they oppose. There are Christian fundamentalists in Africa advocating killing homosexuals just because they can with the full support of some American fundamentalist groups.  In India Hindu fundamentalists burn Christian villages and kill the inhabitants. In Iran anyone that disagrees with the Islamic regime is a target of the Revolutionary Guard, in China dare disagree with the Communist party.  There are environmentalists that advocate killing off most of humanity to “save the planet” using the Vietnam war logic of “we had to destroy the village to save it.” I could go on naming example after example but that would simply be beating the dead horse so to speak and I would rather kill farting cows.

In the politics of American real moderates were pretty much driven from the Democratic Party and for the past 20 years or so the Republicans have been driving moderates from their ranks. Many of those that call themselves “moderate” still in political power simply pander and meander to stay in power giving the rest of us a bad name.  Now if you want to gauge just how much moderates are held in derision by these self proclaimed ideological purists just look around the blogosphere and you will see people on the right and the left use the same language and invective to castigate moderates. At least they can find something to agree about, maybe there is hope.   Let’s face it even Hitler and Stalin agreed about crushing Poland.

With all of the extremists about the world is lurching, no plunging into anarchy. As any student of history knows that anarchy is unsustainable because people in nations suffering under it will eventually give up and surrender freedom for the “security” that tyrants provide.  I don’t know about you but while tyrants provide order they also tend to repress the people that helped them into power, crush dissent at home and wage aggressive campaigns against their historic enemies who might have actually become friends in more civil times.  In a sense we have reverted to totalitarian tribalism in almost all areas of life where those of the political, ideological and religious extremes attempt to ensure that those views are dominant and all others crushed.

I remember once when I was attending seminary hearing a fundamentalist preacher remark that moderates that were recognizable by the tire tracks on their back and deserved to be run over. That was back in about 1990 or 1991.  As a moderate I was appalled because this preacher was fairly well known.  Now no moderate is safe.  In the United States true moderates as opposed to the pandering politicians than claim to be moderates are unwelcome in either of the major political party. In the religious world moderates are being driven from their churches or religious organizations because they do not adhere to the prevailing theological, social or political leanings of their particular religious faith.  Allegedly since moderates are not doctrinally ideologically pure they are not moderate at all but watered down versions of what they ideologues on the right and left view as their enemies.  In fact they are despised even more than their actual ideological or theological opponents.  I have seen atheists state that religious moderates are worse than fundamentalists and similar things said by religious fundamentalists regarding religious moderates. Even Hitler viewed moderates the same way these Jacobins and used such terms. It doesn’t matter what the issue is be it moral, social, political or dealing with other nations we now live in a world where alleged ideological or theological “purity” thumps everything and woe betide the person that raises his or her voice against the extremists. Mind you the ideological, political or theological purity that the radicals espouse is usually some bastardized form of the original because ideologues are as brazen liars in regard to truth as they come, except they claim to own the truth.

In fact such people cannot back down from their own propaganda because if they do they believe that they lose their corner on the truth. Adolf Hitler said in regard to this: As soon as by one’s own propaganda even a glimpse of right on the other side is admitted, the cause for doubting one’s own right is laid.

It used not to be this way in the United States.  Americans used to be appalled by extremists and our Founding Fathers feared extremists like the French Jacobins who conducted the reign of terror during the French Revolution. Moderation was considered a virtue and was the glue that held American society together during times of worldwide upheaval.  In the past we found common things to agree on even when we debated very divisive and explosive subjects.  We were the epitome of religious freedom of expression and tolerance and we found ways to appreciate the cultural contributions of immigrants from around the world.  Yes we had problems and still do but overall we did pretty well when we still valued one another.

Moderation meant that we respected the Constitution and the liberties that it promises to all citizens.  Moderation meant that the hate filled ideologies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism never found a home here, at least beyond that of limited enclaves of society.  We never had a Hitler or Stalin because we respected each other as Americans enough not to embrace such types of individuals and their hate driven ideologies.  Moderation meant that four Army Chaplains, two Protestants, a Catholic and a Jew gave away their life jackets to soldiers without on a doomed transport torpedoed by a U-Boat. Those chaplains after giving up their life jackets were seen embracing each other and praying as the ship went down.  Moderation meant that our politicians could go to the mat against each other on the campaign trail or in the halls of Congress but when all was said and done could still be friends and even grieve when an opponent passed away. As Thomas Jefferson said “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” Now we have elected leaders as well as political pundits of both major parties calling the other side the enemy and hurling the vilest of epithets at one another to include the wish that their opponents would die.

American moderation sets the ideal of the Constitution and rights of fellow citizens over any ideology or theology that would trample those rights from the left or the right of the political, social or religious spectrum.  American moderation believed in an ideal of consensus, the consensus of the governed and the government to build a more perfect Union.  Of course consensus does not mean perfection or ideological purity thus we evolved from a country that believed that blacks were only 3/5ths of a person and could be enslaved to a country that fought a war to end that practice and then fought another 100 or so years to ensure that African Americans had equal rights. We have had similar, although not nearly as egregious examples of discrimination that we have fought to eliminate and not just racial. While not perfect we have aimed to ensure equal rights for all, but there are people that would use their political or religious (including Atheists) that would attempt to impose their beliefs on others, so the fight goes on. For those that want perfection you are not going to see it on this earth no matter what extremist promises that it can happen. America was great because it was a nation whose exceptionalism was not found in political or economic power but in our very form of government which promoted individual liberty as well as the common good.  Our founders believed strongly in majority rule but not at the expense of the minority. As Jefferson said: “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

This worked because Americans made it work and resisted for the most part the temptation to abuse those liberties for the sake of one political party or religious sect’s gain.  Andrew Jackson said: “Americans are not a perfect people, but we are called to a perfect mission.”

That era has ended and thus real moderates need to stand up and become passionate for the ideals of individual liberty and the common good before those are savaged by extremists of every kind that promote their way as the only way. Moderates cannot be like the sham moderate politicians who sell their vote to the highest bidder while claiming to be non-partisan or moderate when in reality the only thing that they are concerned is maintaining their office and the power that goes with it. That is not moderation and our founders would spin in their graves at the thought of this. I would dare say that James Madison who was as great of a moderate and champion of liberty and the common good as any man that has ever lived would be appalled by what is going on today in the United States but also in the world.  Andrew Jackson saw the danger in his own day when he said: “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.” I know that many if not most politicians are susceptible to this but when those that proclaim that they are “moderate” do it they bring even more shame to their office.

If moderates not only in the United States but around the world do not start passionately promoting this kind of moderation they will end up like the fundamentalist preacher said with “tire tracks down their backs,” but I think that they might have worse in their backs, perhaps knives or bullets.  If moderates do not stand up for individual rights and the common good and build real consensus that works for liberty we are doomed to political, social and religious fratricide and anarchy that will only end when one group of extremists wins and sets up a tyranny that oppresses all in the name of their ideology.

Look at us today we stopped dreaming and have given in to fear mongers of every imaginable persuasion. These fear mongers have no compunction in communicating that if things are not done their way that calamity will be the result and they use every form of media to communicate that to a populace in despair. They play on the fears that they create and gain support of people that are desperate. The result is that they are destroying the fabric of this nation every day.

Unfortunately that my dear readers is happening every day and it seems that no one has the wherewithal to stand up against it.  We live in an age where the world is in turmoil and “leaders” of all types actively seek to bring about the despair that increases their power over those that they govern. The world is going down the road that ends up in tyranny faster than the speed limit allows and the ones driving the bus are the are the radicals and extremists, the descendants of the Inquisition, the  Jacobins, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, the perpetuators of genocide around the world and the Ayatollahs, Al Qaeda.  They hail from every country on the planet and are found among all religions including the Atheists, all political persuasions and economic point of view and mind you wherever you live on this big blue marble their desire is to gain and maintain power for themselves because they honestly believe that there is no other way but theirs.

True moderation is not just borrowing from the extremists and trying to find a “middle way” between them. That has been the trap of those who desire to be moderates for millennia. John Adams said: “In politics the middle way is none at all.” Moderates must not be looking for the middle way but be about forging a consensus built around truth and dare I say tolerance. Moderates must always seek the truth wherever it may be and not be afraid of those that chastise them for doing so simply because they do not fit one group or another’s ideological or doctrinal template. If moderates pursue such a life and maintain such an ethos they will be opposed by all extremist but have nothing to fear because truth is on their side.

However my friend’s true moderates are a dying breed in our land and in the world. I saw some analysis of voting patterns and exit polling from the last few elections and it appears from being some latent massive force that real moderates comprise only about 10-15% of the population.  I hope that those numbers are not true and only a passing phenomena.  Of course that is the result of several decades of bitter and acrimonious fighting that have so divided Americans that it is hard to imagine things going back to a better time.  The extremists have intentionally done everything that they can to rip apart the social, political and religious fabric of our nation just as extremists have done throughout history.  They do this because they know that such action serves to destroy consensus in order that they and their faction can gain absolute power.

If men and women of good will practiced the kind of moderation that I write about they would have nothing to fear.  In fact this kind of life promotes optimism. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

Americans used to dream and imagine a better world and were willing to work together to make it happen. The words of President John F. Kennedy still resonate in my heart “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Likewise when the rest of the world was falling to totalitarianism in the 1930s as a result of the Great Depression when fear and panic gripped much of the nations, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” and though many disagreed with his policies Republicans worked with him and a number served in his cabinet.

It is time that we returned to such an ethos. We live in an age where the world is in turmoil and “leaders” of all types actively seek to bring about the despair that increases their power over those that they govern.

Real moderates do stand for something and I for one am tired of those that decry moderates in favor of narrow self serving ideologies which promote the seeds anarchy, tyranny and oppression. It’s time to stand up. Andrew Jackson said: “Americans are not a perfect people, but we are called to a perfect mission.”

Padre Steve+

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Learning to Apply the Principles of Counterinsurgency Part One: Introduction to the Soviet-Afghan War

Soviets Enter Afghanistan

Note: This is the First Part of a Series which I will be writing on Afghanistan and Counterinsurgency strategy in that country. Part of this will be a review of various historical materials especially from Russian sources as well as analysis of the Afghan insurgency and its foreign supporters including Al Qaeda. I have written a number of other articles on the Afghan War and associated topics.  Links are provided at the end of this article.

Counterinsurgency is not just thinking man’s warfare—it is the graduate level of war. Special Forces Officer in Iraq, 2005

“Protracted conflicts favor insurgents, and no approach makes better use of that asymmetry than the protracted popular war. The Chinese Communists used this approach to conquer China after World War II. The North Vietnamese and Algerians adapted it to fit their respective situations. And some Al Qaeda leaders suggest it in their writings today. This approach is complex; few contemporary insurgent movements apply its full program, although many apply parts of it. It is, therefore, of more than just historical interest. Knowledge of it can be a powerful aid to understanding some insurgent movements.”[i]

Introduction

US Training Team Base

The United States has entered its 9th year of military involvement in Afghanistan following the October 2001 invasion that came as a response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon of September 11th 2001.  In that time the United States, its NATO allies and the United Nations have endeavored to bring stability as well as a more democratic and accountable government to the country in the face of resistance from various political, religious and tribal groups with a diverse and sometimes conflicting agendas.  The foremost of these resistance groups was and is the Taliban which arose during the Soviet occupation of the country and eventually took power after winning a civil war against a number of other Mujahidin groups.   As the United States diverted force and focused its efforts on Iraq’s insurgency the Taliban using bases in remote areas along the Pakistani border and monetary and political support from Moslem groups with similar goals rehabilitated and reorganized its forces and began the process of regaining influence in Afghanistan.  By 2008 it was apparent that the situation had reached a crisis point.  The vast majority of Afghans as well as many in the international community came to view the Karzai government as corrupt, weak and unpopular.  The Taliban and other groups began to work more closely together despite differing agendas and the political and military situation deteriorated to the point that the incoming Obama administration appointed a new commander, General Stanley McChrystal to evaluate the situation and based on his recommendations and those of General David Petreus, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others announced a “surge” to try to regain the initiative in the country.  That troop buildup is currently underway. By the time it reaches its maximum the United States will have approximately 100, 000 troops in Afghanistan and the NATO and ISAF allies approximately another 38,000.  These are supporting and training the Afghan National Army and Police which number approximately 97,000 in the Army and another 98,000 in the National Police.  The Afghan forces have not proven to be reliable and have been infiltrated by Taliban and Al Qaeda members and the NATO and ISAF allies are often limited in the scope of their mission and have restrictive rules of engagement.  Thus the bulk of the fight rests on the United States and some allies with more robust rules of engagement such as Canada, Britain and France.  The lack of internal credibility of the Afghan Government, the weakness of its army and security forces coupled with the numerical weakness of US and ISAF forces has given the various indigenous insurgent groups, especially the Taliban to make a comeback that threatens the mission.  General McChrystal noted:

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted. Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans—in both their government and the international community—that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents. Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.”[ii]

Taliban Insurgents

The situation is such in Afghanistan that many Americans are struggling how the “good war” could go “bad.”  Many armchair strategists, many political and media figures and even some in the military fail to understand the nature of Counterinsurgency and its complexity as opposed to conventional warfare. In fact many of these assume that the simple application of combat force using conventional tactics is the cure for the situation, however history shows that such is not the case especially in Afghanistan.

This introduction to this study will focus on some commonalities of the Soviet and American experiences in Afghanistan.

Soviet Mi-24s

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 they used their 40th Army which initially was composed of “two motorized rifle divisions, an airborne division, an air assault brigade and separate motorized rifle regiments.”[iii] These forces totaled about 52,000 troops and were “considered sufficient to guarantee the viability of Afghanistan.”[iv] The 40th Army was a standard Cold War Soviet Combined Arms Army designed for high tempo conventional operations.  It was not designed for nor trained in counterinsurgency operations or what the Soviets and Russians class as “anti-guerilla operations.” It was poorly suited to mountain and dessert combat and at the beginning “not only had no practical skills in the conduct of counter-guerilla warfare, they also did not have a single well-developed theoretical manual, regulation or tactical guideline for fighting such a war.”[v]

Soviet Tank Guarding Convoy

The Soviets did not expect to be involved in combat operations and the Afghan population reacted to their presence with resistance which spread across the country both against their own government which they viewed as a puppet of the Soviets but also against the Soviet Forces.  As time went on the Soviets attempted to use raids and large scale operations to attempt to bring Mujahidin forces to battle, however the insurgents were very skillful and the Soviets attempted to increase the training of their forces as well as their numbers.  By 1986 the numbers on the ground had increased to 108,000 personnel in four divisions, five separate brigades, four separate regiments and six separate battalions.[vi] In the nearly 10 years of operations over a half million Soviet soldiers and support personnel served in Afghanistan. Tours for enlisted personnel who were primarily conscripts served 12-18 months in country and officers 2 years.  Few returned for subsequent tours meaning that the 40th Army had few personnel very familiar with the country, its people and the challenges faced by Soviet forces.  According to official sources the 40th Army suffered 13,833 killed in action or died of wounds, 49,985 wounded and 311 missing in action a figured of 1 in 8 Soviet Soldiers being casualties.  14.3 percent of the casualties were officers.[vii] Of course the official figure is doubted many believing the number killed in action or died of wounds to be closer to 26,000.[viii]

Soviet Troops Preparing to Leave Afghanistan 1989

The Soviet Forces supported the Army of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan which numbered at their peak on average between 120,000-150,000 soldiers.[ix] The Afghan forces, then as now were at the mercy of tribal, familial and communist party affiliations. Over 70 percent of the DRA was conscripted, desertions averaged 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers a month and units were usually optimistically 25-40 percent under their TO&E strength.[x] Limitations on training and leadership meant that typically DRA units could not conduct large scale missions without Soviet help. As such most of the fighting was done by Soviet formations.

Many of these problems have plagued the United States and ISAF throughout the first 8 years of the current Afghan War.  As General McChrystal has noted in his assessment “ISAF is a conventional force that is poorly configured for COIN, inexperienced in local languages and culture, and struggling with the challenges inherent to coalition warfare. These intrinsic disadvantages are exacerbated by our current culture and how we operate.”[xi]

End of part one to be continued…

Links:

Lessons on Coalition Warfare: The Dysfunctional Coalition German and the Axis Partners on the Eastern Front

The Afghan War 2009-2012: Lessons from Algeria 1954-1960 A Review of “A Savage War of Peace

Unequal Allies: Lessons from The German’s and Their Allies on the Eastern Front for Today

The Effects of Counter-Insurgency Operations on U.S. and French Forces in Vietnam and Algeria and Implications for Afghanistan

Brothers to the End…the Bond between those Who Serve Together in Unpopular Wars


[i] ______________ “The Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3-24 MCWP 3-33.5,” HQ Department of the Army and HQ Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Washington DC 2006.  p. 1-6

[ii] MCChrystal, Stanley. “Commander’s Initial Assessment Commander International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan” dated 30 August 2009 p. 1-1

[iii] The Russian General Staff. The Soviet Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost” translated and edited by Lester A. Grau and Michael A. Gress, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS 2002 p.17.

[iv] Ibid. p.18

[v] Ibid. p.43

[vi] Ibid. p.28

[vii] Ibid. p.309

[viii] Ibid. p.xix

[ix] Ibid. p.48

[x] Ibid. pp.48-51

[xi] McChrystal. p.1-2

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