Tag Archives: soviet-afghan war

The Afghanistan Quagmire and the Escalation of “Green on Blue” Attacks

US Army Advisors training Afghan Police

We have forgotten what it is to be wise when it comes to foreign policy and have over the past ten years failed to learn from history when it comes to fighting in Afghanistan. A survivor of the horrific disaster that befell the British in the First Anglo-Afghan War, Chaplain G.R. Gleig wrote after that war:

“a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.” 

This week has been another particularly horrific week for American troops in Afghanistan with our Afghan “partners” killing more Americans and NATO troops than our Taliban enemies. This week the command element of a combat brigade was attacked by a suicide bomber while going to a meeting with tribal leaders in Kunar province killing the Brigade Command Sergeant Major and two Majors from the Brigade staff. In a separate incident in Helmand Province three Marines were killed by a man described by an unnamed source to Reuters News as a Afghan National Police commander in charge of local police in Sangin district. They were at dinner with the Afghan when attacked. In a third attack a Afghan worker on an American base in Helmand killed three more Marines.

So far this year there have been at least 22 attacks by Afghan soldiers or police on US or NATO troops killing 33. In 2011 there were just 11 such attacks and 20 deaths. Any student of history should know that a foreign occupation force will never be accepted by most Afghans, especially tribal chieftains or elders. For them alliances with occupiers are only temporary measures to advance their own standing and power in Afghanistan. The British and Soviets both learned this the hard way and we seem to have forgotten the maxim that it is better to learn from the mistakes of others than make them yourself.

If there ever was a purpose to the Afghanistan campaign we seem to have forgotten it. We are in the process of withdraw. There is a danger inherent in any withdraw, especially in a geographically isolated place like Afghanistan. As we decrease in number and have fewer forces available to conduct operations our “partners” will make new alliances and turn against the forces that remain.

However we do not have the strategic or operational flexibility to send the number of troops needed to succeed in completely pacifying the country so we are in a double bind. The war saps our military strength, degrades our ground forces and pours money into an operation that we neither have, but need in order to modernize and strengthen forces for the wars that will certainly follow Afghanistan.

Soviet Advisors and Afghan Officers

The British met with debacle in the First Anglo-Afghan War and the Soviets were saved from disaster by a smartly executed withdraw that did not leave many forces exposed to Afghan treachery. British leaders were especially deceived by their Afghan partners. Shortly before his murder at the hands of Afghan tribal elders who had supposedly agreed to protect withdrawing British forces and their camp followers, British envoy Sir William MacNaghten wrote: “We shall part with the Afghans as friends, and I feel satisfied that any government which may be established hereafter will always be disposed to cultivate a good understanding with us.” 

The Soviets had no such illusions after their advisers in Herat were attacked with great loss before the 1979 invasion. They had their “green on blue” incidents but exacted painful and brutal retaliation. They also kept Afghan security forces at arms distance neither trusting them or allowing them much access to their bases. Unlike Iraq where green on blue incidents were isolated the situation in Afghanistan is little changed from when the Soviets or the British occupied the country.

“The latter [Soviet military advisors] served in particularly daunting conditions. They faced difference of language and tradition as well as mujahadeen infiltration in the ranks of supposedly loyal Afghan troops….” (Kalinovsky, Artemy: The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counter-Insurgency and Nation-Building in Afghanistan, p.6)

American and NATO political leaders are deceiving themselves if they believe that whatever Afghan government that comes after we withdraw will be friendly. It will not be and when we leave the unfortunate thing is that the Afghans will return to doing what they always do best, fight with one another. Nothing good can now come from our involvement in Afghanistan. The often heroic and noble sacrifices of so many brave men and women will be wasted and for what gain?

Otto Von Bismarck warned to “Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices.” The situation in Afghanistan grows more precarious with each passing day. Our “alliance” with Pakistan is problematic and all supplies going into the Afghanistan must pass through either it or Russia. Our Afghan “partners” do not deserve the title of “Allies” we have made a Faustian bargain with the notorious Karzai government that has not helped our interests or those of the Afghan people an iota.

The situation in Afghanistan grows more precarious with each passing day.With the situation in Syria deteriorating and threatening to spill over into neighboring countries, with Iran and Israel blustering as we build up forces in the Arabian Gulf we do not have the luxury of simply keeping the status quo. We have to seriously ask why we are in Afghanistan and what we hope to accomplish for the great amount of blood and treasure that we are spending there.

That question must be asked of an answered by current political leaders in this country as well as those seeking to lead the country.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Armed Forces Day 2012: The Disconnection of the Military and Society and the Terrible Result

Armed Forces Day was celebrated in some locales Saturday but I would dare say that the vast majority of Americans didn’t notice it. Meanwhile under 50 “Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans” from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War got lots of air time for throwing their “Global War on Terrorism Service Medals” away at the big anti-NATO Summit protest in Chicago. This is the Medal that those that served after September 11th 2001 received for being on active duty in the United States, not actually deployed.

Now there were a fair number of local celebrations to honor members of the Armed Forces across the country. As a member of the military I appreciate those events and the people that put them together, especially those that have taken the time to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  There are others that honor the Armed Forces every day, I think especially about the Maine Troop Greeters of Bangor Maine and the Pease Troop Greeters of New Hampshire. These men and women, many veterans themselves or related to veterans are amazing. They have been welcoming veterans back since early in the war and provide many services to the men and women of the Armed Forces that pass through Bangor Maine International Airport and the Portsmouth International Airport, the former Pease Air Force Base in Pease New Hampshire.  I have had the honor of passing through both locations, Bangor on more than one occasion. While I know that there are many others that do this they are in the minority in this country.

At any given time less than 1% of Americans are serving in all components of the military. For over 10 years we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other locations that we don’t like to talk about too much like Pakistan. However this has not been the effort of a nation at war. It has been the effort of a tiny percentage of the population.  As a nation we are disconnected from the military and the wars that have been going on for so long. The fact is that most Americans do not feel that they have a personal or vested interest in these wars because they have been insulated by political leaders of both parties from them. There is no draft, and no taxes were raised to fund the wars. Every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman volunteered for duty or reenlisted during this time period. Motives may have varied from individual to individual, but unlike the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam all were or are volunteers.

Many of these volunteers served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither war was popular, except in the very beginning when casualties were low and victory appeared to be easy and quick. We like short wars. We left Iraq last year and Afghanistan is still going to be with us for a while. In Afghanistan we followed the same path trod by the British and Soviets in trying to topple regimes and plant our respective versions of civilization in that land of brutal Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek warlords who war on each other as much as any foreign infidel.  It is a path that leads to heartbreak which ties down vast amounts of manpower without any significant strategic gain for the United States or NATO.  This even as war drums beat across the Middle East and nuclear armed Pakistan slips into political and social chaos and keeps a major supply route for the US and NATO to Afghanistan shut down.

The fact is that American and for that matter other NATO and coalition military personnel who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa or at sea are in the minority in all of our countries. Thus when a few of the few of these veterans choose to make a public spectacle of themselves by tossing a medal away they get cheered and lots of media attention. Liberals applaud the medal throwers and conservatives vilify them without getting what is really going on. Both miss the tragic disconnection between the military and civilian society that is the result of public policy since the end of the Vietnam War. A relatively small professional military in comparison to the population is sent to fight wars while the bulk of the population is uninvolved.

I heard one of the organizers of the medal throwing exhibition apologize for his service. If he wants to apologize to people that generally haven’t been touched by war and haven’t had to make a single sacrifice then fine. If he wants to apologize for acts that he may have committed against Iraqis or Afghani people that is another matter, that can’t be mitigated by tossing medals over a fence. However I think that the manner of by which he and his compatriots demonstrated at the NATO Summit did nothing for those that serve. Tossing a medal away, a medal not earned for combat service is cheap. The medal that they threw away symbolically shows that they served in the homeland on active duty after the 9-11 attacks. Some did serve overseas, some in combat but to throw this particular medal away seemed an odd choice.

The right to protest and disagree with policy and the politics of war is important. It is a right which I will defend. However I think that what these veterans did was more disrespectful to their former comrades and those currently serving than it was to those that make policy. The army of lobbyists and think tank wonks that promote the politics of war regardless of who is President don’t care about this because no matter who is in office or who controls Congress they will promote policies that keep them employed and businesses enriched. Marine Major General and Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler was quite right when he said:

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

I may disagree with the manner of how and when these veterans protested. However, I am not going to question their motive or honor even if I disagree with their manner of protest because I came back different from war.

But then when a society sends off its sons and daughters to fight in wars that no one understands, and the vast majority of people no longer support it is no wonder that some veterans make such displays. Likewise it is understandable why other veterans have major issues with such protestors, just as many Vietnam veterans still feel the hurt of how a nation turned its back on them.

For the protestors the display may make them feel better, but it misses the bigger point of why wars like these go on for so long.  That they do is because misguided policies have brought about a chronic disconnection in our society between those that serve in the military and those that do not. But how can there not be when in the weeks after 9-11 people like President Bush and others either directly or in a manner of speaking told people to “go shopping”* as we went to war in Afghanistan? When I returned from Iraq I returned to a nation that was not at war whose leaders used the war to buttress their respective political bases.

I think that Armed Forces Day should be better celebrated but I am grateful to those people that do things every day to thank and support military personnel in thought, word and deed like the Maine Greeters and Pease Greeters. The interesting thing about these groups is that they are made up of citizens from across the political spectrum, veterans and non-veterans who simply care for and appreciate the men and women that serve in and fight the wars that no-one else can be bothered to fight.

I just hope and pray that the end in Afghanistan does not turn into an even worse historic debacle than suffered by the British or the Soviets during their ill fated campaigns. Of course the politicians, pundits, preachers and the defense contractors, banks and lobbyists will find a way to profit from this no matter how many more troops are killed, wounded or injured and how badly it affects military personnel or their families. After all, to quote Smedley Butler, “war is a racket.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the Killing of Osama Bin Laden While Realistically Looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan

A year ago US Navy SEALs from SEAL Team Six and other Special Operations Forces made a daring night raid into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden.  Bin Laden had orchestrated the Al Qaeda attacks on September 11th 2001 which killed over 3000 Americans, the near sinking of the US Navy Destroyer USS Cole, the Luxor Massacre of 1997 and the bombings of the US Embassies in Dar es Salaam Tanzania and Nairobi Kenya in 1998 and numerous other terror attacks throughout the Middle East. Bin Laden was the sworn enemy of the United States. The killing of Bin Laden was a victory, perhaps the biggest victory that we have achieved in over 10 years of war. In fact Bin Laden was the reason we went to war, the reason that we became embroiled in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden had been the “guest” of the Afghan Taliban government and used Afghanistan as his base of operations to train his fighters and plan his operations. After September 11th the United States attacked Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban and put Bin Laden on the run. Pakistan which had supported the Taliban government following the fall of the former Soviet supported Republic of Afghanistan and subsequent civil war which brought the Taliban to power. Pakistan’s President Musharraf quickly allied his country with the United States.  However over the course of the 10 year war in Afghanistan the government and certain elements of its security and intelligence services gave tacit support to the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda. The most damning was the fact that Bin Laden had resided in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad with a significant amount of his family for five years.

President Obama gave the order for the SEAL team to kill Bin Laden over the objections of his Vice President and Secretary of Defense. It was a ballsy move. If it had gone wrong which it easily could have many US troops could have been killed, captured and placed on display by the Pakistani government.  The credit to the planning and execution of the operation has to go to the SEALs and Special Operations Command, but credit for the order to do it needs to be given to the President.  If President Bush had succeeded in killing Bin Laden I would feel the same way.

The fact is that President Obama has been successfully waging war against Al Qaeda, not only killing Bin Laden but other top leaders. Even Bin Laden before his death was concerned about the toll being taken on his organization by the reinvigorated US campaign.  The Pakistanis enraged by the United States taking the war against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies inside Afghanistan, something that it should have been doing but had not despite Jihadist terrorist attacks on it cut the supply lines to US and NATO forces running through it months ago and have not reopened them. Some ally.

But that is not surprising. As far back as November 1979, before the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan the US Embassy was ransacked and burned by Pakistani mobs, an attack which killed a US Marine. The Pakistanis only began to reluctantly cooperate with the United States in supporting some of the Afghan Pashtun Mujahideen fighters.  After the Soviets left Afghanistan it continued to support its Pashtuns against Uzbek and Tajik Afghans, support which eventually allowed the Taliban to take over the country. Despite US protests in the 1990s the Pakistanis did little to nothing to hinder Bin Laden, Al Qaeda or the Taliban regime. While it quickly and officially “supported” the US under former President Musharraf factions within its ISI intelligence service are believed to have continued to support Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and encouraged attacks on US, Afghan and  NATO troops.

Pakistan itself teeters on the edge of collapse. Its economy is in shambles, it cannot control its borders, its intelligence service is often at odds with the government while extremist groups gain more power every day. It is a rapidly failing state with nuclear weapons. Every day it grows more antagonistic towards the United States which under the Obama Administration had been persistent in using arial drones to attack suspected terrorists in Pakistan. The relationship between the United States and Pakistan is as bad or worse as it was in 1979.

In the mean time our former nemesis the Russian Federation, the former Soviet Union has been stalwart in allowing our troops and supplies to flow through their country and the neighboring Central Asian Republics into Afghanistan. The Russians having experienced the agony of Afghanistan and the reality of Jihadist terrorism emanating from it as well as Chechnya do not want the US and NATO mission to stabilize Afghanistan to fail.  Currently without the support of the Russians we would be unable to supply our troops in Afghanistan.

Today President Obama travelled to Afghanistan and announced the signing of a long term security and cooperation agreement with the Afghan government. The agreement will take effect after the current plan to withdraw most US and NATO troops by 2014. We have no idea how well this will turn out and despite all the good intentions on our part I doubt that the agreement stands the test of time because of the nature of Afghanistan and its competing ethnic, religious, political and tribal divisions. It is my belief that we will be lucky to get out as well as the Soviets did in 1989 because I do not see a truly united Afghanistan coming out of this and it is more than likely that Pakistan will descend into chaos making our presence in Afghanistan even more problematic.

The mission started to get Bin Laden after 9-11. In the process it became something different as we attempted to transform Afghanistan. A year ago we finally succeeded in killing Bin Laden and have significantly degraded Al Qaeda.  That is why we went to war.  That is probably the best it will get.

At some point President Obama or his successor will likely have to decide to withdraw completely from Afghanistan and like former Soviet Premier Gorbachev admit that “We are not going to save the regime. We’ve already transformed it.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Troubled by Events Here and Afar…But at Least I can Watch Baseball Tonight

Remnant of an Army 

I have had a hard time sleeping this week. There have been two things on my mind. One is the situation in Afghanistan which I think is much more dangerous than anyone wants to admit and which bears a terrible resemblance to the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842) which ended very badly for the British as well as the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1988.)  The events of the past couple of months in that “graveyard of empires” should trouble anyone.  We are finding just as the British and Soviets that Afghanistan is ungovernable and that our “control” of the country and the stability of the government that we prop up is a fantasy.  American and NATO troops are being killed by the Afghan soldiers and police that they are training and attempting to help control the country. It is so dangerous for our troops located with Afghan troops that we have had to institute force protection measures that can only further detract from our ability to both wage the war and transfer the prosecution of the war to Afghan forces.  To remember the words of Charles Metcalfe who headed the British administration of India prior to Lord Auckland who launched the First Anglo-Afghan War “We have needlessly and heedlessly plunged into difficulties and embarrassments not without much aggression and injustice on our part which we can never extricate ourselves without a disgraceful retreat which may be more fatal in its consequences than an obstinate perseverance in a wrong course.”

Many of my friends are serving in Afghanistan now and I fear for their safety should things go even more badly than they have been. Unfortunately that is very possible. Our southern supply route through Pakistan is still shut and supply convoys are being attacked with more frequency and violence.  I am just wondering when an entire Afghan unit will turn on an isolated NATO post or group of advisors as happened to the Soviets in March 1979 at Herat where 50 advisors and near 300 dependents were brutally killed when the Afghan units there mutinied and provoked a brutal Soviet response and the Soviet invasion. The Afghan troops were led by Captain Ismail Khan who now serves as a cabinet minister in the Karzai government.

I am also troubled by what I see happening in this country regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin. I am troubled that those that seek a full investigation are being called “race baiters” and worse and that some in the conservative media and politics are openly using materials produced by White Supremacist groups such as Stormfront, a Neo-Nazi organization and website in order to destroy the reputation of a dead teenager.  Likewise I am troubled by those in the New Black Panthers and Nation of Islam that are calling for revenge and or putting a bounty on the life of the man that shot Trayvon, George Zimmerman.

I am bothered by so much about this case and its aftermath that when I tried to start writing it all down I had to quit.  I will probably come back to it at a later time but all I want to see is that someone fully investigate the death of this kid. Too many things from the actions of Zimmerman at the site in ignoring the police by pursuing Trayvon.  I wonder why people defending Zimmerman’s right to stand his ground don’t at least in the absence of any evidence to the contrary at least give the dead kid the right to have stood his ground when he felt threatened by a man who was following him. But the police reports don’t match up with other evidence and the man who claims that he was brutally beaten barely looks tussled by the event when filmed entering the police station barely 40 minutes later. All I am saying is that I am bothered by lots of things about this case and the one that is most bothersome a re-emergence of the the spirit of Jim Crow racism that seems to permeate a lot of the discussion even in allegedly “Christian” discussions on Christian websites. I know that there are racists in every race and country but this is a something that has been part of our history since before our Independence. Just when you think we are over it it shows up again in all of its hateful ugliness.

Tonight I have put on the replay of the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners game that was place this morning (US time) in Tokyo.  At least that is not troubling and I got to do something really fun today that I will write about tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The War that Cannot Be Won: Afghanistan 2012

“There is no single piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by a Soviet soldier . . . no single military problem that has arisen and not been solved, and yet there is still no result.”  Sergei Akhromeyev, Soviet General Staff Chief 1986

Sometimes one wonders if anyone actually reads history and if they do whether they actually want to learn from it. Back in 1979 the Soviet Union had advisors in Afghanistan. A lot of them. A local and indigenous Communist Party had some measure of political power and this was before the Soviets invaded.

However in March 1979 a major unit of the Afghan National Army in the city of Herat mutinied against the Soviets and the Afghan government. Before the mutiny was put down 50 Soviet advisors as well as 300 of their dependents were brutally murdered by Afghan Army personnel. A further 5000 Afghans died in the revolt.

Since 2009 the trend of Blue on Green killings, that is Afghan Soldiers or Security Force members killing US or NATO personnel has been increasing at a troubling rate. We should not be surprised, the one thing that the Afghan loathes above all is the foreign soldier on Afghan soil.  While some Afghans may desire a more modern society and something more akin to the Western democratic political model to include women’s suffrage they are in a distinct minority.  The fact is that as General Barry McCafferty recently noted regarding the murder of two US military advisors in the supposedly secure Afghan Interior Ministry “we may be seeing a watershed event after billions of dollars and 16,000 u.s. casualties. we see how shallow the impact we have on this primitive society is.” 

Approximately 130,000 US and NATO troops including a number of my friends are deployed in penny-packets across Afghanistan and are increasingly isolated and in danger.  The “inadvertent” burning of copies of the Koran in a garbage dump by US personnel has resulted in the deaths of at least 4 US military personnel and the wounding of 8 more and put our bases on lockdown as thousands of Afghans protest and attack them.  More than two dozen Afghans have died in the recent violence.

As deployed they are able to achieve local success but unable to secure the country. Dependent on supplies delivered by air or along tenuous supply lines hundreds of miles long these forces though numerous are dispersed and deployed in areas where their inherent technological and operational superiority is negated by weather, terrain and restrictive rules of engagement as well as a counterinsurgency strategy in which these advantages matter little and that they do not have enough troops to accomplish.

US and NATO forces are embedded with the Afghan Army, Police and Border forces, many of whom are either incompetent, corrupt or allied with Taliban or Al Qaeda. Most Afghans feel that any foreign occupier is a mortal enemy and mistakes such as the recent Koran burning only add fuel to the fire of hatred no matter how many times our leaders apologize. Formerly unclassified but now classified reports easily available on the internet including at US Government websites paint a picture of mutual distrust and animosity that can only be described as toxic between the Afghans and NATO personnel, especially Americans.

To make matters worse the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are surrounded to the west by an ever more bellicose Iran, to the south and east by an unstable and often adversarial “ally” Pakistan through which 30-40 percent of their supplies transit.  To the north the United States and NATO are dependent on agreements with the former Soviet Central Asian Republics Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with most having had to transit Russia.  In the 1980s the Soviets only had make a withdraw across the border into their own country.

Another potentially disastrous situation would be for a war to break out between Iran and Israel or with the United States and our allies. The way our troops are deployed means that they cannot be easily concentrated to parry any threats and their isolation prevents them from being used as an offensive asset should a war break out against Iran.

The fact is that US and NATO forces are now in a very similar position to the Soviets in the mid to late 1980s.  We are engaged in a war where military success is not going to win the war. No matter what any politician says there is nothing that can change that unless they would be willing to commit to greatly increasing the number of ground forces in Afghanistan with the costs and logistical problems that would entail.

President Obama is in a “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t” position.  If he keeps the status quo the danger persists and maybe increases. If he were to begin a more precipitous withdraw there would be the same dangers and possibly more during the withdraw. But mitigating against a faster withdraw is the 2012 election in which his Republican challengers would accuse him of “losing the war and betraying our troops.” However the chance to end the Afghan War from a position of strength was lost in 2003 when we diverted our efforts to the invasion of Iraq. That action gave Al Qaeda and the Taliban the breathing space that they needed to make a comeback and that was not on President Obama’s watch.

Geopolitically the presence of 130,000 US and NATO forces does nothing for regional or US national security and prevents those forces and the attendant resources needed to support them unavailable for any other dangers in the region. The goal of “creating a stabile and secure Afghanistan” is a myth. Afghanistan is not Iraq and will for generations remain a backward, tribal and religiously intolerant society that will never embrace western ideals that conflict with their culture.

The question now is how do we get out of this place, seal it off to keep terrorist threats from emanating from it and endangering US, NATO and Allied interests in the region.  The reality is also that no matter what we do that any defeat or withdraw will be grist for Al Qaeda, Iran and other Islamist propaganda.  The inability of the Soviets to “win” in Afghanistan was of the factors that brought down the Soviet Empire and ended the myth that Soviet Communism was invincible. The same could happen to the United States.

When presented with a cataclysmic strategic situation on the Western Front in 1944 Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt was asked what should be done. His simple response was “End the war you fools.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch56NAL1C-I

We are not yet in a cataclysmic situation but the time to make decisions is now not later because there is nothing that can change the strategic or operational conditions in or outside of Afghanistan. Facts are facts and politicians from both the Republican and Democrat parties should stop trying to turn this into short term political advantage and look at the actual strategic interests of our country as well as our broader security and economic interests in the region.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s World Top 12 of 2011: A Big Thank you to my Readers

Well my friends it is time for my annual look at what were the most popular articles on Padre Steve’s World.

This year I went over 3 million views since the site began in February 2009 and over a million since the last new year.  People from over 200 countries and territories that pretty much act like countries have visited my little cyber space world.

I do find it interesting to see what people are reading on this site, what search terms they are using and what search engines they are using to get to the site. The folks at WordPress.com which hosts this site have a great statistic page for a baseball stat person like me is like a blog statistic version of Saber Metrics.  Now if they can only find a way to calculate my site states like the OBP and Slugging percentage…but I digress.

In 2009 I published my top 10 list and in 2010 I did my top 25 list so this year I am doing my top 12 of 2011. All of the articles on this list had over 4000 views each in the last 12 months.  Since I have now published almost 1000 articles on this site these are just a taste of what a reader can find here.

The number one article of the year is “Revisionist” History and the Rape of Nanking 1937 .  This was something that interested me for a long time and it is rather academic in its focus but has been at the top of my stats most of the year. The article is about those that seek to cover up or minimize the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army in city of Nanking in 1937.  I do expect the article to remain at or near the top of the list in 2012 with the release of The Flowers of War http://www.theflowersofwarthemovie.comstaring Christian Bale in 2012.

Number two on the list is Why Johnny Can’t Read Maps: NCAA Tournament Geography for Dummies and a Solution which I wrote back in 2010 during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  It is a humorous look at how the NCAA decides what cities represent the various regions of the country.  I for one do now see how anything in the Pacific Northwest is part of the Southeast Regional bracket.  No wonder people have no clue about the geographic regions of the United States.  At least they could do a GPS search.

Number three on the list is an oldie but goodie I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s. The article itself is a musical look at the history of of 1970s and 1980s. Since I grew up with this music it is really a part of who I am. Unfortunately many of the links to the music videos are no longer operative but the article is interesting and anyone with half a brain can find the songs on You Tube or any number of various sources.  Since then I have published a number of other articles on the music of this time period which are filed in the Padre Steve’s Music page.

Number four on this site is an article about the death of the noted evangelist David Wilkerson who I had and still have a great deal of respect for; The Unexplained and Tragic Death of David Wilkerson.  I wrote the article because of the circumstances of his death.  I suggested after looking at the evidence including his writings and the actual accident report and suggested that it was possible that his death was a case of “suicide by car.”  I did not expect the reaction that I received. Some people were quite offended that I suggested that Wilkerson suffered from depression and that the circumstances of the accident pointed to either suicide or negligent driving on his part.  In fact some of the comments were so abusive and irrational that I finally for the first time and only in the history of this site closed the comments section.  I just got tired of the abuse and tired of answering the same abusive comments time and time again.  The article and a couple of follow up articles do point out the pressure that many ministers are under and how depression and crisis’s of faith can afflict people of great faith who have helped many people and were not in any way disparaging of Reverend Wilkerson. However I found that even suggesting such is tantamount to smashing idols.  Oh well…it is a good article and I do stand by it.

Fifth place goes to an article that I wrote about the nearly psychotic accusations hurled by Iran at the United States for our Navy’s official name for what they call the Persian Gulf, the Northern Arabian Gulf, it is a somewhat humorous look at a rather serious subject.  Why don’t we just call it the Gulf of Whatever we want to call it? Padre Steve Says the Iranians Whine too Much

Number six on the hit parade is a rather academic military history article about the Battle of Stalingrad The Anniversary of Disaster: Stalingrad 67 Years Later that I wrote in January 2010.  I find that Stalingrad and other campaigns are instructive even today.

Seventh place belongs to a short article about D-Day entitled D-Day: Omaha Beach which is a nice starting point for those interested in the Normandy campaign.

Coming in at number eight is an article about one of my favorite subjects Baseball and civil rights Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King they Changed America.

The ninth most popular article on this site is a follow up to the number three article again involving the music of the 1970s and 1980s More about Why I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s .

Number ten is my 2009 top ten article Padre Steve’s World: Top 10 articles of 2009.

Another academic military history article Wacht am Rhein: The Battle of the Bulge came in at number eleven on the list.

Slipping in at number twelve is an article about military recruiting slogans Memorable Recruiting Slogans and the All Volunteer Force.

There are other articles not in the top 12 for this year but that still get a lot of views and are worth reading. A good number are on military or naval history one of the best of which is The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia while two other military theory article is Learning to Apply the Principles of Counterinsurgency Part One: Introduction to the Soviet-Afghan War and The Effects of Counter-Insurgency Operations on U.S. and French Forces in Vietnam and Algeria and Implications for Afghanistan.

Among the music articles I recommend Laughing to the Music: The Musical Genius of Mel Brooks and just for fun there is an article about a little church that gets pretty crazy, almost Iran Mullah crazy without the killing dissenters, Halloween Book Burning Update: Bring the Marshmallows Please!. One of my favorite faith and life articles Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009. There are also a lot of articles on baseball, faith, religion, history and politics on the site.

Anyway, if you are new to the site and haven’t dug around too much just yet those are good starting points.  Hopefully anyone that stops by will find something to interest them, thought provoking or funny, academic or asinine, historical or hysterical.  Feel free to browse comment and if you like the site subscribe or join me on Facebook or Twitter.

Blessings on you and thanks to all of my readers as well as Cheru Jackson at Alpha Inventions and the folks at Kadency who help publicize this site. I do recommend both, especially Alpha Inventions to bloggers that seek a wider audience for their writings.

Hopefully 2012 will be a good year for all of us and somehow despite all problems that beset our world that 2012 will be better than 2011.

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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