26 November 2009

I see dumb people...

Foreign Policy Initiative wrote a piece this past week which attempts to rebut many facts about Afghanistan...poorly, I might add. Some of them are rebutted so laughably poorly that they bear mockery in this blog. But, with it being Thanksgiving, I thought I'd only concentrate on one which made me laugh out loud.

Quotes FPI:

Charge: Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires.”

Response: “This refrain belongs, as they say now in the military, in the graveyard of analogies,” writes Tom Cotton in the Weekly Standard. “The Soviets, in particular, teach us how not to win in Afghanistan. A heavily mechanized force, the Red Army was ill-suited for Afghanistan's treacherous terrain, and it was dependent on long, vulnerable supply lines. It also discouraged innovative junior leadership, which is critical against an insurgency. To compensate, the Soviets employed vicious, massively destructive tactics that inflamed the Afghan people and still scar the country with depopulated valleys and adult amputees maimed as children by toy-shaped mines. Our present way of war couldn't be more different. We deploy light and wheeled infantry to Afghanistan, making our tactics more flexible, our supply lines shorter, and our soldiers more engaged with the locals. We also radically decentralize decision-making authority to our junior soldiers and leaders, who increasingly can draw on years of combat experience. In short, America has a counter-insurgency strategy, whereas the Soviet Union had a genocide strategy. Afghans I spoke with always recognized the difference, reviled the Russians, and respected our troops.” -- Weekly Standard

Max Boot makes a similar point in Commentary, “The two most commonly cited examples in support of this proposition are the British in the 19th century and the Russians in the 1980s. This selective history conveniently omits the military success enjoyed by earlier conquerors, from Alexander the Great in the 4th century b.c.e. to Babur (founder of the Mughal Empire) in the 16th century. In any case, neither the British nor the Russians ever employed proper counterinsurgency tactics. The British briefly occupied Kabul on two occasions (1839 and 1879) and then pulled out, turning Afghanistan into a buffer zone between the Russian Empire and their own. In the 1980s, the Russians employed scorched-earth tactics, killing large numbers of civilians and turning much of the country against them. Neither empire had popular support on its side, as foreign forces do today.” -- Commentary


I don't exactly know where to begin with this one.

I guess I could start by mentioning that the term "Graveyard of Empires" doesn't selectively omit the case of Alexander the Great--it's a specific reference to Alexander's Afghan campaign, which took over three years, and cost him a good portion of his army.

I'm a big fan of learning from history, but let's keep in mind that Alexander marched through what is now Afghanistan over 2300 years ago. It was an era during which one could rape, pillage, and plunder and get away with it--and the Greeks certainly did it in large numbers. The Greeks turned Afghanistan into a wasteland, and called it peace.

As part of their "clear, hold, build" strategy, they could execute all men in a village (clear), garrison it with Greek troops (hold), and then the Greek troops could have the women to themselves, to consolidate the Greek empire in Afghanistan (build).

The symbol of Alexander's victory was a marriage to an Afghan princess (somehow I don't think Mrs. McChrystal will approve of a similar victory by ISAF), and Alexander's conquest was tenuous and short-lived.

Alexander didn't have to deal with a safe harbor for insurgents across the Pakistani border, either. Not that he held Afghanistan long to begin with--he died only a few short years after the campaign.

I would suggest that FPI do a little research of themselves before they accuse others of selectively interpreting history.

Reading for the day: Steven Pressfield's "The Afghan Campaign"

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