Monday, February 16, 2015

How did the U.S. lose in Afghanstan?

Aiming for the light at the end of the tunnel? Baz Ratner photo
This post is an afterword to the discussion of Carlotta Gall's The Wrong Enemy that I wrote here last week.

One aspect of that very interesting book about the U.S. war in Afghanistan that I did not emphasize is that she is unwilling to say that the U.S. "lost the war." I find this odd, as she describes cascading failure and folly, but that is her position.

Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers who fought there have been having a discussion at reporter Thomas Ricks' The Best Defense blog asking what the hell happened? Many of their judgments lack empathy for the Afghans upon whom their forces were launched -- but they were there and people at home need to listen to what they are thinking. The conversation started with a query from a regular, Jim Gourley, a former military intelligence officer. He seems to have no doubt the U.S. "lost."
Why did we lose in Afghanistan? ... I’ve heard the “because we lost civilian support” argument dozens of times, but I’ve yet to see how that materially affected the effort. It certainly didn’t stop funds and recruits from reaching the combat zone. I recently got into a discussion with someone about how our primary method of destroying armed resistance was through direct fire engagements, and by various means we made that task extremely difficult on soldiers. He responded “you can’t say we lost because we couldn’t chase them over mountains when most of our guys died in IED attacks.”

It reminded me of Patton’s saying that no one ever won a war by dying for their country. The point is to kill the other guy. I think our fundamental failure can be identified right on page one, chapter one of On War. “Force… is thus the means of war; to impose our will on the enemy is its object. To secure that object we must render the enemy powerless.” We never rendered the enemy powerless. ...
Someone who calls him(?)self JPWREL responded:
The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the subsequent war against the Pashtun people was reckless foolhardiness of the most profound kind considering the evidence from the most recent Soviet experience. ...

... we lacked an essential political harmony, a feature common in limited wars that people sense are unimportant to the existence or prosperity of the nation.
In order to succeed in limited wars one needs to discipline oneself to reach for very limited objectives, and for a prideful people conscious of their power this is extremely difficult to do.

The question is no longer why we lost but have we learned anything?
A commenter who calls him(?)self Kriegsakademie (who Ricks knows and trusts) replied:
Had we not moved on from our six month triumph (chasing out Al Quaeda) to the role of an occupying power trying to build a state that almost no Afghan wanted, we would not have needed to fight a protracted war against the Taliban.

Unless we start from a clear statement of American national interests, and American war aims, and a defined "enemy" that flows from those two, then we cannot have a sensible discussion of whether or not we might have "won" this war.
Another, Kieselguhr Kid, was quite emphatic about how the wars of the '00s felt to him.
Quite a number of our leadership thinks we won.  Shortly after dropping my own papers [resigning from the military] I saw an article by GEN Petraeus in these pages titled, "How we won in Iraq."

Hell, maybe we did win in Iraq and Afghanistan; what do I know?  It didn't feel like winning, it doesn't smell like winning, but what do I know from winning say a tennis match or a chess game?  So far as I understood the objectives, we didn't achieve them, but I'm not one of the flags who ran the thing.  Shoot, maybe we won.  Although if we did, man, I don't want to win a lot more of these things.
Here's a last word from someone (waris-safi123) who might be an Afghan.
the reason why all the invaders failed in Afghanistan and Will fail is simple Afghans dont like foreigners in thier country! how would you feel if Afghans holding guns in the streets of London or Washington tells you what to do? you wouldn't like it! similarly Afghans dont want that eithrr WE WERE BORN FREE!WE WILL BE FREE FOREVER! even if we have to sacrifice millions more afghans
I hope people in the military are discussing these questions somewhere besides Ricks' blog. Even more, I hope our politicians understand that, if they are going to authorize more wars, they better be prepared to listen to the folks who elect them and figure out why they are sending soldiers to kill and die!

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

A quote from Princess Bride comes to mind and it's what we all said when we said, don't stay. "You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line"!

Although some say Afghanistan is really southeast Asia (and others debate if culturally it isn't the Middle East), what he said above has applied to every country who tried to occupy it-- whatever their motives. You can't tell a thing though to leaders caught up in a need for glory and who think they can change what has been historically true... Yeah right. Tell it to the dead! We lost it as soon as we decided to not go after bin Laden and his forces and stayed to change the government of Afghanistan. We didn't even really impact the Taliban because they got resupplied and reinforced. It wasn't like our Native Americans who didn't have outside forces helping them and where we were living on top of them as a culture.

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