Words of Advice:

"Never Feel Sorry For Anyone Who Owns an Airplane."-- Tina Marie

"
If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

"
Flying the Airplane is More Important than Radioing Your Plight to a Person on the Ground
Who is Incapable of Understanding or Doing Anything About It.
" -- Unknown

"There seems to be almost no problem that Congress cannot,
by diligent efforts and careful legislative drafting, make ten times worse.
" -- Me

"What the hell is an `Aluminum Falcon'?" -- Emperor Palpatine

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is Our Military Learning?

Sometimes, I have to wonder. This is from Newsweek's current story on Gen. McChrystal:
McChrystal immediately decreed that the [International Security Assistance Force] troops were going to learn how to get along with the local population. It took less than a week for him to start to make his point. He was part of a convoy blasting through city streets at 60mph when the speed limit was 20mph. The soldiers were driving heavily armored vehicles right down the middle of the road, pointing their weapons at civilian vehicles, forcing them to the side. When the convoy stopped, McChrystal took aside the commander and dressed him down. "This is exactly the way you create the ugly ISAF," he said in a low but cold tone. He issued a directive: from then on, all ISAF forces would obey local driving laws.
If that sounds familiar to you, it should, for the very same point was made in an opinion piece by a Marine captain two years ago:
On a highway north of Kabul last month, an American soldier aimed a machine gun at my car from the turret of his armored Humvee. In the split second for which our eyes locked, I had a revelation: To a man with a weapon, everything looks like a threat.

I had served as an infantry officer in Afghanistan in 2001-02 and in Iraq in 2003, but this was my first time on the other end of an American machine gun. It's not something I'll forget. It's not the sort of thing ordinary Afghans forget, either, and it reminded me that heavy-handed military tactics can alienate the people we're trying to help while playing into the hands of the people we're trying to defeat.

Welcome to the paradoxical world of counterinsurgency warfare -- the kind of war you win by not shooting.
We keep having to learn the same frelling lessons, over and over and over again.

Some people do seem to understand, but not enough. We will never have enough troops in Afghanistan to crush the Taliban. Trying to kill off a guerrilla movement is like trying to swat smoke with a hammer. Those who complain about the use of guerrilla tactics by the enemy with lines such as "they won't face us straight on" only betray their own ignorance about the matter at hand.

When you are fighting an insurgency, the "battlespace" (a word I personally despise, by the way) is not any given stretch of territory. You do not measure success in a counterinsurgency by how many people you kill or how many bombs you drop or how many rounds of ammunition you expend. It is very rarely that any conventional force has managed to simply kill its way out of an insurgency.

Does anybody still not get this?

The battlefield is the people in an insurgency. When your forces are foreign to the country, you are already starting from behind the power curve. If you act brutally towards the people, you will only drive them into the arms of the insurgency and you will seal your defeat. The actions of Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion won no support for the British cause during the American War of Independence; the actions of Tareton's Raiders did more to win Southerners to the side of the rebels than did any number of fine speeches and leaflets.

I am solidly pessimistic on Afghanistan. We have had nearly eight years, now, to get this right and the enemy grows stronger and stronger. The "host nation government" is thoroughly corrupt, of the brothers of the president, one is allegedly a major drug trafficker, the other is allegedly a corrupt tycoon. The very recent presidential election was so riddled with vote fraud that a Chicago machine politician would have been embarrassed. The Afghan Army is largely ineffectual. The Taliban is making considerable hay out of all of this.

You have a shot at winning a counterinsurgency by making lives better for the people. You have a chance at winning by persuading them that they will be better off if they cast their lot with the government, not through speeches or propaganda, but by deeds. Good roads. Clean water. Schools. Medical aid. Economic development. Jobs. You win through all the stuff that the bombastic thugs in the party of Hoover deride as "nation building".

Yes, military force is part of it, security has to be provided. While that grabs the headlines, it is not the most important piece in the game. We cannot simply kill our way to victory, for if that was all it took, the Soviets would have won their Afghan War in the 1980s (and we would have won in Vietnam). It is very disquieting that there seem to be a lot of self-styled experts, both in and out of the military, who have not grasped the task at hand.

Gen. McChrystal gets it. I am not sure how many others do.

1 comment:

BadTux said...

I think General McChrystal recognizes what needs to be done. I do not, however, believe that he, or anybody else in the U.S. military, has the slightest clue as to how to actually achieve this paradise that they envision. It simply is not part of the skill set or the mind set of the military, which is all about either killing people, or enabling others to kill people. I mean, that's the whole point of having a military -- to kill people. Otherwise everything it does could be more inexpensively done by unarmed civilians and lightly armed police officers.

So McChrystal may "get it", insofar as understanding the problem, but when it comes to solutions he -- and the rest of the military -- are part of the problem, not part of the solution. And I seriously doubt that he has the slightest idea that this is true.

- Badtux the Mindset Penguin