Thursday, March 8, 2007

A catalogue of errors in Afghanistan

By Michael Scheuer
Asia Times

"Afghanistan is again being lost to the West, even as a coalition force of more than 5,000 troops launches a major spring offensive in the south of the country. The insurgency may drag on for many months or several years, but the tide has turned. Like Alexander's Greeks, the British and the Soviets before the US-led coalition, inferior Afghan insurgents have forced far superior Western military forces on to a path that leads toward evacuation. What has caused this scenario to occur repeatedly throughout history?

In the most general sense, the defeat of Western forces in Afghanistan occurs repeatedly because the West has not developed an appreciation for the Afghans' toughness, patience, resourcefulness and pride in their history. Although foreign forces in Afghanistan are always more modern and better armed and trained, they are continuously ground down by the same kinds of small-scale but unrelenting hit-and-run attacks and ambushes, as well as by the country's impenetrable topography that allows the Afghans to retreat, hide, and attack another day.

The new twist to this pattern faced by the Soviets and now by the US-led coalition is the safe haven the Afghans have found in Pakistan. This is the basic answer to why history has found so many defeated foreign armies littering what Rudyard Kipling called Afghanistan's plains.

The latest episode in this historical tradition has several distinguishing characteristics. First, Western forces - while better armed and technologically superior - are far too few in number. Today's Western force totals about 40,000 troops. After subtracting support troops and North Atlantic Treaty Organization contingents that are restricted to non-combat, reconstruction roles - building schools, digging wells, repairing irrigation systems - the actual combat force that can be fielded on any given day is far smaller, and yet has the task of controlling a country the size of Texas that is home to some of the highest mountains on Earth.

Second, the West underestimated the strength of the Taliban and its acceptability to the Afghan people. When invading in 2001, the West's main targets were al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar and their senior lieutenants, and because the operation specifically targeted a group of top leaders, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was not sealed, and so not only did the pursued troika escape, so did most of their foot soldiers......

The future for the West in Afghanistan is bleak, and it is made more discouraging by the fact that much of the West's defeat will be self-inflicted because it did not adequately study the lessons of history......"

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