Sunday, December 21, 2008

The surge won't be the same in Afghanistan

Whatever the merits of the strategy's success in Iraq, Helmand is a different land and a different war

Peter Beaumont, Saturday 20 December 2008

".......And in Afghanistan the locus of the war is the reverse of Iraq. Although it has come under increasing threat, and has seen a number of recent high-profile attacks, Kabul, unlike Baghdad, is relatively secure – at least in comparison with much of the rest of the country. The war is in the countryside – in the southern provinces that Afghans call 'Big Kandahar'. And while British and other troops have shown that, with the expenditure of considerable effort, they can hold the larger urban centres, the war in Afghanistan is where it has always been over the last three decades – in the challenging rural terrain of the Taliban's homeland.

What the Soviets learned in their long and painful intervention, the US and their allies are slowly learning now: that technology and firepower alone are not sufficient to win in Afghanistan if Afghanistan itself does not want to be mastered. An object lesson – if it was required – was provided last week with the virtual severing of the supply lines of US-led forces, a major strategic gain for the Taliban achieved through little cost.

But the biggest risk in a surge is that by deploying ever more troops in support of an evasive enemy, the already intolerable number of civilian casualties is pushed up still further, creating an ever more oppositional dynamic between Afghans and foreign troops.......

The history of guerrilla warfare, with a few exceptions, is that guerrilla movements can last for years and decades, especially when they believe they are fighting for their own vision of home. And what Afghans know, in particular, is that it is only necessary to survive to win, because history has taught them that all foreign armies will go home in the end. "

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