Posts Tagged ‘counterinsurgency’

U.S. decision-makers ignored Afghan realities

November 19, 2015

Military expert M. Chris Mason thinks the U.S. effort in Afghanistan was probably doomed from the start.  But two early-on decisions by the Bush administration destroyed what little chance there was for success.

The first was the decision to browbeat King Mohammad Zahir Shah, the only leader capable of uniting Afghanistan, into abdicating his throne in favor of a U.S. puppet.

The second was the decision to disband all existing Afghan armed forces and create a new army from scratch, consisting of recruits selected precisely because of their lack of any previous military experience.

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269The results were a government that had no legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people, and an army that is incapable of fighting.

Mason, citing the great sociologist Max Weber, wrote in his current book that there are three things—two old and one new—that can make a government legitimate in the eyes of its people.  The two old ones are tradition and religion, which the Afghan people accept.  The new one is the democratic process, which, he said, they don’t understand.

Historically, he said, the only times Afghanistan was united is under the rule of kings.  Afghanistan has been in a continuing state of civil war since the king was overthrown in 1973.  Public opinion polls taken after the U.S. invasion indicated that 75 percent of the Afghan people wanted their king back.  He could have played a ceremonial role similar to the Emperor Hirohito under General MacArthur’s rule in Japan.

But American policy-makers didn’t want him.

The CIA had in mind to install a puppet, Adbul Haq, whom they could control.  Haq was betrayed by Pakistan’s intelligence service, and assassinated by the Taliban, Mason wrote.  So the CIA turned to the only other person on their payroll, the non-entity Hamid Karzai, who was respected by nobody.

The Taliban, on the other hand, exercise religious authority, which, according to Mason, is a more legitimate source of authority than election results.  The Taliban may not be popular, he wrote, but they are regarded as legitimate, which is something different.

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Chris Mason

Chris Mason

Mason said the other bad decision was to exclude from the Afghan armed forces anyone who had ever previously served in a military-type capacity, such as former mujahideen, former communist Afghan army troops and members of warlord militias.  Recruits in 2002, as part of a standard questionnaire, were asked, “Have you ever used a rifle before?”  If the answer was affirmative, they were disqualified.

Much the same thing happened in Iraq.  The armed forces were disbanded, but allowed to keep their weapons, a perfect formula for violent chaos.  Mason did not speculate as to what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had in mind.  Maybe he had some idea of starting over with a clean slate.

The result in both Iraq and Afghanistan was the recruitment of young unemployed men whose main motivation was pay.  They were mostly illiterate, but expected to master sophisticated American military technology.   The army’s problems included

lack of an air force, extreme over-reliance on weak and static police forces, nonexistent logistics, pervasive drug abuse … [and] the attrition that runs 50 percent per year in combat units in the south.

But the worse problem was lack of motivation.  The Taliban believe in what they’re fighting for.  Afghan government troops generally care only about themselves and their tribal groups.   It is not within the power of Americans to change this.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Afghan civil war predates U.S. invasion

November 19, 2015

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was an episode in an ongoing Afghan civil war that began 40 years ago and will probably continue after American forces leave the country.

The basic conflict is between the Pushtu-speaking people of southern Afghanistan and the Dari- and Uzbek-speaking people of northern Afghanistan.

The Soviet-backed government that was installed in 1979 mainly represented Dari and Uzbek speakers.  The rebellion against that government, backed by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, was mainly Pustu speakers.  The Taliban are mainly Pustu speakers.  The U.S.-backed government in Kabul represents the same ethnic groups as the old Soviet-backed government.

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269This is the analysis of Chris Mason, a military expert familiar with Afghanistan, whose latest book is available free on-line in PDF form from the United States Army War College.

Mason wrote that there are many ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, such that the English language cannot do justice to their complexity.

There are religious conflicts among the Taliban, moderate Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims.  There are ongoing conflicts the various ethnic groups—Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Hazaras.  There are conflicts between tribes and clans.  If one clan supports the Taliban, the other is likely to look for help from the Americans, and vice versa.

The only time Afghanistan has enjoyed any kind of unity was been under its kings, who exercised a loose authority over diverse ethnic and religious groups.

This unity was broken, Mason wrote, when the Pushtun Afghan King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin, Mohammad Daud, in 1973.  Instead of installing himself as king, Daud abolished the monarchy and tried to rule without traditional authority.  He was overthrown and killed in 1978 by the Afghan army, with the support of Afghan Communists—the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).

bellaigue-map_102810_png_600x540_q85The PDPA had two factions, the predominantly Tajik Parcham faction and the predominantly Pushtun Khalq faction.  With the help of Soviet Spetznaz commandos, the Parcham faction overthrew the Khalq faction.  The PDPA attempted reforms, such as redistribution of land and emancipation of women, which, although enlightened, were resisted by traditional Afghan religious leaders.

An uprising against the Soviet-backed government consisted mainly of Pustuns, Mason wrote.  Members of the other Afghan ethnic groups continued to serve loyally in the government’s conscript army.

From 1979 to 1989, the Soviets fought all-out against the insurgents.  They destroyed thousands of Pustun villages and massacred as many as a million Pustuns, he wrote.

The Soviets were merciless, murderous and went all-out to win.  I think their experience shows that mass killing is not the key to victory..

The Pushtun insurgents were backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), which armed them with weapons provided by the CIA and paid for by Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan supported the Afghan Pustuns partly because many Pushtuns live in Pakistan’s northwest frontier area.  But the main reason Pakistan backed the Pustuns was the fear that their enemies would ally themselves with India, leaving Pakistan will have to face its main enemy on two fronts—Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The Afghan civil war continued after the Soviets withdrew.   Pakistan supported the Taliban, and provided its forces with air support and military advisers.  The opposing Northern Alliance—consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Turkmen—retreated until October, 2001, when the United States entered the Afghan civil war on their side.

The Bush administration authorized Operation Evil Airlift in November 2001 to rescue Pakistan troops trapped in Afghanistan.  Mason said Pakistan’s ISI used this as an opportunity to rescue key Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders as well.  Maybe one of them was Osama bin Laden.  Who knows?

The U.S.-backed government in Kabul is a Northern Alliance government, Mason wrote.  There are hardly any Pushtuns in the government or the army.  Official statistics to the contrary are bogus, he said.

When the United States finally withdraws, Mason expects Afghanistan to divide into a southern part controlled by the Taliban and a northern part controlled by the Northern Alliance, with neither side achieving a decisive victory in the foreseeable future.   Presumably the United States will try to aid the Northern Alliance and Pakistan will aid the Taliban.   It will be up to the various Afghan peoples, not any outsiders, to decide when they want to make peace.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

 

The USA isn’t invincible, and never was

June 5, 2015

 I’ve written several posts pondering why the United States of America, which has the world’s most extensive and expensive armed force, no longer wins wars.

As I think about it, it seems to me that we Americans have an exaggerated idea of our invincibility in the past.

In the War of Independence, we prevailed against the much larger and more powerful British Empire, in which, however, we needed the help of our French allies.  In the Civil War, we fought with each other, and were fairly evenly matched.

An F-16 jet fighter takes off from Nato airbase in Aviano, northern ItalyOur casualties in both the War of Independence and the Civil War were a proportion of our population equivalent to millions today.   Europeans suffered proportionate casualties in the 20th century world wars.  We Americans did not.

In the First World War and in the European Theater of the Second World War, it was our allies, the British, French and Russians, who bore the brunt of the fighting.  We Americans joined the fight in the middle and, while our intervention may have provided the margin of victory, I sincerely doubt that we could have won all by ourselves.

I do not of course question the valor of Americans who fought in these wars.  They went through things I am glad I have never had to do.   But the British, French and Russians, and the Germans and other nations also were brave.

The idea of American military exceptionalism is an illusion, and a dangerous illusion, because it prevents us from understanding reality and learning from mistakes.   It leads American military officers and politicians to think we can successfully confront the Russians and Chinese in their own neighborhoods.

I think we Americans would fight as bravely as our ancestors did if our homeland were attacked.  But I don’t think many of us are interested in shedding blood to support a claim that the USA is the world’s sole superpower.

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