Eight Lessons We Won’t Learn from Afghanistan…

1. Never invade Afghanistan

This was Britain’s fourth war in Afghanistan – and really the lesson should have been learned after the first one in 1842 when at least 16,000 British servicemen, women, children were butchered, froze to death, or were captured on the ignominious retreat from Kabul.

The point about the Afghans – and if the British imperial experience didn’t remind us of this, the more recent Soviet one should have done – is that war is their national sport and they will always win in the end. As the Taliban famously boast: “You have the watches. We have the time.”

2. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them

Sherard Cowper-Coles, from 2007 to 2009 Britain’s ambassador in Kabul, recently recalled how British troops clearing IEDs and mines from the roadsides in Helmand province would occasionally unearth the bleached bones of their Victorian predecessors from the First and Second Afghan Wars.

The British may not have known much about Helmand when they were arrived, but the Afghans have never forgotten its significance: it was the location of another of their greatest victories over the British – the Battle of Maiwand in 1880 when Ayub Khan defeated a brigade under General Burrows.

3. Afghanistan was always a Pakistan v India proxy war and we got caught in the middle

It goes back at least as far as the Soviet invasion when India, then a client state of the Soviet Union, supported the Russians while Pakistan created and launched the Taliban to oppose them. But the tensions go right back to Partition and Pakistan’s fear that one day its giant neighbour will seek to destroy it. Afghanistan has long been seen by Pakistan as its place of final retreat and has therefore always sought to guarantee a pro-Pakistani regime in Kabul. India, meanwhile, has been using the Afghan conflict to destabilise its old enemy.

After 9/11 Pakistan claimed to have changed sides and it suited the US under President George W Bush to claim it as his principal regional ally in the War on Terror. But this was never more than a convenient fiction. As a US intelligence officer quoted in the BBC’s Afghanistan: The Lion’s Last Roar pointed out: “The President had said that he looked into [Pakistan president] Musharraf’s eye’s and found an ally. He couldn’t now come out and say: ‘Well actually, they are the Taliban’s number one supporter.’”

4. Britain’s generals are at least as bad – if not worse – than the ones in the First and Second World Wars. They could even give the ones responsible for Crimea a run for their money.

Essentially the recent Afghan war was created by and for the British army – as a budget- and skin-saving exercise. It needed a purpose after its failure in the Iraq debacle – culminating in its humiliating retreat from Basra airport. Afghanistan was sold to the British government by the military as a “good war” in which the Army could play to its strengths, established from Malaya through to Northern Ireland, as a peace-keeping/counter-insurgency force.

In one tiny respect this plan, cooked up by the Army’s generals, succeeded: Afghanistan gave the Army more intense and extensive combat experience than it has had since the Korean war. But this came at a terrible cost which should have been foreseen from the start.

Arguably the general most culpable for this is General Dannatt, Chief of General Staff from 2006 to 2009. He told the BBC documentary:

Looking back we probably should have realised, maybe I should realised, that the circumstances in Iraq were such that the assumption that we would get down to just 1,000 or 1,500 soldiers by summer 2006 was flawed – it was running at many thousands.

We called it the perfect storm, because we knew that we were heading for two considerable size operations and we really only had the organisation and manpower for one.

And therefore perhaps we should have revisited the decision that we the UK would lead an enlarged mission in southern Afghanistan in 2006. Perhaps we should have done that. We didn’t do that.

But this should have been perfectly clear at the time, not with hindsight. Even back then – and certainly more so as a result of the extensive cuts since – the British army has neither the manpower nor the materiel to fight two wars simultaneously. It was utterly irresponsible of Dannatt to try to draw down Britain’s military presence in Iraq at the very time the insurgency was getting more intense.

Nor did Britain have the strength to control Helmand province, the most volatile and warlike in all Afghanistan. The notion that it did – initially with a force of perhaps 300 actual combat troops – was just a joke.

Read the rest at Breitbart London

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Why are we still feeding our soldiers into the Taliban mincing machine? | James Delingpole

19th August 2009

The type of warfare all soldiers most loathe and fear is the type where you can’t shoot back. Every “Tom” relishes a firefight. It’s why he (or she) joined up. What takes its toll – as it did in Vietnam, and is now doing in Afghanistan – is the nerve-shredding anxiety of going out day after day on patrol knowing with near-certainty that somewhere on your route is the IED which is going to kill or maim you or one of your mates.

Talk to any politician who supports our Afghan engagement, and they’re quite likely to confide privately that the relatively small few deaths our military has suffered in Helmand is an acceptable price to pay for its front line role in the war on terror. I disagree. Sure the number of soldiers killed so far is quite small (we lost twice as many for example in the Fifties Cyprus “Emergency”) but what should concern us at least as much is the figure the MOD won’t give us: how many soldiers are being blinded, or losing arms or legs (sometimes both), or being otherwise maimed. The blessing of modern medical technology is also its curse: so long as they get to you in time, the military’s doctors can now enable you to survive the sort of wounds that given the choice you might not want to survive.

Why are we still feeding our soldiers into this Afghan mincing machine? I don’t mean “Why are we there?” – that’s a separate debate. I mean why are we adopting a strategy which seems to require tactics absolutely 100 per cent guaranteed to ensure that month after month (perhaps less in winter, when the fighting season stops) we get soldier after soldier coming back from Afghanistan, either in a coffin or crippled for life?

Reading the background to each new fatality is like experiencing Groundhog Day. Time and again it’s the same story: soldiers patrolling on a limited number of fixed (and easily recognised) patrol routes – “mowing the lawn” as it’s known – are either ambushed by the Taliban or blown up by one of several IEDs. During the evacuation of the casualty, another IED – cunningly placed for just this eventuality – takes out the rescue team. Carnage.

To lose one or two soldiers in this way might be considered unfortunate. But when you repeat the same mistake again and again, the phrase “Lions led by Donkeys”  comes to mind. And also “lambs to the slaughter.”

Don’t ask me what our exact strategy should be in Afghanistan. I don’t know. But whatever it is, as Richard North’s superb Defence of The Realm blog never tires of pointing out – simply cannot be one which requires our men on the ground to sacrifice their lives so unnecessarily. Obviously, we need more helicopters (to avoid the mined roads), more IED resistant vehicles (MRAPs) and as Gen Sir Richard Dannatt says today, more comprehensive surveillance. We also need many more men: a Coalition force level of at least 500,000 reckons an experienced former senior officer of my acquaintance.

What we most need, though, is understanding from our political leaders (less Brown, perhaps, who is beyond redemption, but at least from the coming Tory government) that this Afghan engagement is not something which can be brought to any even vaguely successful conclusion through half-measures.

Lt Col William Pender (rtd) nailed the problem exactly when he wrote to the Telegraph earlier this week:

The fundamental question, both for the Government and for Nato (if it is to remain a meaningful alliance), is whether defeat of the Taliban and establishment of a stable, long-term democracy in Afghanistan really is a vital interest.

If it is vital, then since national security is the prime duty of any government, whatever it takes in manpower – but primarily willpower – from all Nato member nations, must be allocated to fulfilling this aim. If this means putting economies on a war footing – fine.

If, on the other hand, these aims are merely desirable rather than vital – and with governments led by politicians with no personal military experience, and more concerned with interest rates, credit crunches and unemployment – why, let them say so. Then the nations that contribute combat troops can resign themselves to long-term attrition of their soldiers committed to an unwinnable war.

Or as one of the Toms sweltering out in Helmand might more succinctly put it: “Either **** or get off the pot.”

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