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June 20, 2006

Air Strikes in Afghanistan: Aargh!


by William S. Lind

This Sunday's sacred ritual of Mass, bagels, and tea with the Grumpy Old Men's Club was rudely disrupted by the headline of the day's Washington Post: "U.S. Airstrikes Rise in Afghanistan as Fighting Intensifies." Great, I thought; it's probably cheaper than funding a recruiting campaign for the Taliban and lots more effective at creating new guerrillas.

Getting into the story just made the picture worse:

"As fighting in Afghanistan has intensified over the past three months, the U.S. military has conducted 340 airstrikes there, more than twice the 160 carried out in the much higher-profile war in Iraq, according to data from the Central Command. …

"The airstrikes appear to have increased in recent days as the United States and its allies have launched counteroffensives against the Taliban in the south and southeast, strafing and bombing a stronghold in Uruzgan province and pounding an area near Khost with 500-pound bombs."

One might add, "The Taliban has expressed its thanks to the U.S. Air Force for greatly increasing its popular support in the bombed areas."

At present, the bombing is largely tied to the latest Somme-like "Big Push," Operation Mountain Thrust, in which more than 10,000 U.S.-led troops are trying another failed approach to guerrilla war, the sweep. I have no doubt it would break the Mullah Omar Line, if it existed, which it doesn't. Even the Brits seem to have drunk the Kool-Aid this time, with the June 19 Washington Times reporting that "British commanders declared for the first time yesterday that their troops were enjoying success in the restive south of Afghanistan after pushing faster than expected into rebel territory." Should be in Berlin by September, old chap.

Of course, all this is accompanied by claims of many dead Taliban, who are conveniently interchangeable with dead locals who weren't Taliban. Bombing from the air is the best way to drive up the body count, because you don't even have to count bodies; you just make estimates based on the claimed effectiveness of your weapons, and feed them to ever gullible reporters. By the time Operation Mountain Thrust is done thrusting into mountains, we should have killed the Taliban several times over.

Icing this particular cake is a strategic misconception of the nature of the Afghan war that only American generals could swallow. According to the same Post story,

"U.S. officials say the activity is a response to an increasingly aggressive Taliban, whose leaders realize that long-term trends are against them as them as the power of the Afghan central government grows.

"'I think the Taliban realize they have a window to act,' Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander of the 22,000 U.S. troops in the country, said in a recent interview. 'The enemy is working against a window that he knows is closing.'"

Except that the power of the U.S.-created Afghan government is receding, not growing, and the Taliban's "window" only closes when Christ comes again.

Aargh! The last time a nation's civilian and military leadership was this incapable of learning from experience was under the Ching dynasty.

Perhaps it's time to offer a short refresher course in Guerrilla War 101:

  • Air power works against you, not for you. It kills lots of people who weren't your enemy, recruiting their relatives, friends, and fellow tribesmen to become your enemies. In this kind of war, bombers are as useful as 42 cm. siege mortars.
  • Big, noisy, offensives, launched with lots of warning, achieve nothing. The enemy just goes to ground while you pass on through, and he's still there when you leave. Big Pushes are the opposite of the "ink blot" strategy, which is the only thing that works, when anything can.
  • Putting the Big Push together with lots of bombing in Afghanistan's Pashtun country means we end up fighting most if not all of the Pashtun. In Afghan wars, the Pashtun always win in the end.
  • Quisling governments fail because they cannot achieve legitimacy.
  • You need closure, but your guerilla enemy doesn't. He not only can fight until Doomsday, he intends to do just that – if not you, then someone else.
  • The bigger the operations you have to undertake, the more surely your enemy is winning.

The June 19 Washington Times also reported that

"The ambassador from Afghanistan traveled to America's heartland to promote his war-torn country as the 'heart of Asia' and a good place to do business. …

"In his region, 'all roads lead to Afghanistan,' he said…"

Asia doesn't have any heart, and Afghanistan doesn't have any roads, not even one we can follow to get out.


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  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

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