Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Afghans have no idea why we're there

A poll conducted in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces has revealed that the majority of Afghans don't no why the Americans and ISAF are there and have never heard of 9/11. It also reveals that many believe the Taliban will rise to power after coalition forces leave and that they view the Afghan Army and police to be either incompetent or so corrupt they'll work with even the Taliban once the tide starts turning.

The results of this poll is important, Clausewitz famously stated that the point of On War was to conclusively prove that "War is the continuation of policy by other means"* therefore its absolutely vital that your policy goals are clear and well known, which is where we run into a couple of problems seeing as how the original justification was to get Al0Qaeda and Bin Laden, the war against the Taliban was because there government refused to extradite Al-Qaeda or help in his capture. Now though it looks like most of Al-Qaeda has moved across the Durand line into the Pashtoon areas of Pakistan making the first goal unfulfilled.

Furthermore when fighting a counter insurgency war its important to win the population over to your side in atleast a passive way (hence all that tired parroting of "hearts and minds" in the media a few years ago over Iraq) this is very hard to do when your technically the invader, but not necessarily impossible after all every nation is to some degree an amalgamation of several ethnic groups and tribes that were unified by another more dominant group. However it is impossible to convince a people to join your side if they don't know what your side is actually about.

The issue further complicated with the basic principles of Guerilla war. When fighting an enemy conventionally superior to you there are two overall strategies you can employ, but when fighting a foreign power like say ISAF essentially what you have to do is wait till the political will back home dissipates, whilst inflicting damage constantly to sap morale of both the military personnel and population back home eventually there will come a time when the costs or the perception of the costs clearly outweigh the potential gains and then the only thing keeping the politicians and military commanders committed to it is essentially pride. Letting your state of the art professional military get beaten by a rag tag group of farmers with rusty AK's would diminsih not only their professional pride and taint there legacies, it would also weaken their influence on the world stage.

This happened in Vietnam, by the 1970's the US war effort was floundering the war seemed no closer to victory and the death toll on both sides was mounting, not to mention the very large and still growing anti-war movement, yet even when Nixon was elected after promising to withdraw combat troops, the pull out was phased so it would maintain American dignity and wouldn't look like they were cutting and running. Of course that meant that every US casualty who died from 1970-72 truly died for nothing.

The same thing happened with the Soviet Union when they went into Afghanistan. Before deployment it was a common Cold War perception that the "Red Army"* was invincible, so why bother getting into a conventional arms race, just build more nuclear weapons. That changed after Afghanistan it was arguably that humiliation that led to increased anti Soviet demonstrations in the Eastern Bloc coupled with Gorbachev's tolerance for criticism.

* due to translation there are many slight variations depending on the edition, but the implications are the same.
* The Red Army was renamed the Soviet Army in 1946

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