I was going to post this in the open thread, but I thought it best not to clutter it up with a post not about the boring and silly election.
The "Total Failure of Afghan strategy" is a total success, and should be recognized as such by a nation determined to follow a course that has it occupying and trying to subdue local insurgencies. The Taleban tactics that have triggered the total failure are the planting of operatives in the Afghan army where they perpetrate 'green on blue' attacks. This not only creates casualties for casualty-shy democracies, but it also undermines the west's hamfisted efforts at social engineering in Afghan society. The second component of the west's strategy is epitomized by the drone programme - extremely expensive, cutting edge technology delivering indiscriminate death from above. There's not much the Taleban can do against drones save keep a low profile and avoid using cellular phones. Whatever success against the West the Taleban have enjoyed is due to their tenacity and wit in conceiving green on blue tactics. I asked several times whether of not there is any precedent for a COIN strategy to be undermined in this way, but so far, no answer.
It's worth reflecting on the other success of the Mujahedin victory over the Soviets about 25 years ago. Of course it wasn't their infiltrating and perverting Soviet nation building efforts that was responsible for their victory, it was the American campaign to arm and train them, culminating with the decision to hand over the latest in surface to air technology, the stinger missile. This is common knowledge.
Outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 25 years ago this week, an angry young man named Abdul Wahab Quanat recited his prayers, walked onto a farm field near a Soviet airfield, raised a Stinger missile launcher to his shoulder and shot his way into history.
It was the first time since the Soviet invasion seven years earlier that a mujahedeen fighter had destroyed the most feared weapon in the Soviet arsenal, a Hind attack helicopter. The event panicked the Soviet ranks, changed the course of the war and helped to break up the USSR itself.
This the popular narrative, repeatedly hammered home in the press and elsewhere, and wholly in keeping with the American myth, born in the ashes of Hiroshima, that victory lies in application of the latest, most expensive, most violent technology at hand. Is the narrative true? I've already pointed out in the total failure diary how it was false in Hiroshima. I could go on too and show how the massive carpet bombing on the peoples of South East Asia did not lead to victory. How about Afghanistan? Here's something I found after a short search on the net:
Although counter-intuitive and contrary to popular wisdom, it appears the U.S. counter-escalation of 1985-1986 was largely irrelevant to the Soviet withdrawal decision of November 1986. This is clearly the case for the Stinger, which was not utilized in Afghanistan until September 1986, a mere two months before the Politburo’s decision to adopt a withdrawal deadline. At the key November 1986 Politburo meeting, no mention was made of the Stinger nor any other U.S. escalation. Rather, Defense Minister Akhromeev blamed Moscow for capping troop levels and Kabul for failing to coopt the opposition. Moreover, the Stinger effectively was neutralized by technical and tactical counter-measures well before the Soviets actually completed their withdrawal. Thus, there is no evidence the Stinger even hastened Soviet withdrawal. Neither is there evidence it delayed the Soviet pullout.
Had Gorbachev not decided autonomously to withdraw, it is unlikely the Stinger could have chased him out of Afghanistan. Prior to his entering office, the Red Army’s strategy in Afghanistan had presumed a protracted occupation, relying only on holding key cities and garrisons as bases for attacks on population, infrastructure, and supply lines in rebel-controlled areas. These bases were never seriously threatened by the Mujahedin even after they acquired the Stinger. Previous Soviet conquests had required occupations of far greater duration. Indeed, in the mid-1980s, there was a cottage industry among U.S. Sovietologists trying to figure out which historical model the Soviets would use to absorb Afghanistan: Mongolia, Central Asia, Finland, Eastern Europe generally, or Poland specifically. In 1982, General Secretary Yuri Andropov reminded Politburo colleagues that it had required almost fifteen years to subdue Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kirgizstan. In June 1985, the United States Central Command, unaware of the changes Gorbachev was bringing to the Kremlin, concluded the Soviets could “be expected to show their historical persistence in Afghanistan, anticipating a slow, gradual domination of the country.... [where] time may be on their side.” The study, citing previous Soviet triumphs over indigenous anticommunist movements, concluded that “the Afghans will likely suffer a similar fate.” According to a key Pakistani official, Islamabad likewise believed Soviet “costs [in Afghanistan] were not intolerable and appeared to be on the decline.”
Is it true? Seems plausible to me, though I'm predisposed to lines of argument that undermine America's 'death from above' cult. It's noteworthy that even the WSJ article acknowledges that Gorbachev was already preparing to withdraw when the stingers were introduced.
Is there a moral to the story? I only offer this. An imperial nation, one like Nazi Germany, or Imperial Rome or ancient Egypt, a nation that adopts the symbol of the Eagle to embody its values, can be successful, but only if it is willing to commit itself, and the lives of its armies. What I'm talking about here is the American mythology that 'death from above' is, has been, and can be successful as a replacement for the commitment of lives necessary for successful imperial adventures.