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Our Afghanistan
Alex Steffen, 8 Nov 03

As is becoming screechingly clear to anyone with the eyes to see, the United States is involved in a dangerous and tragic quaqmire in Iraq. What makes it tragic is not just the killing and destruction, nor just the fact that the entire war was pursued on grounds now known to be falsehoods and lies, or even the squandered opportunity to do good for the Iraqi people - what makes it tragic is that this failure was utterly predictable.

We're all about the positive solutions and useful tools here. But sometimes it is necessary to understand how things fail. Failure, properly understood, is illuminating.

In that spirit, this NYT piece, Iraqi Insurgents Take a Page From the Afghan Freedom Fighters, written by Milt Bearden, a former CIA operative in Afghanistan, is sadly instructive. Bearden shows that what the Iraqis are doing to American forces is exactly what the Mujahedeen did to the Soviets (or, for that matter, what the Chechans did to the Russians): use modern guerrilla warfare tactics to drub a much more powerful invader into a defensive crouch.

"There were two stark lessons in the history of the 20th century: no nation that launched a war against another sovereign nation ever won. And every nationalist-based insurgency against a foreign occupation ultimately succeeded."

What Bearden doesn't discuss are the lessons learned over the last decades about successful nation-building. Unfortunately, almost none of them begin with a unilateral invasion or progress through a military occupation by a country widely perceived to be a cultural enemy. Stay tuned for more about how it might've been done differently.

(more excerpts)

"The insurgents' strategy could have been crafted by Sun Tzu, the Chinese military tactician, who more than 2,500 years ago wrote, in "The Art of War," that the highest realization of warfare is to attack the enemy's strategy.

"So it was probably no accident that as American forces approached Baghdad, expecting tough street fighting, the bulk of the Iraqi forces melted away. The American troops, forced to shift strategy on the run, have been bedeviled by the consequences of those early chaotic days ever since.

"Next, according to Sun Tzu, you attack his alliances.

"This, again, is what the Iraqi insurgents did. Presumably acting on the assumption that the Jordanians were being too helpful to the United States, insurgents detonated a car bomb outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad on Aug. 7, killing 11 and wounding scores. Less than three weeks later, as an increased role for the United Nations was debated, suicide bombers attacked the organization's headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 people, including the United Nations special representative to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

"Then, in mid-October, as proposals for an expanded peacekeeping role for Turkey were argued, a suicide bomb detonated outside the Turkish chancery in Baghdad, killing one bystander and wounding a dozen others.

"When Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, began in late October, Baghdad was rocked by a series of suicide bombings that killed dozens and wounded hundreds, including an attack on the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"In addition, there have been countless attacks against individual Iraqis viewed as allied with the United States, whether police recruits, members of the Iraqi Governing Council or figures in the judiciary. A pattern of attack against American allies seems clear.

"Consider the following: Since the focused attacks began, most Arab League missions in Baghdad have distanced themselves from the coalition; the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, has withdrawn his international staff from Baghdad; the Red Cross followed suit, prompting other international aid organizations to pare down in Baghdad as well. The Turkish government, for a number of complex political reasons, has now reconsidered sending troops.

"Even Spain, part of the original coalition, has decided to withdraw the bulk of its diplomatic staff from Baghdad. It appears that after disrupting the American strategy, the insurgents have made progress in undermining its alliances.

"Next, Sun Tzu prescribed, attack their army.

"This is occurring with increasing lethality. To misread these attacks as desperation is dangerous. In the last two weeks, there have been multiple attacks on the coalition headquarters in Baghdad, with mortars and rockets landing inside the secure green zone. Shoulder-fired missiles have brought down a Chinook helicopter, killing 16 soldiers. The crash of a Blackhawk helicopter, killing an additional six, is still under investigation, but according to some reports a rocket-propelled grenade may have brought it down. One or two casualties are logged almost daily.

"Ordinary criminals and thugs could not deliver this kind of punch. Mortar tubes, base plates and ammunition have to be smuggled to within a few thousand yards of the green zone, carefully set up and then launched either in a shoot-and-scoot attack or with timed delay.

"Similarly, a rocket attack on the Rashid Hotel while the deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, was there required imagination, ability and training. Die-hards, maybe, but focused ones with a strategy and the skills to carry it out.

"These growing attacks against American forces have two clear goals: inflict casualties and force a reaction that alienates the local population. Both are being achieved, as the quick-response raids by coalition troops to seize those behind the attacks fuel Iraqi alienation."

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robert wright wrote about "a real war on terrorism" about a year ago, which i think is interesting now in a "what might've been" sense :D


Posted by: smerkin on 16 Nov 03

Looks like a good link. Settling in to read the piece now. Thanks!

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 16 Nov 03



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