Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Is Afghanistan The Best Place To Fight?

My Grandad fought at Monte Cassino. Both sides fought stubbornly and incredibly bravely at great cost in lives. The Monastery was nearly flattened by Allied bombers. I say nearly because it was turned into a network of foxholes, ratruns and cellars that helped the fanatical German Paras defending it. And yet, as cogently argued by Professor Richard Holmes, the battle was unnecessary. Especially after breakout from the Anzio landings Monte Cassino could have been prudently ignored. The Battle of Hurtgen Forest was another unnecessary battle. Fought between September 1944 and February 1945 on the Belgo-German border it claimed tens of thousands of American and German casualties and in the mini-series Band of Brothers its sustained futile nastiness was the shell-burst among the trees that eviscerated the camel and broke the spirit of many of Easy Company's veterans. Equally. the Battle of Berlin nearly brought Bomber Command to its knees with unsustainable losses that were only reduced by a change in strategy to the pre D-Day bombing of the transportation network and oil refineries.

My point is that, as Sun Tzu wrote 2,500 years ago, and I paraphrase, it is always better to seek battle at a time and place of one's choosing. The wise chap also said that it's better to avoid battle altogether if possible. Something that the Duke of Wellington and those awkward third world amateur generals who beat modern western armies understood.

So why are Coalition forces engaged in fighting a war in Afghanistan against an enemy who won't stand still long enough in one place in large enough numbers for a set piece all-arms engagement to achieve a decisive victory?

The Taliban or local tribal fighters have no territorial claims against any western nation, although a bit of border tidying outstanding since independence was granted to India and Pakistan in 1947 would enable the Pathans to be united and save Pakistan a lot of internal strife in pacifying its western tribal areas where the writ of Islamabad is tenuous and temporary.

Al Quaeda can easily move its bases anywhere in the Middle East, North Africa, South East Asia where there is a large muslim population and poor government (the two tend to exist together).
What is to stop Venezuela becoming a terrorist haven as a means of attacking the USA?

Another reason given for Britain having 10,000 troops in Afghanistan is the destruction of the opium crop. If I was a poor Afghan farmer living in poverty, I would definitely grow poppies in preference to wheat, apricots and pomegranates. Western heroin addicts are the West's problem. However, it treats addicts as victims whereas the Afghan farmers have their crops destroyed and are then ordered to grow something much less profitable. The problem is not down to the suppliers, despicable as they are, but with the consumers of the drugs. It would be easier to reduce demand by vigorously tackling the drug addition problem in this country. How much extra expenditure than is spent in Afghanistan would be needed to wean addicts off their drugs and keep them clean?

Another argument for fighting in Afghanistan is to bring equal rights to women, educate children and improve healthcare. There are swathes of the Third World that require such reforms. Afghanistan is no different. Think how unequal, how illiberal, how brutish, nasty and short were the lives of ordinary people in the West until a hundred and fifty, or a hundred years or even more recently in some parts of London. Yet the development was not imposed from outside, it was grown in fits and starts and some dead ends from within. Because of that gradualism, people accepted it and felt a sense of ownership so that our veneer of civilisation became habitual and part of the furniture. What right have the Mrs Jellybys of the West, for all their good intentions, got to expect that the off the shelf, flatpack 21st century will be accepted with open arms by people living what is a very dangerous medieval lifestyle? Wouldn't it be more realistic and sensible to identify the points of similarity between our very different cultures, use those to develop understanding and leave the Afghans and indeed the rest of the world to sort out the awkward bits by themselves in their own time? After all, only an idiot expects everybody to celebrate Christmas in an identical fashion. So long as there's presents, telly and turkey the order and respective amounts are unimportant.

So back to the question of why the Coalition fights in Afghanistan when it is a foreign country that is not vital for the protection of our people and property, that offers geographical advantages to the guerrilla fighter, that extends the lines of supply so that every soldier costs £250,000 per year to feed and equip when a Taliban fighter would be rich if he earned £1,000 per year, and where the population is at best ambivalent towards the government and the Coalition. In the words of the First World War song, "We're here because we're here, because we're here." The very successful campaign of 2001 removed the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and left a power vacuum. Unfortunately, instead of just tidying up the worst of the damage and leaving smartly with the warning not to make us return, it was considered desirable and possible that a new country could be grown out of the wreckage of thirty years of war and zip all, with the exception of some thirties vintage Hawker Harts, modern civilization outside the big cities. Nearly nine years down the line we have, metaphorically, advanced back to Mons just like the BEF in WWI and called it a victory. We may be winning but are the Taliban losing?

My proposals are that Coalition Forces withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as possible to enable the Afghans to sort out their affairs again and a UN Border Commission is established to resolve the outstanding border problems of Afghanistan/Pakistan and Pakistan/India that were swept under the carpet in 1947. Nato and other Coalition forces need a period of time, call it a hudna for want of a better word, to rest, learn lessons and reequip where required and in the meantime the foreign ministries of all western nations must adopt the Arab technique of taqiyya in all dealings with the islamic world as a matter of professional courtesy.

I will discuss equipment and strategy in a later post.

1 comment:

Thud said...

A fine post,we need to fight smart,hard and dirty, but with our politicians blood and tresure will continue to flow to little effect....can't upset the 'muslim street' hey?