Afghanistan: November 5, 2001

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Still More Myths about the War in Afghanistan;

American Ground Troops Are Needed to Win- Up to a point. But there are two problems with this. For one, there is logistics. There are no railroads in Afghanistan, so all supplies must move by truck over a poor road network. The Russians ran into this problem and, as a result, were never able to maintain more than 150,000 troops in the country. American soldiers require more supplies per man, thus even fewer (perhaps 100,000) troops can be supplied. But that's not the worst problem. If a lot of American troops enter Afghanistan, more Afghans will resist. That's a national custom we don't want to trigger. Many Pushtuns are dodging service in the Taliban armed forces. This would change if most of the soldiers on the other side were American.

The Taliban Has an Army- Sort of. But most of the best Taliban troops are foreigners (about 14,000 Pakistanis, mostly Pushtuns, and 6,000 bin Laden troops, who are largely Arabs.) The Taliban Afghan troops are reluctant warriors, weary from twenty years of war. There is resentment among Afghans against the foreign troops. As long as the enemy on the ground is Northern Alliance Afghans, more Taliban Afghans will be tempted to switch sides. Eventually, nearly all of the Taliban army will be foreigners. Afghans traditionally fight fiercely against foreigners. 

The Northern Alliance has an Army- Not an army in the traditional sense. The Northern Alliance is truly an alliance. But the various factions contribute bands of warriors, not soldiers. American special forces troops can train some Northern Alliance warriors as soldiers. But American generals have to get used to working with warriors rather than better disciplined and more reliable soldiers. Moreover, the Afghan way of war puts great emphasis on fighting that produces low casualties. If they are in the mood, warriors can be fierce. But you can't order them around like soldiers. So the Northern Alliance has what can best be called a feudal levy. American commanders had best brush up on how medieval warlords used their troops.

This is a Military Operation. In part, the war in Afghanistan is military, but mostly it's diplomatic. The road to victory is marked by the number of Taliban tribes can be convinced to switch sides. This involves a lot of talk and well placed gifts. Some of the booty can be cash, but a lot of the loot desired is political and, more immediately, things like food and weapons. A place in a future government, assurances of future support (as we have already offered to Uzbekistan) and maybe a few green cards. There's also the Information War. Crafting a convincing message about why we are there and what we are doing goes a long way towards attracting popular, political and military support. 

We're Fighting Afghanistan- Were actually fighting one faction of a nine year old civil war. Much of Afghanistan is inclined to be on our side. Winning more of that support is not a traditional war, but victory comes to whoever ends up with the support of the most Afghans. 

A Northern Alliance Victory Will End Terrorism in Afghanistan- This is not guaranteed. A Northern Alliance victory will probably leave many parts of Afghanistan out of their control. Moreover, the Pushtuns, who are the main support of the Taliban, have most of their population in Pakistan. Many bin Laden terrorists operate out of Northern Pakistan. If the Taliban lose control of Afghanistan, they will still have a lot of support in Pakistan. Crushing the Taliban in Afghanistan is a plus, but it will not totally eliminate terrorist operations in the region.

Russia Lost the War in Afghanistan- The Russians lost 15,000 troops, while 1.5 million Afghans died. Russia and their pro-Russian Afghan government still controlled most of Afghanistan when the Russians left in 1989. The Russians gave the pro-Russian government some $300 million a year until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. After that, the payments stopped, and the pro-Russian government fell in 1992. The Russians have been supporting the Northern Alliance for the last few years and may end up with another pro-Russian government running Afghanistan.

 

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