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Thursday, October 26, 2006

War on Terror Enters Second Quarter; Team USA Tiring

This post focuses on the military limits which the US must now accept in its War on Terror. The seeds of the present failure have been instilled by inadequate planning and politicization of military decisions and policy.

Unfortunately for the White House--and much more significantly, the leadership that must follow them--our enemies in the Middle East held back, and have waited until now to release the full fury. The Taliban have regrouped and are entering Afghanistan, armed with weapons purchased by sales of heroin from Afghan poppy.

Their strike couldn't be timed better. Our troops have bogged down in Iraq and their equipment is breaking down. The US can barely meet its commitments to protect fledgling governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not a single combat brigade is available for duty.


A key geographic ally in the War on Terror, Pakistan is playing both sides, appeasing tribal forces internally while placating the Bush Administration and its tough-on-terror rhetoric. Pakistan recently capitulated to the tribal forces, signing an agreement on September 5th which more or less acknowledged the inability of Musharraf's government to root out the Taliban.

I came across an article in the UK's Independent talking about the Taliban's resurgence:

"Recently, the 'Waziristan accord', which has seen Pakistani forces withdraw from parts of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, has made it even easier for the Taliban to manoeuvre."[Source]

Pakistan's infirmity needs to be understood. The inability of its military to patrol its side of the Afghan border means supplies will freely pour into that country indefinitely to support the Taliban and kill American soldiers. Any student of military history knows that the Soviet Union suffered a defeat in Afghanistan to the same mujahdeen we now face, who were supplied via many of the same routes from Pakistan as being used by the Taliban. The failure to interdict supplies flowing down the Ho Cho Minh trail led to perpetual resupply of the Viet Cong and directly contributed to our defeat in Vietnam.


I see a central purpose of this blog to provide information unavailable in the Mainstream Media. The conglomerates that control the flow of information to the American public were complicit in the War on Iraq by silencing dissent and doubt and accepting as unvarnished truth the allegations made concerning the presence of WMD in Iraq.

While the same media may be less receptive to the war now, it's the truly ugly reality that the War on Terror cannot be won that they now seek to avoid revealing, perhaps in part due to their complicity in hiding the truth in the leadup to the Iraq War. The public is left to feed on a diluted stream of half-truths and denials, while the real strategic and military consequences of launching the Terror War go unaddressed.

Pakistan's acquiescence is an excellent example of selective non-coverage. That failure alone could lead to our defeat in Afghanistan, which would represent a victory for "terrorists," which is the label the Adminstration has slapped on all Muslims who confront the US in the region.

Vietnam Redone

Reports emerging from Afghanistan could have been written during Vietnam. The tactics of the Taliban are in some ways identical to the VC; the players and places may change but the conduct of counterinsurgency warfare persists more or less intact.

I was struck by parallels to Vietnam when I read in the Independent article that the Taliban "demand and get food and shelter wherever they stop, but it is impossible to say how enthusiastic the villagers really are."

I can see a Taliban fighter's shadow crossing the scared faces of an Afghan peasant family as he enters their hut. Daughters, particularly those of age, would undoubtedly be shuffled off, to avoid offending the Taliban's covenants against mixing of the sexes. The welcoming would no doubt be profuse, motivated by the family's desire to appease their guest as he lays his gun down, day's work done.

It's an image of victory for our enemies, not persay on the battlefield, but in the hearts and minds. "We are of you and you of us, and the Occupier is not of us but the enemy of God," their indocrinationed might say. Nowhere could propensity for mutual reliance be clearer than in the tribal regions of mountainous Afghanistan where non-believers have now come, like the Soviets did. Every occupier since Alexander has fallen; perhaps Bush's ego yearns for a place alongside Alexander in the fables of conquerors.

Strategically, guerilla movements need support of the population to sustain themselves. As with Vietnamese resistance, "Taliban always valued speed and mobility...Few carry any possessions other than weapons." So too did the Vietnamese rely on strategically pre-positioned weapons caches.

Many of the villagers whose huts served as weapons and ammunition storage for the VC were undoubtedly coerced. As we see so often in counter-insurgency warfare--and saw in Oliver Stone's "Platoon"--the reaction of the occupying force is typically to torch the village, perhaps committing other atrocities, perhaps not.

The insurgency feeds off the Occupier's retaliation against the insurgent's
"support" base. In this way, the wholesale levelling of villages and forced relocation of indigents contributes to the greater chaos, feeds off it, and broadens the war's footprint. The scene in "Apocalypse Now" where Vietnamese villagers are herded off in tooth-fronted amphibious craft in the wake of a battle pokes at the man-made refugee crisis resulting from heavy-handed counterinsurgency tactics.

Fallujah's flattening is the present day equivalent. Those that stay live like rats, their hatred of the Occupation made ever greater. Over 1.6 million Iraqis have been forced to flee the country.[UK Independent, Fee-Based Link] Shia militia have taken over entire cities, which hardly bodes well for the rule of secular central authority after the US leaves.

Violence by the Occupier demonstrates the failure of peaceful alternatives, and so the military is forced to display signs of progress made under the Occupation, which became like the bridge over the Mekong in "Apocalypse Now", attacked nightly by the VC and rebuilt during the day.

The Taliban's nightmarish resurgence resurrects visions of Vietnam, and for the younger among us, vivid cutscenes of violence and mayhem. War's inherent violence is ingratiated in our young, who've been desensitized to it by video games and movies, but the true horror of counterinsurgency warfare lies in the personal experiences of those involved.
Like Vietnam, an entire generation of soldiers could be lost, given over to the "1,000 yard stare," Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this sense the toll a war extracts continues for decades, those who succumb suffering hallucinations and isolation with the possibility of psychotic episodes. However, unlike Vietnam we are now aware of the disease, thanks in large part to the experiences of Vietnam veterans, many of whom endured the psychological condition stoically and silently, receiving neither recognition nor treatment from the Veteran's Administration.

Insurgent Tactics

Traps set by the Vietcong accounted for a majority casualites in Vietnam, just as Improvised Explosive Devices now do in Iraq. The use of remote or pre-set weaponry is the perfect assymetrical response to tactical superiority. A soldier's level of training can do little to spot IED's, his equipment and vehicle may save his life but can likely do little to prevent the IED from successfully working.

It's hard to know who you fight in an insurgency. In many cases, the enemy finds you before you find them. And even when discovering an enemy, proving he's the enemy is virtually impossible. Likewise, distinguishing enemies from friendlies is impossible. Arbitrary detention or acts of violence simply strengthen the resistance, as we saw in Abu Ghraib.

Iraq is a perfect example of a hostile land where we can do nothing to separate the bad from the good. Every innocent lost or injured contributes to ever greater chaos and anarchy dominates. Unlike Vietnam, Iraq's spiral out of control is a consequence the insurgents can accept. There is apparently no source of nationalism in Iraq powerful enough to prevent Sunni and Shia from fighting each other.

It's been suggested here on this blog that the US might be formenting ethnic discord to justify its ongoing presence, but largely discounted. Anarchy serves no cause nor master, so therefore cannot be the end goal of any organized group. And the US has committed itself to defend the Iraqi regime. A state of ongoing chaos undermines the establishment of any credible government, which diminishes the value of whatever military effort we make there.

The strategies of insurgent warfare morph; insurgents don't conduct themselves according to any fixed strategy like the Soviet doctrine used by Saddam's conventional army in '91. This isn't to say their tactics weren't predictable. Our military failed to anticipate an insurgent threat of the magnitude we now face and simply didn't plan for it. Inadequately planned, our military cannot win in Iraq or Afghanistan. Without the ability to anticipate threats, it cannot serve its most basic function to defend us.

The Pentagon apparently failed to innoculate itself from the dangerous concept that a war's outcome is predictable. No one side is automatically granted victory, no matter how much stronger they seem. It's too bad that the 9/11 reflex action came at the cost of adequate planning, the price will be measured in dead Americans whose lives could have been saved by simply anticipating the worst.

Our military coach must have found the roar of the crowd irresistible and sent our team out on the field, without a game plan to last beyond the first quarter, on account of how weak the other team was thought to be. Apparently, the coach of the "Terrorists" had a plan all along: bench his strongest players, then bring them out, fully rested, at the start of the second quarter. By then, the opposing coach, wearing the fearsome letters OBL, must have surmised that the visiting team would start to tire, and their injuries add up. The Americans' once-pristine equipment would fray and their shoes fill with sand from the Terrorist's home field, this their coach OBL must have known.

Failure of Force

Persistent and unrestricted warfare benefits the cause of the insurgency. The conflict's longetivity attests to the ineffectiveness of bombing and other displays of superior military might by the US. The failure of the US' grotesque strategic advantage to translate into results on the ground reveals the inherent fallibility of the war machine and by proxy its impotence, building confidence among the resistance.

The indiscriminate use of force and its inevitable collateral damage encourage the populace to resist by radicalizing and militarizing resistance. Bombing, even by multi-billion dollar stealth bombers and laser-guided munitions, always causes civilian casualties. Every non-combatant death translates into stronger resistance. I would argue that much of the military's considerable effort to curb collateral damage reflects this cold strategic calculation, rather than any moral imperative to limit damage.

As we saw in the Israeli war on Lebanon, and Vietnam, air power alone was incapable of achieving victory on the ground. The value of bombing may lie more with its "shock and awe", or intimidation value. There can be lasting repercussions from the use of Depleted Uranium and cluster bomblets, both made in the US, with the detonation "failure" rate on the latter as high as 40% (Boston Globe article], and multi-generational health effects from the former. Both weapons are genocidal and their use constitutes a war crime. Israel dropped over 1 million cluster bomb munitions in the closing days of its attack on Lebanon, according to the Boston Globe article. The US has made Depleted Uranium a mainstay of its arsenal despite its effects on Gulf War veterans, over 1/3 of whom are now on full medical disability.[Link]

Preventable Miscalculations

What's so amazing is the shortsightedness of the military in involving us in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's as if the rules of warfare apply only in hindsight and were ritually ignored in pre-invasion planning. Did no military attache or metal-chested general consider the most fundamental realities of counterinsurgency warfare in the post-9/11 period? Our military machine must have grown so confident in making fanciful projections of easy victory as to ignore what came after. After what could puny Iraqi do to stop us?

A blind army can achieve none of its goals. Some attribute the complete failure to anticipate the scope of the resistance as the result of the conversion of our Armed Services into a neo-colonial force design to protect commercal interests in Afghanistan. These theories purport that the US seeks to dominate the Middle East militarily in order to exploit energy resources.

Several posts back, I alluded to some posts from 2002 that talked about the natural gas pipeline Rice and others in the Administration wanted built in Afghanistan, leading to threats to invade as early as Summer 2001, well before 9/11.

Whatever the validity of oil and natural gas seizure theories, the fact that the US cannot defeat the insurgencies proves that the invasions were ill-conceived. Pipelines are notoriously vulnerable to attack. By co-opting the military's common sense--sacrificing it on the altar of election politics--the entire war planning system broke down, creating the seed of failure we now see fully flowering in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brave not only in war, but in telling the truth, duty-bound soldiers like Gen. Shinseki put their careers on the line to tell the truth. Pentagon czar Donald Rumsfeld purged any voices of pragmatism in the lead-up to the Iraq war, in part to actualize his theories on the effectiveness of a slimmed down military.

The traps of counterinsurgent warfare aka Vietnam must have been clear. Behind the scenes, truthtellers must have sending warning signs about Afghanistan, and Iraq as well. Some must have suspected that the ease of the invasion in Afghanistan may have had more to do with the insurgents' desire to run and fight another day than with the invincibility of our legions.

Vietnam veteran Colin Powell did talk about the challenges of fixing a broken Iraq. But the Colin Powells were turned aside in an internal struggle to gain the President's ear. Pragmatism perished in the roaring enthusiasm of war fever, and with it any hope of devleoping a winning strategy. The Cheney-Rumsfeld axis clearly won, to the detriment of caution, planning and future military success. The war-crazed element triumphed in Iraq, having never been challenged in its just war in Afghanistan, a war launched on the premise that radicals under the direction of cave-bound OBL were by their efforts alone capable of 9/11.

Playing Politics

Rumsfeld defused any healthy skeptism over the long-term viability of an Iraqi occupation. Cheney may have cooperated in outing Plame, who may have been uncovering weak or false intelligence about Iraqi WMD touted by the Administration in the course of her work in counterproliferation at the CIA. At the very least, the most militant elements of the Administration coddled any intelligence they could find to support the war, which had been set as a political goal from the earliest days of the Bush Administration. Bush odious plan to attack Iraq led him to clamor for a slam dunk case from CIA Director Tenet in the days after 9/11.

Post 9/11, the authority of the political had merged with that of the military, creating a monster not unlike what is seen in fascist societies where political leadership unites with nationalistic militarism, and the two nourish each other.

The Iraqi invasion shows the sacrifice of pragmatism for the benefits of political expediency; the viability of our current military strategy in Iraq pays the price. With political leadership dominating the military, the domestic political benefits of launching overshadowed the geopolitical and military consequences of using force.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage the US military now has on the battlefield are the limitations of its political leadership, chief among them the inability to admit failure. The synergy between the White House and Pentagon which served the institutions so well in launching a war of choice has created the seeds of an epic failure. Our ship is now immutably tied to the docks of newly minted regimes in the Middle East who've emerged in the wake of our invasions, miring us in not one but two open-ended and unwinnable land wars in Asia.

The damage is now clear to see. Those responsible for launching the invasion will most likely avoid paying a price for their short-sighted recklessness. The Pentagon recently announced their committment to Iraq past 2010, as if it were the strategic impetus and momentum that shaped our policy, not our Congress in accordance with the will of the people. We can and should leave when Congress says so. The idea that we must maintain some forward posture indefinitely is undemocratic, counterproductive, and denies the exclusive Constitutional right of the Congress to wage war.

Our military must be vulnerable indeed to succumb to political pressures even at the expense of lives and inevitable defeat. Many more must have simply followed orders than honestly disclosed the travails ahead, thereby jeopardizing their careers. Perhaps the Pentagon succumbed to the allure of war money, perhaps those responsible for leading our military saw a lucrative future working for the war profiteers who'd hire them once they'd retired comfortably.

Whatever it took to buy off our military could never be enough. Perhaps the concept of a political commander-in-chief needs to be revised. The position of the Chief Executive atop the military was originally meant to keep the power of the armed forces in check; perhaps we now need to contain political bonding between with the Pentagon, on behalf of our collective security.

Public Image

Polls drive this very media-centric White House, and in formulating their plans for Iraq they saw their re-election. The popular perception of military invulnerability and the righteousness of our cause contributed to the rampant militarism and a lack of introspection or restraint in using military force. A vote of support for military intervention in Iraq was sold as a vote for the troops and against terror.

Afghanistan had been too easy; what's more the media-fixated White House must have know something like 70% of American held Saddam responsible for 9/11. [USA Today Poll] What better low hanging fruit on the political grapevine than an Iraqi invasion, to secure the victory in '04?

Whether the victory they got in 2004 was directly traceable to launching a war in Iraq remains to be proven, as does the validity of that election itself as votes were discarded and miscalculated, exit polls violated, and rampant misconduct documented.

While the White House might now seem to be retreating somewhat from a "stay the course" position, inwardly they must be counting the hours until whatever accountability not subverted by Diebold confronts their Congressional allies in the election booth. Then they will have carte blanche once again.

It's also arguable that Democratic acquiescence to the War on Terror may have made political differences between the parties neglible; lackluster support for Lamont in his general election bid may show that the DNC's position on Iraq may be rhetorically prominent but represent not an alternative course going forward but rather a simple admission of past failures over which Democratic votes and an absence of true opposition prominently figured in. A vote for a clearly failed policy is one thing, the strength to confront the passions of war in their infancy another.

Subversion of our willingness and capacity to fight by politicians been cited as the cause of failure in Vietnam by Rush Limbaugh and those on the Right. Ironically, the inevitable defeat we now face, the cut and run, the tail between the legs and choppers leaving from the embassy roof, are what we now must come to grips with as a consequence of military force inadequately and haphazardly applied, for partisan political reasons.

It's a sad statement that the armed forces of the world's last superpower must dance at the whim of the political leadership. Our collective defense has been jeopardized by the failure of our military to articulate beforehand the consequences of invading Afghanistan and Iraq.



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