[R-G] Tilting at Afghan Windmills
fentona at shaw.ca
Mon Mar 23 10:31:47 MDT 2009
March 23, 2009
The Fifth Aghan War
Tilting at Afghan Windmills
By BRIAN CLOUGHLEY
Don Quixote, the main character in a novel by the Spanish writer
Cervantes in 1605, spent a lot of time on horseback, armed with a
lance, attacking windmills which he thought were menacing giants.
“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills . . . And
no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire,
“Fortune is guiding our affairs . . . Do you see over yonder, friend
Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with
them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich, for
this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off
the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”
“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.”
President Eisenhower inherited the Korean war from his predecessor and
then negotiated a cease-fire. President Lyndon Johnson took over
Vietnam from his predecessor and committed his country to eventual
humiliating defeat. And almost fifty years later President Barack
Obama has been gifted the Afghan debacle by a moron who spent most of
his catastrophic eight years tilting at windmills in “righteous wars.”
The First, Second and Third Afghan Wars were waged by the British
between 1839 and 1919 in three disastrous campaigns totaling nine
years. The Fourth resulted in the degrading defeat of Russia in 1989
when its troops had to leave after a decade. And now the Fifth Afghan
War is being conducted by America and some allies from 2001 to . . .
Well, when? It’s seven years, and counting.
What happens now that Mr Obama is in command?
Last month the US General Petraeus said that a surge like the one he
ordered in Iraq would not work in Afghanistan, and that it is
essential that Afghans not view foreign forces as conquerors. “You do
need to tenaciously pursue the enemy and the extremists . . . But you
also need to be building, and to develop, and . . . help and to
Does anyone believe that President Karzai is an equal partner of the
so-called “coalition” forces in his country? Does anyone imagine
there is deference by foreign forces to the government of Afghanistan?
(If President Karzai flies in an Mi-17 helicopter it is piloted by an
Afghan. But if there is an American on board the pilot must be
American and it must be a machine that is serviced by US technicians.
Does nobody realize how much this sort of arrogant colonial
condescension is resented?)
Karzai has protested about the bungled cowboy airstrikes that have
killed hundreds of his people but the only effect his complaints have
had is to make Afghans despise him for being feeble and to have
Washington even more determined to have him replaced.
Petraeus is right, in that development is essential. But the
foreigners running Afghanistan do not have enough troops to control
the country and the Afghan army is nowhere near ready to do so. So
there can’t be much development carried out (although billions of
dollars have vanished), simply because there is a lack of stability.
There is no point in building something if the nasties can promptly
A long time ago I served in the Australian Task Force in Vietnam. We
were supposed to “win hearts and minds” but, alas, lost them
completely. We went round the villages building little windmills.
Splendid contraptions that pumped up water for fishponds and so
forth. And on the vanes of the propellers we stenciled little yellow
kangaroos, announcing that Australia supported windmill democracy (or
something). And a couple of days after we erected one of them,
imagining ingenuously that we were winning the hearts and minds of the
local people, along would come the Viet Cong and blow it up.
Then after a while the Viet Cong became a bit more savvy. They left
the windmills alone – and told the villagers that the first person to
make use of one would be killed. This had the effect of leaving stark
standing monuments to the total impotence of the foreign soldiers.
It was very effective psychological warfare. Even the half million
foreign soldiers in South Vietnam, a country (66,000 square miles) a
quarter the size of Afghanistan (250,000 square miles; 80,000 foreign
troops; 17,000 more US troops to come this year), together with a
Vietnamese army of 410,000 could not guarantee the existence of a few
We used to have a military principle that remains relevant : Take and
Hold Ground. It comes down to this : If you can’t hold the ground
you’ve taken, then what is the point in taking that ground? You
can’t defend windmills if you leave the place in which you built them
and then let the enemy come in to take control. In that case, your
soldiers have died for nothing.
In Vietnam these windmills twirled and hummed, insensible and useless
in the rustling wind, as memorials for souls.
The “coalition forces” propaganda machine in Afghanistan would have us
believe that things are going fairly well. But this war is a
disaster. Every other day we are told that dozens of ‘Taliban’ are
killed. And for every one who is killed (and many are ordinary
tribesmen who hate foreign invaders and resist them energetically, as
they have done for centuries), another ten? – fifty? – hundred? – are
motivated to join the resistance to the foreign intruders. Just as
they did, with energetic support from Washington, when Russians
occupied their territory.
It is all very well having lots of foreign troops roaming round
Afghanistan killing people (of whom many are civilians – over 700 last
year), but as in Vietnam it is hearts and minds that matter. President
Obama has some hard decisions to make, because the US and its allies
went in to Afghanistan without doing the basic arithmetic of the
number of troops required to perform the tasks the foreign politicians
gave them. Unless there are enough soldiers to take and hold ground
to ensure that aid projects work, there is no point in staying there.
* * *
A proposal for “civil defense forces (CDF)” in Afghanistan has been
endorsed by two clever academics, Messrs Matthew P Dearing and Matthew
C DuPee of the US Naval Postgraduate School. Such forces, they
write, “will provide a significant measure of needed security and
authority in areas of Afghanistan previously unprotected by ANSF
[Afghanistan’s National Security Forces]. They will allow community
leaders from a variety of tribes and clans to work together in
delivering sufficient levels of security . . . ” And so on.
The US Department of the Army Field Manual 31-22 of the Vietnam
years “envisions all members of a village being organized for their
own mutual support into a village complex. This mutual support not
only includes defense but also will include other activities, such
as . . . extensions of democratic principles and procedures through
such things as the formation of village and hamlet committees.” Oh
how starry-eyed we were.
It has all been tried before. It didn’t work in Vietnam and it won’t
work in Afghanistan. The notion that tribal militias (or even “civil
defense forces”) will allow “community leaders from a variety of
tribes and clans to work together in delivering sufficient levels of
security” is naive.
Tribes in Afghanistan can’t agree on the time of day. They hate each
other. And the only thing that is drawing them together in temporary
alliance is hatred of foreign soldiers and profits from corruption,
heroin production and smuggling. The hearts and minds of the tribes
are otherwise engaged.
Will Mr Obama construct a new strategy? Or will he tilt at windmills?
Brian Cloughley's book about the Pakistan army, War, Coups and Terror,
is to be published in the US by Skyhorse next month. His website is www.beecluff.com
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