[Fwd: Afghanistan Strategy]

[Fwd: Afghanistan Strategy]

Post by Aaron R. Kulki » Tue, 02 Oct 2001 05:54:48

Chris Plyman wrote:

> I thought this would interest some of you.  I think some of his ideas about
> how he'd fight the Taliban would not get off the ground -i.e. item 2 about
> assasinations violates presidential directive, and item 6 would offend the
> politically correct in this country, but his insights into the Afghan
> fighter are worth the long read.

> I am assuming this is public domain as I got it in an e-mail from someone
> who got it in an e-mail from someone who presumably also got it that way.

> ------------

> This was written by a West Point grad to members of his class.

> Dear Classmates:

> Many of you are probably not aware that I was one of the last American
> citizens to have spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan. I was first
> there in 1993 providing relief and assistance to refugees along the Tajik
> border and in this capacity have traveled all along the border region
> between the two countries.  In 1998 and 1999 I was the Deputy Program
> Manager for the UN's mine action program in Afghanistan. This program is the
> largest civilian employer in the country with over 5,000 persons clearing
> mines and UXO. In this later capacity, I was somewhat ironically engaged in
> a "Holy War" as decreed by the Taliban, against the evil of land mines, and
> by a special proclamation of Mullah Omar, all those who might have died in
> this effort were considered to "martyrs" even an "infidel" like myself. The
> mine action program is the most respected relief effort in the country and
> because of this I had the opportunity to travel extensively, without too
> much interference or restriction. I still have extensive contacts in the
> area and among the Afghan community and read a great deal on the subject.

> I had wanted to write earlier and share some of my perspectives, but quite
> frankly I have been a bit too popular in DC this past week and have not had
> time. Dr. Tony Kern's comments were excellent and I would like to use them
> as a basis for sharing some observations. First, he is absolutely correct.
> This war is about will, resolve and character. I want to touch on that
> later, but first I want to share some comments about our "enemy." Our enemy
> is not the people of Afghanistan. The country is devastated beyond what most
> of us can imagine. The vast majority of the people live day-to-day, hand to
> mouth in abject conditions of poverty, misery and deprivation. Less than 30%
> of the men are literate, the women even less. The country is exhausted, and
> desperately wants something like peace. They know very little of the world
> at large, and have no access to information or knowledge that would counter
> what they are being told by the Taliban. They have nothing left, nothing
> that is except for their pride.

> Who is our enemy? Well, our enemy is a group of non-Afghans, often referred
> to by the Afghans as "Arabs" and a fanatical group of religious leaders and
> their military cohort, the Taliban. The non-Afghan contingent came from all
> over the Islamic world to fight in the war against the Russians. Many came
> using a covert network created with assistance by our own government. OBL
> (as Osama bin Laden was referred to by us in the country at the time)
> restored this network to bring in more fighters, this time to support the
> Taliban in their civil war against the former Mujehdeen. Over time this
> military support along with financial support has allowed OBL and his
> "Arabs" to co-opt significant government activities and leaders. OBL is the
> "inspector general" of Taliban armed forces, his bodyguards protect senior
> Talib leaders and he has built a system of deep bunkers for the Taliban,
> which were designed to withstand cruise missile strikes (uhm, where did he
> learn to do that?). His forces basically rule the southern city of Kandahar.
> This high-profile presence of OBL and his "Arabs" has, in the last 2 years
> or so, started to generate a great deal of resentment on the part of the
> local Afghans. At the same time the legitimacy of the Taliban regime has
> started to decrease as it has failed to end the war, as local humanitarian
> conditions have worsened and as "cultural" restrictions have become even
> harsher. It is my assessment that most Afghans no longer support the
> Taliban. Indeed the Taliban have recently had a very difficult time getting
> recruits for their forces and have had to rely more and more on non-Afghans,
> either from Pushtun tribes in Pakistan or from OBL. OBL and the Taliban,
> absent any US action were probably on their way to sharing the same fate
> that all other outsiders and outside doctrines have experienced in
> Afghanistan-defeat and dismemberment.

> During the Afghan war with the Soviets much attention was paid to the
> martial prowess of the Afghans. We were all at West Point at the time and
> most of us had high-minded idealistic thoughts about how we would all want
> to go help the brave "freedom fighters" in their struggle against the
> Soviets. Those concepts were naive to the extreme. The Afghans, while never
> conquered as a nation, are not invincible in battle. A "good" Afghan battle
> is one that makes a lot of noise and light. Basic military skills are
> rudimentary and clouded by cultural constraints that no matter what, a
> warrior should never lose his honor. Indeed, firing from the prone is
> considered distasteful (but still done). Traditionally, the Afghan order of
> battle is very feudal in nature, with fighters owing allegiance to a
> "commander" and this person owing allegiance upwards and so on and so on.
> Often such allegiance is secured by payment. And while the Taliban forces
> have changed this somewhat, many of the units in the Taliban army are there
> because they are being paid to be there. All such groups have very strong
> loyalties along ethnic and tribal lines. Again, the concept of having a
> place of "honor" and "respect" is of paramount importance and blood feuds
> between families and tribes can last for generations over a perceived or
> actual slight.

> That is one reason why there were 7 groups of Mujehdeen fighting the
> Russians. It is a very difficult task to form and keep united a large bunch
> of Afghans into a military formation. The "real" stories that have come out
> of the war against the Soviets are very enlightening and a lot different
> from our fantastic visions as cadets. When the first batch of Stingers came
> in and were given to one Mujehdeen group, another group-supposedly on the
> same side, attacked the first group and stole the Stingers, not so much
> because they wanted to use them, but because having them was a matter of
> prestige. Many larger coordinated attacks that advisers tried to conduct
> failed when all the various Afghan fighting groups would give up their
> assigned tasks (such as blocking or overwatch) and instead would join the
> assault group in order to seek glory. In comparison to Vietnam, the
> intensity of combat and the rate of fatalities were lower for all involved.

> As you can tell from above, it is my assessment that these guys are not THAT
> good in a purely military sense and the "Arabs" probably even less so than
> the Afghans. So why is it that they have never been conquered? It goes back
> to Dr. Kern's point about will. During their history the only events that
> have managed to form any semblance of unity among the Afghans, is the desire
> to fight foreign invaders. And in doing this the Afghans have been
> fanatical. The Afghans' greatest military strength is the ability to endure
> hardships that would, in all probability, kill most Americans and enervate
> the resolve of all but the most elite military units. The physical
> difficulties of fighting in Afghanistan, the terrain, the weather and the
> harshness are all weapons that our enemies will use to their advantage and
> use well. (NOTE: For you military planner types and armchair
> generals--around November 1st most road movement is impossible, in part
> because all the roads used by the Russians have been destroyed and air
> movement will be problematic at best). Also, those fighting us are not
> afraid to fight. OBL and others do not think the US has the will or the
> stomach for a fight. Indeed after the absolutely inane missile strikes of
> 1998, the overwhelming consensus was that we were cowards, who would not
> risk one life in face to face combat. Rather than demonstrating our might
> and acting as a deterrent, that action and others of the not so recent past,
> have reinforced the perception that the US does not have any "will" and that
> were are morally and spiritually corrupt. Our challenge is to play to the
> weaknesses of our enemy, notably their propensity for internal struggles,
> the distrust between the extremists/Arabs and the majority of Afghans, their
> limited ability to fight coordinated battles and their lack of external
> support. More importantly though is that we have to take steps not to play
> to their strengths, which would be to unite the entire population against us
> by increasing their suffering or killing innocents, to get bogged down
> trying to hold terrain, or to get into a battle of attrition chasing up and
> down mountain valleys.

> I have been asked how I would fight the war. This is a big question and well
> beyond my pay grade or expertise. And while I do not want to second guess
> current plans or start an academic debate I would share the following from
> what I know about Afghanistan and the Afghans. First, I would give the
> Northern Alliance a big wad of cash so that they can buy off a chunk of the
> Taliban army before winter. Second, also with this cash I would pay some
> guys to kill some of the Taliban leadership making it look like an inside
> job to spread distrust and build on existing discord. Third I would support
> the Northern alliance with military assets, but not take it over or adopt so
> high a profile as to undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of most Afghans.
> Fourth would be to give massive amounts of humanitarian aid and assistance
> to the Afghans in Pakistan in order to demonstrate our goodwill and to give
> these guys a reason to live rather than the choice between dying of
> starvation or dying fighting the "infidel." Fifth, start a series of public
> works projects in areas of the country not under Taliban control (these are
> much more than the press reports) again to demonstrate goodwill and that
> improvements come with peace. Sixth, I would consider vary carefully putting
> any female service members into Afghanistan proper-sorry to the females of
> our class but within that culture a man who allows a women to fight for him
> has zero respect, and we will need respect to gain the cooperation of Afghan
> allies. No Afghan will work with a man who fights with women.

> I would hold off from doing anything too dramatic in the near term, keeping
> a low level of covert action and pressure up over the winter, allowing this
> pressure to force open the fissions around the Taliban that were already
> developing. Expect that they will quickly turn on themselves and on OBL. We
> can pick up the pieces next summer, or the summer after. When we do
> "pick-up" the pieces I would make sure that we do so on the ground, "man to
> man." While I would never want to advocate American causalities, it is
> essential that we communicate to OBL and all others watching that we can and
> will "engage and destroy the enemy in close combat." As mentioned above, we
> should not try to gain or hold terrain, but Infantry operations against the
> enemy are essential. There can be no excuses after the defeat or lingering
> doubts in the minds of our enemies regarding American resolve and nothing,
> nothing will communicate this except for ground combat. And once this is all
> over, unlike in 1989 the US must provide continued long-term economic
> assistance to rebuild the country.

> While I have written too much already, I think it is also important to share
> a few things on the subject of brutality. Our opponents will not abide by
> the Geneva conventions. There will be no prisoners unless there is a chance
> that they can be ransomed or made part of a local prisoner exchange.  During
> the war with the Soviets, videotapes were made of communist prisoners having
> their throats slit. Indeed, there did exist a "trade" in prisoners so that
> souvenir videos could be made by outsiders to take home with them. This
> practice has spread to the Philippines, Bosnia and Chechnya were similar
> videos are being made today and can be found on the web for those so
> inclined. We can expect our soldiers to be treated the same way. Sometime
> during this war I expect that we will see videos of US prisoners having
> their heads cut off. Our enemies will do this not only to demonstrate their
> "strength" to their followers, but also to cause us to overreact, to seek
> wholesale revenge against civilian populations and to turn this into the
> world wide religious war that they desperately want. This will be a test of
> our will and of our character. (For further collaboration of this type of
> activity please read Kipling).

> This will not be a pretty war; it will be a war of wills, of resolve and
> somewhat conversely of compassion and of a character. Towards our enemies,
> we must show a level of ruthlessness that has not been part of our military
> character for a long time. But to those who are not our enemies we must show
> a level of compassion probably unheard of during war. We should do this not
> for humanitarian reasons, even though there are many, but for shrewd
> military logic. For anyone who is still reading this way to long note,
> thanks for your patience. I will try to answer any questions that may arise
> in a more concise manner.

> Thanks, Richard Kidd

Aaron R. Kulkis
Unix Systems Engineer