Sunday, December 26, 2004

War News for Sunday, December 26, 2004 Bring ‘em on: Iraqi police colonel assassinated in Baghdad. Bring ‘em on: Three Iraqis killed in car bomb attack against US convoy in Najaf. Bring ‘em on: Five Iraqis killed by roadside bomb near Samarra. Bring ‘em on: Muslim scholar killed in US raid in Baghdad. Bring ‘em on: ING convoy ambushed in Mosul. Bring ‘em on: US troops wounded in car bomb attack near Beiji. Commentary Editorial: “If Rumsfeld's assessment of the war's duration is correct, all Americans must accept the reality of their husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers not coming home. At the very least, the president and Rumsfeld, the chief architect of this war, need to be more truthful about what's going on in Iraq. A war that had overwhelming support among Americans just a year ago is now widely unpopular. A majority of those surveyed think it was a mistake, and that number is growing with each casualty report. No, there isn't an easy way out. This is going to be very painful, for a long time.” Opinion: “In a war against insurgents, you cannot always tell a combatant from a noncombatant, which is one reason for the confusion about the number of civilian victims in Iraq. Most guesses range between 10,000 and 20,000, though other estimates run much higher. The British medical journal Lancet recently suggested the total may be close to 100,000. Remember, though, that almost half the population of Iraq is 18 years old or younger. Whatever the overall number of civilian casualties turns out to be, it will include an awful lot of children.” Opinion: “We have made a disaster in Iraq. We cannot escape from all of its consequences. But the human consequences of staying—the Iraqi civilians we will kill, the young American men and women alive this minute who will die or be maimed in body or mind—are worse than the political consequences of withdrawing. In any case, the political consequences are notional, as weighed against the certainty of death, suffering, and grief. In our own eyes, our prestige diminished after we withdrew from Vietnam, but our international position was not weakened. Asked for the hundredth time why we were in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson, according to Arthur Goldberg, his U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, "unzipped his fly, drew out his substantial organ, and declared, 'This is why!'" In Iraq as in Vietnam, at risk is not America's prestige but the President's. No one should have to die to save George W. Bush's face.” Opinion: “One must support the troops, I am told. I certainly support the troops the best way possible: Bring them home, get them out of a war for which the planning was inadequate, the training nonexistent, the goal obscure, and the equipment and especially the armor for their vehicles inferior. They are brave men and women who believe they are fighting to defend their country and have become sitting ducks for fanatics. Those who die are the victims of the big lie. They believe that they are fighting to prevent another terror attack on the United States. They are not the war criminals. The ‘Vulcans,’ as the Bush foreign policy team calls itself, are the criminals, and they ought to face indictment as war criminals.” Thanks to alert reader bob for posting this link. Analysis: “What puzzled many of us who had listened to Shinseki was the contrast between his emphasis on careful military planning and how shortsighted the administration was in preparing for the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. Before the war, Shinseki's Army planners were not once consulted by Rumsfeld's office. The State Department's planning proposal for postwar Iraq was similarly ignored by the administration. It was a case of an outside group of civilian neoconservatives moving into the Pentagon and arrogantly taking over the military. Heedless of any advice to the contrary, Rumsfeld's ‘shock and awe’ attack gained an apparent quick victory at the cost of postwar policy. Some 20 months after the fall of Baghdad, Iraq remains in pieces, with anti-American fervor strong and our military victory tarnished by a stubborn insurgency and the needless brutalities at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. If this is what Rumsfeld's idea of ‘transformation’ has brought us, it's a pity we didn't try Shinseki's.” Casualty Reports Local story: Virginia soldier wounded in Iraq. Local story: Wyoming soldier wounded in Iraq. Local story: Florida airman wounded in Iraq. Rant of the Day I’ve never heard of this writer before I read this piece in today’s LA Times. The author, Mark Kramer of Harvard University, argues that the Soviets almost “won” the Soviet-Afghan War, and a decisive military victory was within reach of the Red Army but for the Gorbachev’s lack of will to pursue the war.
“The announcement in 1988 by then-Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan within a year was a political and diplomatic decision, not a military one. The ‘bleeding wound’ that Gorbachev described was not primarily Russian but Afghan. During the nine years of fighting, more than 2.5 million Afghans (mostly civilians) were killed or maimed; millions more were displaced or forced into exile. By contrast, 14,453 Soviet troops were killed, an average of 1,600 a year. This was not a trivial number, but certainly sustainable for the Soviet army, which numbered more than 4 million.”
Sound familiar? To me, this sounds remarkably similar to the revisionist historians at conservative think tanks who crunch numbers and conclude that Vietnam was a “winnable” conflict but for the lack of will on the part of American political leaders. Worse, there’s something morally bankrupt when you compare combatant and non-combatant casualty rates and conclude this kind of attrition was “sustainable.” And it only gets worse.
“When Soviet generals shifted, in mid-1983, to a counterinsurgency strategy of scorched-earth tactics and the use of heavily armed special operations forces, their progress against the guerrillas accelerated. Over the next few years, the Soviets increased their control of Afghanistan, inflicting many casualties — guerrilla and civilian. Had it not been for the immense support — weapons, training, materials — provided to the Afghan guerrillas by the United States, Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan, Soviet troops would have achieved outright victory.”
“Scorched earth” is a viable counterinsurgency strategy? Well, I suppose that’s how the Romans nipped that nasty Carthaginian insurgency in the bud. But isn’t this policy counter-productive if your objective is something other than a semi-genocidal suppression of a hostile population? The author certainly suggests America has a loftier purpose in Iraq as he applies the lessons of the Soviet-Afghan War to the American occupation of Iraq:
“What relevance does the Soviet-Afghan war have for U.S. military operations in Iraq? Very little. Soviet troops did not invade and occupy Afghanistan to oust a brutal dictator or promote democratic elections. They simply aimed to install a friendly communist regime in Kabul. The number of Soviet troops never exceeded 120,000 at any time, but they eventually laid waste to the entire country.”
First he says the Soviet experience in Afghanistan has “very little” relevance, but then he tells us:
“The Soviet-Afghan war's main relevance to the U.S. campaign in Iraq is operational. The Soviet experience underscored the crucial importance of intelligence in fighting an insurgency, an advantage the U.S. continues to lack in Iraq. It also highlighted the enormous potential of attack and transport helicopters that can strike deep in enemy territory, and it reaffirmed the value of small, flexible units of heavily armed special operations forces that are capable of carrying out rapid strikes. Most important, the Soviet war demonstrated that the Afghan guerrillas were not invincible and that well-designed counterinsurgency operations can inflict grave damage on, and spread turmoil among, the enemy.”
It seems to me that the Soviets inflicted far more damage and turmoil on the civilian population than on the Afghan mujahadeen. This next piece also seems misleading:
“When the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan in February 1989, the situation on the ground was relatively favorable to Moscow, in part because the Soviet air force conducted sustained bombing raids to cover the withdrawal. Aided by huge inflows of Soviet weaponry, Kabul's staunchly pro-Soviet regime led by President Najibullah remained in power for the next three years. The regime's durability represented a notable success for the Soviet war effort. Only after the Soviet Union collapsed and the new Russian government cut off military aid to Afghanistan did Najibullah fall.”
Until the Kabul fell to the Taliban, Najibullah’s regime controlled a steadily shrinking perimeter of Afghan territory until only Kabul remained in government hands. The rest of the country was controlled by insurgents, Taliban forces or murderous warlords. I hope I’m confused. I hope I’ve misread the author’s intent. I hope he isn’t suggesting that a noble end justifies a dastardly means. Because if that’s his point, the man’s a fool teaching foolishness to a generation of America’s future leaders. Any enterprise, however noble, will end in disaster if you hope to achieve it with evil means.


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