Sunday, November 29, 2009

In the heated debate about Afghanistan, it is hard to proffer criticism without appearing destructive, rather than constructive. Accordingly, delving into some important historical military precepts may be only course to grasp the situation.

This conflict really is a narco-guerrilla irregular war requiring special and custom elements, not a mislabeled “anti-terrorist or unconventional” fight in which conventional forces as such can be used.

This imbroglio involves ideological, religious and dark-side capitalistic functions by the opposition that distort ordinary approaches.

As we go into the ninth year of combat for America in this environment, but almost the 30th year of continuous war for the opponents, we must realize a victory is elusive, if we can even define it. It is important to note, that while we have groped for advantage,the antagonists have used their tried methods that vanquished the Soviets and earlier the British.

Sun Tzu, the warrior philosopher of 450 B.C., designed edicts in the “Art of War” that paved the way to subdue enemies using logic. In 1812, Karl von Clausewitz’s “Principles of War,” had a few concepts amid conventional instructions that buttressed Sun Tzu’s thoughts, especially the comments on its conduct.

Lastly, in the contemporary sense, the late Robert S. McNamara’s recent reflections on the Vietnam War in his book “Fog of War” highlighted our mistakes there, which are eerily germane in our current efforts. All these aforementioned sources’ instructions to successful combat are being violated in substantial ways, clearly the fault of our past and present military and civilian leadership, resulting in extraordinary tolls. Just Sun Tzu alone, over a tenth of his “chess like” concepts are ignored in favor of ad hoc, “football-like” plays.

Concepts like “surges” and retooling Army doctrinal manuals may lend to temporarily suppressing turmoil while applying these ploys, yet still leave countries like Iraq in play as the tide ebbs, and no closer to stability, much less democracy.

In the wars in El Salvador and later in narco-Colombia, our small-resources advisory groups emphasized brains over brawn, as irregular conflicts are about getting the adversary to quit. There we emulated the model Col. Edward Lansdale used in the Philippines in the late 1940s and early ‘50s against communist insurgents. His emphasis on starting out with socioeconomic, political and security integration was a winner.

A full spectrum approach that was heavy on psychological and civic action, in addition to very surgical combat, saved lives on both sides.

Unfortunately, ideas like this about irregular warfare are not emphasized enough at West Point and the military service schools, resulting in the default logic and pursuit of heavy-handed cumbersome artillery, tank and conventional Infantry efforts against nimble insurgents, once again.

Put another way, it is about quality of effort, not quantity, or brains over brawn. Hence 40,000 more mainly conventional soldiers, with fewer than 3,500 being “trigger-pullers” and the rest mainly support forces, is wholly inadequate for even the security aspects of the task facing us.

Considering the deployment of 10,000, primarily as trainers, in another plan, who would speak to the local population through interpreters, is comparable to blowing up a balloon and leaving the opening unbound.

Sending more contractors and conventional troops half-way around the world, most of them not language-qualified or area-oriented, into a region of disjointed tribes, drug lords and pseudo-democratic leaders hiding in their few cities, is folly. One must turn to other effective and less costly methods such as a modified Israeli model. This would be an intelligence-based, “reach out and touch someone” operation from mainly outside Afghan borders.

Expanding the Satellite and Predator programs in the intelligence program, and reducing action units to all but specialized and coordinated CIA and Special Forces, who occasionally work with vetted indigenous units, is a must. As in Colombia, the drug issue must be taken on to deny the bad guys money, thus tangentially reducing corruption on “our” side.

Spraying plant-specific and environmentally benign chemicals on poppy fields with drones, then crop substitution, micro-industry and neutral medical and education assistance through regional surrogates would be the Afghan’s life ring. Americans would not be hefting the bulk of the load and focused mainly on security. This will reduce violence in many ways in the long run.

Having spent an estimated $1trillion plus and more than 5,000 lives in the combined Iraq and Afghan conflicts, it is time to reorient our efforts to listen to the sage advisers from history.

Given that our economy is still faltering, and we get less than 25 percent of moneys expended on these efforts back into America, finding more means of defense and power projection will keep us from losing valued lives, treasure and influence. Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and the latest McNamara principles are not being followed. Not listening to them would contribute to our demise.

F. Andy Messing is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces major and founder of the National Defense Council Foundation in Alexandria. Kevin Dobiles is a research assistant at the foundation.

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