The plan for victory in Afghanistan is simple and sure:
- stabilizing the country by garrisoning the main routes, major cities, airbases and logistics sites;
- relieving the Afghan government forces of garrison duties and pushing them into the countryside to battle the resistance;
- providing logistic, air, artillery and intelligence support to the Afghan forces;
- providing minimum interface between our occupation forces and the local populace;
- accepting minimal casualties to our forces; and,
- strengthening the Afghan forces, so once the resistance was defeated, our forces can be withdrawn.
How can this plan fail? But it did. This is from “The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan“, Mohammad Yahya Nawroz (General, Army of Afghanistan, retired) and Lester W. Grau (Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, retired), Military Review, September-October 1995 — with the US substituted for Russia. Hat tip on this article to Moon Over Alabama.
This is a fascinating article on many levels. Perhaps most strikingly it illustrates how the discussion of COIN mostly serves to disguise the reality of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — their continuity with previous insurgencies against foreign occupiers since WWII. Our in Vietnam, Russia in Afghanistan, and all the others (almost all unsuccessful).
In fact we have in fact largely ignored COIN theory. It’s a “good American” construct that hides the nasty forceful actions by which modern armies fight insurgencies (as described by Chet Richards (Editor of DNI and Colonel, USAF, retired):
- massive firepower on civilian areas,
- search-and-destroy sweeps, and
- funding Popular Force militias.
In Iraq the first (e.g., use of airpower and artillery) seldom appeared in the US press. The 2nd did, but only gently described. The 3rd was described in glowing terms, a surge of ground-level patriotism – as in the ”Sons of Iraq”. Needless to say, the media describes private militia in America using starkly different terms.
Another excerpt from the Nawroz-Grau article
Articles like this provide a mirror in which we can see ourselves, placing our actions in a global and historical context. We need such a mirror, as our belief in American exceptionalism tends to blind us. I recommend reading this in full.
The initial strategic concept, operations plans and tactical methods used by the Soviet military in Afghanistan did not markedly differ from what they — or any strong, modern army-would have undertaken anywhere else in the world.
- Massive firepower delivered from fixed-winged aircraft, helicopters, artillery, rocket launchers and tanks preceded all advances.
- Tanks and armored vehicles would cautiously start moving only after their commanders were convinced that no functioning enemy weapons remained in the zone of advance.
- The Soviet force would then overrun the contested area, firing indiscriminately at any moving object or even just into the air until they were satisfied that their mission was achieved.
Initially, the Soviets considered close combat by dismounted infantry and mopping up actions superfluous since they felt that the huge expenditure of heavy artillery and rocket shells combined with the bombing and strafing by their fighter bombers had either destroyed their hungry, naive and miserably-equipped opponents or panicked them into permanent exile in Pakistan or Iran.
In fact, the Afghan freedom fighter came from a traditional warrior society and proved highly resourceful in fighting the Soviets. They saw no point in remaining under aerial and artillery barrages or in facing overwhelming odds and firepower. They were adept at temporarily withdrawing from Soviet strike areas and then returning in hours, days or weeks to strike the enemy where he was exposed. Over time, the mujahideen morale grew, and they became better equipped with modern weapons taken from the demoralized Afghan Army soldiers or acquired from across the national border.
The harsh and inhospitable land and the deadly treatment that the Soviets received from the people in towns and countryside gradually effected the Soviet soldiers’ psyche, and the indoctrination they had been subject to during their training soon melted away as they increasingly faced the grim realities of the real war. They realized that they were not fighting this brutal war against the imperialists of America and China, but they were set to destroy a poor but proud nation which was only defending their faith, freedom and way of life.
Several stark realities place the Afghan War in proper perspective and permit its proper assessment in the context of Soviet military, political, and social development.
First, although violent and destructive, the war was limited and protracted.
Its tempo and decisiveness did not match that of the series of short Arab-Israeli wars which scarred the Cold War years. It lacked the well-defined, large-scale military operations of the Korean War and the well-defined political arrangements that terminated that war.
It also differed significantly from the oft-compared US war in Vietnam. In Vietnam, American military strength rose to over 500,000 troops and the Americans resorted to many divisional and multi-divisional operations. By comparison, in Afghanistan, a region five times the size of Vietnam, Soviet strength varied from 90-104,000 troops. The Soviet’s four divisions, five separate brigades and three separate regiments, and smaller support units of 40th Army strained to provide security for the 29 provincial centers and few industrial and economic installations and were hard-pressed to extend this security to the thousands of villages, hundred of miles of communications routes, and key terrain features that punctuated and spanned that vast region.
Second, burdened with a military doctrine … suited to a European or Chinese theater of war, the Soviet Army was hard pressed to devise military methodologies suited to deal with the Afghan guerrillas.
The Soviets first formulated new concepts for waging war in non-linear fashion, suited to operating on battlefields dominated by more lethal high-precision weapons. This new non-linear battlefield required the abandonment of traditional operational and tactical formations, a redefinition of traditional echelonment concepts, and a wholesale reorganization of formations and units to emphasize combat flexibility and, hence, survivability.
During the early and mid-1980s, the Soviet military altered its concept of the theater-strategic offensive, developed new concepts for shallower echelonment at all levels, developed the concept of the air echelon, experimented with new force structures such as the corps, brigade, and combined arms battalion, tested new more- flexible logistical support concepts (for materiel support), and adopted such innovative tactical techniques as the use of the bronegruppa [armored group]. Afghanistan not only provided a test bed for many of these lower-level concepts, but it also demanded the employment of imaginative new techniques in its own right. Hence, the brigade, the materiel support battalion, and the bronegruppa emerged on the Afghan field of battle, Spetsnaz units sharpened their skills, and air assault techniques were widely employed.
Third, the inability of the Soviet military to win the war decisively condemned it to suffer a slow bloodletting, in a process that exposed the very weaknesses of the military as well as the Soviet political structure and society.
Ideologically, the Soviet leadership was unable to come to grips with war in Afghanistan. Marxist-Leninist dogma did not allow for a “war of national liberation” where people would fight against a Marxist regime. So, initially the press carried pictures of happy Soviet soldiers building orphanages–and did not mention that they were also engaged in combat and filling those very orphanages.
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
- About America’s national defence strategy and machinery
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles
- About Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – studies & reports
Posts about our wars in Afghanistan:
- Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
- Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008 — George Friedman of Statfor on the Afghanistan War.
- Another perspective on Afghanistan, a reply to George Friedman, 27 February 2008
- How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
- Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s?, 26 April 2008
- A powerful weapon, at the sight of which we should tremble and our enemies rejoice, 2 June 2008
- Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War, 8 June 2008
- The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
- Stratfor says that our war in Pakistan grows hotter; Palin seems OK with that, 12 September 2008
- Pakistan warns America about their borders, and their sovereignty, 14 September 2008
- Weekend reading about … foreign affairs, 19 October 2008
- “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009
- America sends forth its privateers to pillage, bold corsairs stealing from you and I, 9 February 2009
- New bases in Afghanistan – more outposts of America’s Empire, 21 May 2009