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Saleem Akhtar Malik |

On 7th October 2001, almost a month after the tumultuous bombing of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, U.S. and British troops began striking Afghanistan for harboring the al-Qaida terrorists blamed for the September 11 attacks. The massive air campaign initially targeted Taliban troops, training camps and air defenses.

The air campaign was followed by a full invasion of Afghanistan, also known as the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Its avowed aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.

The United Kingdom was a key ally of the United States, offering support for military action from the start of preparations for the invasion. In August 2003, NATO became involved as an alliance, operating as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The Afghan National Army, it is a lemon –a crowd of pathetic and disgruntled people who have been strapped together to fight for a lost cause.

During the nearly 15 years since the United States went to war in Afghanistan, the number of American troops has dwindled from an all-time high of 100,000 during 2010-11, to 11000 as of August 2017.

To reinforce the US forces, NATO deploys 8400 troops in Afghanistan under the umbrella of Operation Resolute Support – a non-combat mission launched on January 1, 2015 – which provides training, advice, and assistance to Afghan security forces and institutions.

Read more: Is US losing its leverage over Pakistan?

Then, there is the 174000 strong Afghan National Army (ANA). It is under the Ministry of Defense and is largely trained by US-led NATO forces. The ANA is divided into six regional Corps: 201Corps  in Kabul; 203Corps  in Gardez; 205Corps  in Kandahar; 207Corps in Herat; 209Corps in Mazar-i-Sharif; 215Corps   in  Lashkar Gah; and a Commando Corps.

The armour, closely followed by mechanized infantry, attacks, and sweeps across the area, firing with all their weapons.

Why is it that, despite being deployed and engaged in fighting in Afghanistan for such a long time, spending a whopping $1 trillion, and supported by the Coalition troops, the US Army has failed to contain the Afghan resistance led by the Taliban and reinforced by a hodgepodge of splinter and disparate groups? We hear that the Daesh has also set up shop in Afghanistan. There are loud whispers that the Daesh elements have been airlifted to Afghanistan by the USAF from the burning battlefields of Syria and Iraq and then transported to Tora Bora, near the Pak-Afghan border.

A wrong war-fighting concept

In the past, the US Army, after having fought the N.Vietnam backed Viet Cong guerrillas for 20 years (November 1955-April 1975), had to withdraw from S. Vietnam as the South Vietnam Army melted down in the face of the Viet Cong’s final push to Capture Saigon (Now Ho Chi Minh City).

Read more: The US continues to scapegoat Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, even as in S.Vietnam in the past, the American military strategy is based on 1) Controlling the capital and provincial headquarters; 2) Pulverizing the insurgent strongholds and villages through aerial bombardment.3) Over-reliance on mechanized forces to destroy the enemy strongholds; 4) Trying to hold the captured areas with the local troops which are easily overwhelmed by the rebels.

The US forces, like the Soviet Army, are relying heavily on heliborne and mechanized forces which pound the Taliban strongholds from the air

Earlier, the Soviets had also made the same mistakes. Look what they did:

The Soviets had sent their motor rifle divisions into Afghanistan expecting a Hungary or Czechoslovakia like operation, where the Soviet tanks had overawed and swept relatively soft, educated, and pondering type urban populations. However, unlike Eastern Europe, the Soviets did not come across mobs of civilized street agitators in Afghanistan. Instead, they faced battle-hardened fighters who attacked them in small groups and then melted away into the local population.

Contrary to the CIA propaganda, it has been variously reported that the Soviet troops sent into Afghanistan were ill-equipped, poorly trained and improperly fed.  Except for the famed Spetsnaz and recon infantry, they were not sufficiently motivated to take on the Afghan fighter. It had been a long time since WW2 when the Russian soldier would attack his German counterpart with the ferocity of a cornered animal. As against this, the American troops fighting in Afghanistan are well trained and well fed. However, as yet, we cannot comment on their state of motivation and morale.

In the rough terrain of Afghanistan, the Soviet motor rifle divisions were ineffective against small guerrilla groups which used hit and run tactics and did not present a tangible target to the enemy. In mountainous terrain and built-up areas, armor protection and firepower give a false sense of security to the tank crews and infantrymen cloistered inside the APCs/IFVs. Even with a combined armor-infantry attack against a static defense to clear the objective overrun by the tanks, mechanized infantry is of little value unless it dismounts, runs through the minefield, attacks the defender, and overcomes the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting.

Read more: The US failed Afghan policy – Part I

This is what some of the armies trained in mechanized warfare are averse to. Although we occasionally see photos of the US Army troops carrying out foot patrolling, perhaps these are exceptions. American soldiers, in general, feel comfortable in their Humvees.

The Soviets had sent their motor rifle divisions into Afghanistan expecting a Hungary or Czechoslovakia like operation, where the Soviet tanks had overawed and swept relatively educated urban populations.

The US forces, like the Soviet Army, are relying heavily on heliborne and mechanized forces which pound the Taliban strongholds from the air and also try to flush out the guerrillas holding the heights by engaging them with anti-aircraft guns.

Thence, the armor, closely followed by mechanized infantry, attacks and sweeps across the area, firing with all their weapons. Rarely do the mechanized infantry dismount and pursue the enemy into their hideouts where the tanks and IFVs could not go. Resultantly, when the Americans withdraw after a battle, the rebels come out of their sanctuaries and reorganize for fresh attacks.

Read more: Trump’s Afghanistan strategy is simply old wine in a new bottle

Finally, the US forces, after slogging it out in Afghanistan for 15 years, are tired. The insurgents, despite their tunnel vision, are fighting for their survival. What motivation do the US troops have to give their lives in an alien land? As for the Afghan National Army, it is a lemon –a crowd of pathetic and disgruntled people who have been strapped together to fight for a lost cause.

Saleem Akhtar Malik was a Lt Colonel in the Pakistan Army. He holds an honors degree in War Studies, an MBA and an M.Phil in Management Sciences. He is the author of the book Borrowed Power. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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