Skip to comments.The Wisdom of General Crook
Posted on 11/25/2006 3:52:09 AM PST by Cannoneer No. 4
For the next few months, Afghan and NATO troops will be out in the snow and bad weather, raiding villages where Taliban are hunkered down for the Winter. For U.S. troops, this is a 19th century tactic, pioneered by American General George Crook, to defeat the hostile tribes on the Great Plains. For the last four years, many American commanders have been trying to emulate Crook in other ways as well.
During the height of the Indian Wars in the American west, one of the most successful American commanders was General George Crook. He was an original thinker who used a combination of imagination and diplomacy to bring the wars to an end with a minimum of bloodshed. Crook's job was to pacify the tribes that still raided (as a form of sport or retribution for slights real or imagined) Indians and non-Indians alike. Crook also had to move tribes to reservations, or force them back there. But the main task of General Crook's troops was to keep the peace on a still turbulent frontier. Faced with the possibility of operating in Afghanistan, a rugged area populated by less well equipped, but more rugged and robust locals, it's a good idea to look back at how General Crook handled a similar situation.
First, General Crook saw diplomacy as his primary weapon. The Indians knew he had a more powerful military force, but they also knew Crook could be trusted. Crook used this trust, and his negotiating skills, to carry out American policies that he often didn't agree with. But Crook was also eager to avoid violence as much as possible. He was not a bloody minded soldier, and he realized that a reputation for senseless violence would make many of the tribes resist more stoutly and refuse to negotiate. Crook would recognize a similar situation in Afghanistan today. There is more to lose and little to gain by using a lot of fire power. You have to convince the Afghans that you do have the firepower, and can use it, but will only do so when there really is no other choice.
Using Indians to fight Indians was another technique Crook used a lot. First, he hired a lot of Indians as scouts. This made a lot of sense, as many of his troops were from back east and didn't know the local terrain, languages and customs. Crook saw to it that the scouts were treated well, for the scouts were usually recruited from weaker tribes that had a beef with the stronger tribes. The smaller tribes were usually easier to negotiate deals with. The larger tribes would often fight and Crook needed the scouts, and Indian allies (who sometimes fought for him). Same situation in Afghanistan.
Many of the Afghan tribes and ethnic groups (Pushtuns versus everyone else) don't like each other very much. The government has gotten a number of tribes to become friendly, and some of those that now support the Taliban do it either because of existing disagreements with the government, or other tribes, or because the Taliban are successful in using terror.
Crook also showed a lot of innovation on the battlefield. While "asymmetric" warfare is a hot item today, it was a common tool for General Crook. Asymmetric means using weapons and techniques that the enemy cannot easily deal with. For the Afghans, this means knowing the terrain better and being more capable of moving across the hills and mountains. Crook had the same problem, in that the tribes knew their backyard better and their grass fed ponies could move faster than his cavalry (which depended on supplies of grain to feed his larger horses.) But Crook also realized that in the winter the Indians had to settle in to survive the bad weather, and their ponies were forced to survive as best they could (and many didn't). Crook could move around in the Winter, by using many horses to carry supplies. While Crook's force was small and tied to their supplies, the Indians could hardly move at all, and usually succumbed to Crook's offer of bullets or bread. Protecting their families was always a top priority for the Indians and Crook would also, during Summer campaigns, strive to capture the women and children of a rebellious tribe. This improved his negotiating position immensely.
One can only speculate what General Crook would do in Afghanistan today, but he would likely cut deals with Afghans willing to deal. And there are always some Afghans willing to deal. Crook would look at the forces available to him and try to use his advantages (reconnaissance and air transport.) To succeed in Afghanistan, think like Crook.
We have been in Afghanistan for 5 years now. We should have some fluent Pashto speakers capable of leading psuedo-gangs and long range reconnaisance patrols into Waziristan. The Afghan National Army should have by now at least a battalion of decent light infantry capable of serving as a mobile strike force.
A winter campaign in the Hindu Kush will be hard school for an American soldier, but with the proper leadership they can rise to that challenge, and maybe bring in the heads of some HVT's and turn the pessimism and defeatism of the American public around.
But I wonder if one can reasonably factor in the fanatacism of these Taliban and AQ thugs.
But overall it seems sound. Pacify the ones you can. Kill the ones you can't.
Geronimo (left center) at Meeting with General Crook (second from right, seated) in 1886
If you want to get a little of Gen. Crook...he's a figure in the historical novel, A Distant Trumpet by Paul Horgan. This is an excellent story of the s.w. Indian wars...honor and Army life, and so forth....
What the old saying?All I want is results. We have been playing games too long and the credability of the U.S. is going up in flames and the Democrats don't help.
The Moros in Mindanao were fanatical. Still are. Pershing whipped them so bad they didn't rise again for 40 years. In the case of the Pashtuns, most are not suicidally fanatic Islamic jihadis, but most ARE really into revenge and hospitality and other tenets of the Pathan Code, which the Arab al Qaeda jihadis manipulate to their benefit.
For an excellent read of Crook in Arizona I would suggest On the Border with General Crook by John, G. Bourke who was his aide during this period. The neat thing is it was written by someone who was there and taking part in the decisions and actions.
I wonder if the logic breaks down here:
The American Indian knew they were outnumbered by the white population. "White man is like the buffalo -- endless numbers".
The Islamist believes Muslims outnumber (or soon shall, "god" willing)the Infidels. They will fight on.
No strategy will defeat the Islamists. All we can do is hope to manage them. Even a "scorched earth", "glass parking lot" policy won't defeat them. They are with us until the end times.
In the line of work I do, I have said that "I'm in this fight until the last terrorist is reduced to a puff of pink mist". And I know I'll still be saying that when I'm 89, should the Lord tarry.
George Crook's pack mules easily carried twice the load the army manual stipulated because he allowed only the best equipment to be used, and each pack saddle was tailored to fit each mule. He often spent an hour a day with the men and the mules, demonstrating scientific packing and how to check on the physical health of the mules. Therefore, Crook's troopers always had the ammunition they needed and his mule trains never failed in an emergency.
Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics.
The point is that even if your strategy and tactics are sound, they are meaningless if the government does not support them.
They can be defeated. They have been defeated before. If they are not defeated this time, it will be because Western Christendom surrendered.
General Crook's historical example has some application against hostile Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Waziristan. Success there will not end the Global War On Terror, but it wouldn't suck.
Now your excerpt about the pack mules reminds me of something else:
The differences between Scott's and Amundsen's preparations for their South Pole expeditions, and...the VERY different outcomes.
Scott did not use the best animals for that hostile climate, and suffered terribly.
Amundsen chose the right pack animals - the dogs, I think...the particular names escape me! - and made history.
so in a different way, that story bears out your thesis Cannoneer...
Thanks for the tile, engrpat. I'll find it.
My quibble is , and horse lovers will agree, that the author's assertion that small grass fed ponies are "faster" then shod, grain fed horses is simply contrary to fact. Whether by, "fast" the author means actually quicker in the run or simply being possessed of more endurance, a shod, grain fed horse will surpass a grass fed pony, all things being equal. And this is true summer or winter, although in winter the pony would need more grass for heat when little is available and have very little extra energy stored up to spare for exertions, and in summer, although grass would be more plentiful, the campaigning presumably harder.
In fact in my reading of the Indian wars it was the ultimate superiority of the Army horses that gave the cavalry a great advantage and that superiority was expressly attributable to these factors. I note that the author does not explicitly make the case that Miles was tied to his supply tail while the Indians were not. But this is a different argument.
An unshod horse will break down in hard riding over rough country long before a shod horse and he will play out sooner than the grain fed horse. You simply can not get uninterrupted hard work out of the grass fed horse for days on end. There simply is not enough energy in the grass. The horse would have to spend the bulk of the day grazing to accumulate enough energy to make up for yesterday's exertions as well as tomorrow's. I would further assume that in campaigning, the Indians would be unable to bring with them a herd of replacement horses.
I always thought it was Sheridan's idea.
We have to be willing to wield other weapons that truly destroyed the Indian culture:
1. Promise one thing and do another, which is difficult in our PC days.
2. Spread smallpox and other such diseases to the Taliban.
3. Kill their means of support - poppies, goat herds, etc.
4. Place Taliban on remote reservations without means of support so they are dependent upon us.
I believe we can take the same approach with the tribes in iraq.
The date 1886 is cited here. I think that means that Indian wars had already been going on for 300 years. Lets say that resettlement to reservations had been going on since Jefferson was president. Our problem with Iraq is unrealistic magic thinking and impatience. Or, is it just ambitious democrats?
There weren't no Left wing TV taking the side of them indians in those olden days
But I wonder if one can reasonably factor in the fanatacism of the "Let's Hate America" press?
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