Skip to comments.US soldiers: Afghan war more challenging than Iraq
Posted on 11/29/2009 8:00:07 AM PST by Saije
Veterans of Iraq recall rolling to war along asphalted highways, sweltering in flat scrublands and chatting with city-wise university graduates connected to the wider world.
Now fighting in Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers invariably encounter illiterate farmers who may never have talked to an American as they slog into remote villages on dirt tracks through bitterly cold, snow-streaked mountains.
"Before deploying here we were given training on language, culture, everything. I thought that since I was an Iraq combat veteran, I didn't need any of that stuff. I was wrong. Both countries may be Muslim but this is a totally different place," says Sgt. Michael McCann, returning from a patrol in the east-central province of Logar.
While their experiences in the two war zones vary, for many soldiers in the field if not policy makers the conflict in Afghanistan is one they think may prove harder and longer to win.
Soldiers and officers involved in combat operations all cite the more punishing geography and climate, those focused on development the bare-bones infrastructure, and intelligence specialists the even greater difficulties in identifying the insurgents as among the many sharp contrasts between Afghanistan and Iraq.
"The sheer terrain of Afghanistan is much more challenging: the mountains, the altitudes, severity of weather, the distances. That wears on an army," says Maj. Joseph Matthews, a battalion operations officer in the 10th Mountain Division. "You can flood Baghdad with soldiers but if you want to flood the mountains you are going to need huge numbers and logistics."
McCann, a military policeman from Enterprise, Ala., says that the highest he ever got during his Iraq tour was a five-story building. In Afghanistan, troops routinely cross passes 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) and higher...
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Interesting article. Thanks for posting.
True. 10,000 feet would be roughly 700 WTC stories. Or about 140x higher.
140x higher than the typical building in Iraq, that is.
Other articles by Denis D. Gray...
They said Iraq was unwinnable and that Afghanistan was where the real war was and that we could win it by giving it more resources instead of diverting them to Iraq.
I suspect it's not so much lack of skill as inferior logistics. Iraqi insurgents could use the roads to get around quickly, just like Americans. In Afghanistan, they're restricted to getting around at 15 miles per hour on the crappy roads, where there are roads, and hiking where there are none, which is most of the time. Bottom line, the disparity in logistical capability between US forces and local insurgents is far greater in Afghanistan than in Iraq. This translates to a lower operating tempo in Afghanistan, since it's a lot harder for Afghans insurgents to flee before air assets can be called up, and insurgents must plan attacks of much shorter duration to allow themselves time to get away.
Not only that, the Afghans have no education, no loyaltys to anyone. It’s been said they don’t even care about family, friends or anyone that can’t give them a bigger gun. How do you train an Afghan army like that and is it worth the trouble? It seems that we are attempting to train a whole new civilization but nobody is talking about it.
Also, because of the huge disparity in income between Iraq and Afghanistan, I expect insurgency in Afghanistan to be a lot more difficult to sustain without significant outside funding. How can you extort enough from the locals to support an insurgency when they're barely able to feed themselves? Annual per capita GDP in Iraq is $3,000, whereas in Afghanistan, it's only $400. We have higher logistical costs because everything has to be airlifted. But so do they, since everything they transport is subject to air strikes once it enters Afghanistan.
The first thing to do is understand the difference between a citizen and a tribesman. In tribal societies there is no division of labor. They all live primitive subsistence agrarian lives. However they are not farmers. The occupation of a tribesman is warrior. Farming and herding is generally done by women and children. The men are fighters, and their ambition is to live up to the feats of their ancestors as warriors.
The largest group of tribes are the Pashtuns, and there are 42 million of them spread accross Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. They don't care about borders, or central governments, and will resist any attempt on central control. However they are not united politically, and that's the key. Some support the Taliban, many hate the Taliban, and most probably just want to get by and don't care one way or the other.
Tribesmen may not care about education, beyond what they need for their traditional lifestyle. They want to learn about modern weapons, but that's about it. They do understand about accommodating a more powerful tribe (be it the US Marines or the Taliban), and they understand making deals. That's the key to winning. We need to accept that they won't be controlled by the government, and use the technique the British used to control tribal societies around the world, divide and conquer (except we don't really want to conquer; call it divide and control).
I read an article last week that independent tribal militia are springing up around the country to resist Taliban control, and that we are starting to help them. Frankly that's the best news I have heard from there in a long time. I hope the Obama crew don't blow it by insisting that they not be “corrupt”. Everyone there is “corrupt” by our standards.
I also hope we don't make the mistake of attacking opium growing. Recently a DEA helicopter was shot down there, and I have heard government officials begin to refer to the Taliban as narco-terrorists. If we turn the DEA loose and try to treat Afghanistan like Columbia, and take away their only cash crop, we will unite every tribe against us. What we should do is tell the tribal leaders we will pay them a higher price for their opium than the Taliban is currently paying, but from now on they sell only to us (we can destroy it or make legal pharmaceuticals, whatever). If they sell to the Taliban, we will kill them. The PC bunch won't like that, but we can't win and be PC. Otherwise the Taliban will simply force them to sell to them, or they will kill them. They need to be more afraid of us than the Taliban, and also get a better deal.
Anyway, that's my thought on the situation, incomplete as they may be. I don't think we can win any other way, and I have a hard time supporting sending more troops if our strategy won't work.
We shouldn't feel too superior, many of our country men are utterly convince their cars can kill polar bears.
Where there is a will, there is a way.