Friday, November 19, 2010

Counterinsurgency? It's Whatever Petraeus Wants it to be, including "Shock and Awe"

The WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports that, for the first time, the US is deploying M1 Abrams heavy battle-tanks to Afghanistan, a move that, as he notes, "signals a further escalation in the aggressive tactics that have been employed by American forces this fall to attack the Taliban."  In other words, as one US spokesman put it, the gloves are off.

. . . except that the gloves have been off for awhile now, what with the ramped-up use of Special Ops night raids (which have been tri,pled over the last three months) the demolition of thousands of houses because it "was thought" that they might be booby-trapped, and the use of line-charges to clear minefields.  As for the tanks, as one US officer noted, ""The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower . . . . It's pretty significant."

Gosh, we remember how well the shock and awe used in 2003 eventually turned out, don't we?

And as for those tanks . . . as RC also notes, they bring a couple of downsides: they may suggest that the US is getting desperate, and they will remind the locals of the Soviet occupation of 1979-1989, which featured the employment of similarly frightful firepower.  And we all remember how well that turned out, don't we?  The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans, but in the end, they had to leave, humiliated, their country's resources and prestige bled dry.

General Petraeus, however, is not about to have his "winning streak" snapped in Afghanistan, if he can help it.  Indeed, for me, this report produces a few particularly disgusting insights into the cynicism underlying the whole thing:
  • in the eyes of his acolytes, Petraeus has not abandoned his be-nice-to-the locals COIN doctrine, but is only tweaking  it a little by adding shock and awe to its tool-kit.  In other words, COIN can be redefined however he likes.
  • This very sudden ramping up of the pace of killing "Taliban" by Petraeus is as much a public-relations exercise as anything else.  NATO is meeting, even as I write, to discuss strategy in Afghanistan, and next month, Obama is engaging in a full-fledged review of the US's Afghan expedition.  Petraeus has indeed taken the gloves off in order to stack the deck as much as possible in his favor.
  • The US military notes a nice up-side to dropping 2000-pound bombs, or using mine-clearing line-charges that destroy everything - trees, crops, houses - in their path: By devastating their homes and property, the US forces the locals to travel to the district governor's office to submit a claim for compensation.  This, says a US military officer, is truly a good thing, because "in effect, you're connecting the government to the people."
It's one thing to be cynical.  But can that officer truly be that stupid?  This is the same government that - as all Afghans know - has been wallowing in corruption for years, which is one of the reasons why so many Afghans have turned to the Taliban as a force for stability.

Can we please be clear?  There will be no "winning" in Afghanistan, no "success."  The shock and awe of Abrams tanks will not bring victory; but they will cost the US thousands more of those Afghan hearts and minds that need to be won over if the US is to eventually depart that country with at least a little less ignominy.

No comments:


Blog Archive

Cluster map

Search This Blog

ICAHD - 18,000 Homes Campaign (large banner)