Monday 27 October 2014

Some day this war is gonna end ...

The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled victory!
 Someday this war's gonna end...

The UK forces in Afghanistan pulled out today. Didn't smell much like victory. Despite a few commentators and some military PR types telling us it was worthwhile. It didn't much look like it.
The helicopters packed up the troops and everyone flew away. As quietly as possible with some fear of a surprise attack.

If it really had been a victory don't you think there would have been a big parade? The victorious free world leaders holding a handing over of the keys press conference and saying "Here you are..It was a dump when we got here. But we fixed it up for you..and its all yours. Welcome to democracy."

 And sadly, this was probably a winnable conflict Also a necessary one. The United States could not just sit by while 3000 of its citizens had been murdered. If the Taliban would not/could not hand over Bin Laden, then the US and its Nato allies had to go and get him.
 It was always going to be tough to make a success of Afghanistan but it was at least possible. It was the Iraq adventure that doomed Afghanistan.

Despite the protestations of Iraq/Afghanistan being nothing like Vietnam, both are very like that conflict. The military invade with overwhelming force. They carry out successful attacks on the enemy and occupy the country. But they have not the forces to do much more than police the occupation zones and soon the country becomes an insurgency. The conflict spills over the borders into neighbouring states.Enemy nations supply arms and equipment to the insurgents. Pacification programs are met by terror attacks. The population does not back the corrupt national government that cannot excercise power beyond the capitol city. Warlords rule regions and have to be placated, bribed or cowed into supporting the invader. Casualties mount in a conflict that seems to have no end. At home the public lose support for the conflict and domestic opinion demands an end. 
The mission goals become lost and a never ending war, in which it is neither possible to win, or to leave takes over. Many years later its finally accepted that goal should just be to get out, intact, and without the place toppling over the next day.

 In Vietnam in the 1970s, the United States trained up the South Vietnam army. They gave them very considerable military equipment. And left air assets far in excess of anything their opponents had. 
But when the North Vietnamese army decided to invade South Vietnam the South's Army ran away. Or was bribed. Or was just crushed by better led and better motivated forces. 
Despite a decade long involvement. Hundreds of thousands of troops committed. Billions of $ spent and tens of thousands of US troops killed, the American's and their allies never went back to Vietnam help. Once the boots were off the ground there was little military and zero domestic or political will to restart the conflict.

Once Camp Bastion is finally closed, British regular forces are never going back. Whatever happens to the Afghan army we helped train. Or the political systems we helped put in place. Or the liberal attitudes we helped to foster, we aren't going back. 

The new ISIS can't be far away.


Electro-Kevin said...

The first actions against the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Afghanistan were highly successful and that's as far as a punitive military action should have gone (except for hunting down Bin Laden.)

The American people would have been satisfied with this reply to 9/11, so long as decent explanations had been issued from Washington about it.

In the event Bin Laden was found in Pakistan and the participants in 9/11 were Saudis.

Let's hope the next atrocity on American soil isn't plotted in Londonistan, which is not so far fetched these days.

Wildgoose said...

Exactly as E-K says.

We should not be getting directly involved in Islamic Civil Wars, just making it clear that there will be a heavy-handed response to any attempt to drag us into them.

dearieme said...

The problem with acting as the USA's lapdog is that since the Second World War it has not won any war that lasts longer than one battle.

Nick Drew said...


Anonymous said...

The West fucked up in Afghanistan long before the invasion, it speaks loudly of the US when Charlie Wilson was able to drum up billions to get the Russians kicked out, but when seeking to invest in a bit of nation building after the Russians left, tails tucked between legs, got absolutely nowhere.

So in went the fundies to make it a haven for nutters like the Taliban, and, well, 9/11 was the outcome of that particular bit of lack of foresight.

Give it another 15 years and we'll be rolling back in. And we'll still fuck it up.

The problem isn't so much Afghanistan itself, but Western politicians not being able to grasp the concept of decentralized power, which given the various groups and the terrain of the place, is what you need to succeed. A bunch of quasi-independent states under a unified banner, you'd think the US may have heard of such a thing...

Jan said...

It took at least 1000 years for our "democracy" in the UK to evolve and it's a mistake to think we can impose it elsewhere. In centuries past this country was a bloody place with many conflicts. It is arrogant of the west to think they/we can intervene abroad.

DtP said...

Jeez - I can remember the neo-con diatribe of liberal interventionism coupled with state building get the drift.

Maybe someone, in the bowels of the MoD or FCO knew what was gonna happen and simply thought 'fuck it'. It's all very well harking back to 9/11 or the shift to Saddam's WMD but, let's face it, that was all total bollox. As mentioned, Afghanistan only harboured some of the Talimen but the funding was distinctly Saudi - wrong 'enemy' surely.

I dunno - may be it was a success - it kept the theatre there, opportunity cost and the like and who knows what the alternative fuck ups available were. I keep on expecting a strontium bomb in Trafalgar Square but I guess we can do with smallpox. All good fun, ya know, for young Tommy Atkins, can play volleyball with Prince Harry now he's lost his legs while the smack supply goes through the roof.

It's proper tin foil hat territory.

DtP said...

ps. and the Michael Fallon 'swanped' mis-speak - couldn't have come directly from our Antipodean chum could it? All a bit convenient what what.

Bill Quango MP said...

Two questions then

1.. Does anyone think we should NOT have invaded Taliban dominated Afghanistan in part of the Nato commitment to attacks on America?

2..Does anyone think we should we have regular forces remaining in the country now?

{Regular forces are defined as any of our non UK based drone flyers,RAF missions flown from UK/UK bases, or special forces or training or security personnel - who are going to be there secretly for decades yet.}

andrew said...

1. we should
2. yes - this is a corollary of 1.

the military mistake was to try to fight more than one 'war' (iraq)

the political mistake was that we should have worked with the afghans rather than trying to impose democracy.

i would have set some basic law in place (property rights) and found something that makes more money than poppy farming - or bought the entire crop - every year.

Electro-Kevin said...

1 - Hit hard and run

2 - No

Bill Quango MP said...

On a side note - isn't that scene fantastic?

When everyone flinches from the mortar round except Lt Colonel Kilgore {Robert Duvall}

Even hardbitten, special forces, part-psycho, Ranger Martin Sheen ducks.

And that almost imperceptible little nod [that is much more noticeable on the big screen, after he delivers the haunting, hanging line
"Some day this war's Gonna end."

A brilliant performance. Even better once you've you seen the earlier bit in camp where Kilgore is all military, explaining why he can't attack the VC point.

Until surfing is mentioned and his eyes light up ..and you can see the actor showing us how the commander is changing his mind..until the eventual


its moviemaking / acting of the finest quality.

If you've never seen
Apocalypse Now

Why not?
Why not?

Anonymous said...


1) We should have invaded
2) Yes, but like we have in Brunei with an eye to making them more like we have in Germany.

A stable, West-friendly Afghanistan would have been a wonderful boon to use against Russia, China and Iran in the political stakes.

An Afghanistan making noises about joining NATO during the Ukrainian troubles, due to nerves over Russian expansionism, would have rapidly got China on the side of the West and caused Putin pause for thought.

In terms of defeating Islamic fundies, keeping USSR Mk2 in check and Chinese realpolitik, Afghanistan would have been a hell of a piece to play with. Instead we melted it down into a chew toy for Dubya.

James Higham said...

You would think they'd learn from the Russian experience but no.

Electro-Kevin said...

The 9th Company. A Russian film with subtitles but darn good.

Electro-Kevin said...

A rare film which is pro British. Very depressing but has a ring of authenticity about it. (Written by an officer)

L fairfax said...

"Or the liberal attitudes we helped to foster, we aren't going back. "
Liberal? In Afghanistan if you leave Islam you can be executed. We should have pulled out in 2005 when that became apparent.
If we had we would have saved lots of UK lives and money.

Bill Quango MP said...

Can't get youtube on work computer EK - what is that film about?

Anonymous said...

No, we should not have invaded. 1842 and the Russians in the 1980s. The lessons of history.

Electro-Kevin said...

The 9th Company is a true story about the end of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. They were out of range of contact with base and forgotten in the Withdrawal.

A fight for survival.

The Patrol is about a patrol of soldiers from a mix of regiments forced to remain in the field for two weeks (originally a few days) and the effects on morale.

Anonymous said...

EK - "the first actions against the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Afghanistan were highly successful and that's as far as a punitive military action should have gone (except for hunting down Bin Laden.)"

You've got it. Nation building in that neck of the woods seems a pretty futile endeavour. If we want Afghanistan to be like the UK we only have to wait a few years, and the UK will have made the adjustment.


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