Pentagon officials and U.S. diplomats, either through design or ignorance, have placed Afghanistan on the road to ruin. The same cast of characters that created a weak and divided Iraq is now in Afghanistan, including Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Their strategy and tactics are the same and the victor will once again be Iran.
Pentagon and State Department officials are pushing forward with a foolhardy plan to create a massive 260,000 member Afghan National Army, which Afghanistan cannot afford to maintain. In order to field this force as soon as possible, 6,000 recruits are being rushed through training each month. This haste has fueled a 25% desertion rate which is disastrous for any army. The end-product is envisioned to be a conventional, road-bound and logistics-intensive army designed around Western concepts, with Corps, Divisions, Brigades and Battalions (Kandaks). It is the same concept the Pentagon employed so disastrously in South Vietnam; creating on paper a huge military, but one which was too cumbersome and expensive to maintain, and one which quickly collapsed.
U.S. officials seemingly fail to grasp the concept that quality trumps quantity. For example, in 2001, just prior to the American invasion, the Taliban controlled 98% of Afghanistan with a standing army of just 40,000. They were able to do so because their army was light and highly mobile, using a fleet of Saudi-supplied trucks to move forces quickly to hot spots.
Likewise the Akkadian Empire conquered the Sumerians (technically the Sag Giga peoples) and ruled much of Iraq and half of Syria in the Third Millennium B.C. with a riverine light-infantry force of just one brigade (5,000 men), even though faced with hostile Gutian, Elamite and Hurrian hill tribes to the East and marauding Amorite desert tribes to the West. The Akkadians called their forces “nim” (meaning “fly”) troops.
The amazingly successful Mogul army relied on superior speed and mobility rather than on numbers. Its organizational structure was decimal-based. At the lowest level was the Arban, consisting of ten soldiers. Ten Arban comprised one Jaghun and ten Jaghun comprised one Mingghan. Soldiers in each Arban elected their commander and the ten Arban commanders elected the Jaghun commander. While junior officers were selected on merit, higher level commanders were appointed by senior officials. It was and remains a brilliant military system.
What Afghanistan needs today is a professional all-Special Forces army of about 80,000. This light, sustainable commando-army should be based on a mix of Akkadian and Mongol organizational concepts. It is doubtful if any U.S. officials have any knowledge of either. The current Pentagon plan is for the Kandak to be the basic unit for the Afghan Army, while the Mongols considered the Arban to be its basic unit. An 80,000 member Mongol-type army could field 8,000 Arbans. That army would need to embrace all forms of mobility, both old and new. That would include fast all-terrain vehicles, South African style mine resistant vehicles, a large helicopter force and even the use of horses, which still have a place in mountain and desert warfare. A small force multiples its effectiveness by enhancing its mobility. That is how one combats the Taliban.
This new light-infantry force would need to ignore many of the tactics being used by the U.S. military, especially its counter-productive night raids on homes. What the American and Afghan publics have not been told is that the Pentagon has covertly orchestrated a major shift in American military policy. With its inability to locate its Taliban enemy and with the political need to show battlefield results, U.S. officials quietly approved the targeting of persons suspected of being noncombatant supporters of the Taliban. This would be someone who fed Taliban soldiers lunch or who agreed to shelter them for a night (even though they might not have had any choice). What the Pentagon has done is essentially hold that all civilians are now combatants and that the mere suspicion of being a Taliban supporter is enough to trigger a kill mission on their home.
On March 16, 2011, two Predator drones fired an unknown number of missiles at a jirga or meeting of elders in the village of Datta Khel in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The strike killed at least 40 elders and wounded dozens more, including children. One of the targets was reportedly an elder affiliated with local warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur. A senior U.S. military official, speaking off the record to the Associated Press dismissed the casualties with the comment that those killed and wounded (apparently including the children) were either enemy officials or “sympathizers.” Another official speaking to Greg Miller of the Washington Post on March 18, 2011, said of the dead, including the children: “This was a gang of terrorists.” Pakistan General Ashfaq Parvez Keyani responded to the U.S. killings by stating:
“A jirga of elders including seniors were carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard for human life.”
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, disreputably but true to form, was silent and refused any public response.
On February 21, 2011, Greg Miller of the Washington Post published an article entitled, “Increased U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan Killing Few High-Value Militants.” Within the article Miller detailed that in 2010, the U.S. killed between 581 and 607 people in Pakistan. Potentially only two were high value targets and about 30 might have been militant commanders. The rest were either low level soldiers or civilians.
This new U.S. accelerated killing policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan has resulted in more civilian casualties, sparked an upsurge in revenge killing and fueled a new cycle of violence. Expanding the kill-list and the error rate involved in such an expansion is a policy that has not been properly vetted.
Counter-insurgency involves winning over the population, which in theory will slowly starve an insurgency. It is a slow and careful process. At its core is the need not to kill people unless absolutely necessary and then only where there is at least near certainty that the target is an actual enemy and not simply an Afghan citizen defending his home or village.
President Hamid Karzai and his government need to consider a new direction for their army and their war effort. Afghanistan must look to its history books and not to Washington, D.C. for advice on warfare. The West has always failed in Afghanistan, partly because of its seeming contempt for non-Western tactics and philosophy. The U.S. failed in Vietnam because officials did not believe that a peasant army in crude rubber sandals could defeat a modern American-trained and equipped army.
Time is short. If Afghanistan does not change course quickly then it risks becoming another Iraq. Afghanistan has been a vassal state to the Persians before. It does not have to happen again.