Vail Valley Voices: Time to rethink Afghanistan
In 1812, Napoleon’s Grande Armee was reduced to a fraction of its former strength because of its fateful retreat from Russia-Napoleon never fully recovered. One hundred and thirty years later, Adolph Hitler’s Panzers repeated Napoleon’s folly and were also forced to retreat from Russia, presaging the fall of the Third Reich.
In April 1942, the surrender of 80,000 American and Filipino troops to the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula is considered one of the darkest moments in American military history.
The common denominator of each military defeat was a lack of adequate logistical support.
Yet amid the controversy about withdrawal time lines, casualties, troop levels, etc., one critical factor regarding the Afghan war is seldom if ever mentioned — logistics. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about military operations understands that without adequate logistical support, even the greatest armies cannot succeed in combat over sustained periods of time.
Afghanistan is a land-locked country sharing borders with Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, constituting some of the harshest terrain on Earth. And because Afghanistan is landlocked, our Defense Department has limited means of supporting our troops there.
The major supply line begins at the port of Karachi, wends through the entire length of Pakistan to the Khyber tribal belt (the lawless region) and then over the Khyber Pass.
The only other method of resupply is through the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.
However, does it make military sense to rely on the support of Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan to ensure our troops have enough, guns, butter, toilet paper and the other necessities of maintaining an army in the field?
In February 2009, under pressure from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Kyrgyzstan announced that it was terminating the agreement permitting U.S. forces to use the Manas Air Base. Fortunately, Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister reversed himself, and Manas has since been reopened.
But in the world of ever-changing political allegiances, I find it more than a bit disturbing that we are not masters of our troops’ lifeline.
Should we fail to restrain India from punishing Pakistan (which we’ve been doing since the Mumbai terror bombings) or rankle Vladimir Putin by supporting any one of the former Soviet republics, either Pakistan or Russia could close the logistical spigot in a heartbeat.
Strategic analyst and retired Army Col. Ralph Peters wrote, “The logistics problem should have shaped our strategy in Afghanistan from the beginning, and the size of our forces there should have been shaped by one ironclad criterion: What size force could be deployed, sustained and if need be, evacuated in its entirety by airlift? One vehicle beyond that calculation is one vehicle too many.”
If the logistical argument isn’t enough to dissuade Mr. Obama from continuing on our errant course in Afghanistan, the political argument is even stronger.
Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, when pundits were criticizing the Bush administration for the war there (remember when if it was Bush’s idea, it must be a bad idea?), many on the left, fearing being branded as soft on terrorism, called Afghanistan the “right war.” But that notion is worth examining.
When comparing the two wars, one must consider that even a complete success in Afghanistan (whatever that is) is a strategic dead-end because it will not influence anything beyond that country’s imaginary borders.
Meanwhile, it can be argued that due to its historical significance, the emotional heart of the Arab world lies in Baghdad. If we succeed in Iraq, and by success I mean if we leave that country with a stable, democratically elected government capable of defending its own borders, it will resonate throughout the Middle East.
Col. Peters pithily points out, “A modern state as we wish to see it rise cannot coexist with Afghanistan’s traditional values. The distance between Afghanistan and Iraq is not 1,200 miles, but 1,200 years — give or take a few modern weapons.”
Perhaps the greatest contrast between Iraq and Afghanistan is that Iraq has a growing sense of national identity with significant potential to be a U.S. ally, while Afghanistan remains mired in the 7th century with no sense of a national identity whatsoever.
Al Qaeda has been largely dismantled in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the center of gravity for that terror organization lies in Pakistan, with auxiliary nodes in Yemen and the horn of Africa. So why are we sending more troops to Afghanistan when al Qaeda has for the most part been eliminated there?
The last major conflict America entered without an end-game vision was Vietnam, and we all know how that turned out. Considering that the president hasn’t defined what the end game is in Afghanistan, we should be compelled to ask why 100,000 American troops remain in harm’s way without clearly defining the end state they were sent to achieve.
From this perspective it’s beginning to appear that Afghanistan could be a 21st century Vietnam, with logistical problems to boot.
Quote of the day: “Choose your battles wisely and avoid those you cannot win.” — Sun Tsu, the “Art of War.”
Butch Mazzuca is an Edwards resident.