Minggu, 31 Januari 2010

Is Afghanistan the Graveyard of the Conventional Armies?

Afghanistan is a small landlocked country in South Central Asia. It is an inhospitable land with extreme climate. But its strategic location cannot be underestimated, as it is the key to domination of south Asia. Afghanistan has over the last six decades been a cradle of some form of anarchy and limited war. After the overthrow of King Zahir Shah in 1973, the communists under guidance of the Soviet Union took over from 1979. The Americans were alarmed at this extension of Russian influence and took steps to counter the Soviets. The result- they created a Muslim fighting force or mujahidin who engaged the soviet army. The red army soon brought in attack helicopters and guns and tanks to counter the American trained and inspired mujahidin. Pakistan under Gen Zia became the conduit for this operation.

The Russian army fighting without the support of the locals was doomed to failure. Mao's dictum of a war without popular support being un- winnable held true and the Russian armies suffered heavy casualties. Their afghan minions also failed to resist the Taliban coupled with the mujahidin and had soon to be written off. Amin and Najib the soviet puppets failed to get grass root support, as America fueled a religious war against the Soviets. The classic elements of guerilla operation were all in evidence as the mujahidin attacked outposts of the Soviets and over ran them. They then evaporated into the high mountains when reinforcements arrived. The Russians soon realized that the war in Afghanistan could not be won and decided to withdraw. Guerilla tactics of the Taliban bore fruit and the harassed soviet army though not defeated, could not sustain their fight as it became prohibitively costly in terms of loss of manpower and money. The Soviets then decided to withdraw. In a way this disengagement also had a lot to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union itself and its subsequent break up. The departure of the Russians led to the end of guerilla operations and the return to full-scale conventional war. The Taliban and the Mujahidin soon put the soviet trained afghan forces to route and captured Kabul. Little did the United States realize that they had nurtured a snake that would soon turn on them.

Afghanistan under the Taliban stepped back in time and the worst atrocities were inflicted on the people in the name of Islam. A progressive religion was reduced to a mockery of human rights and intolerance. The United States kept aloof and Pakistan exulted in what they saw as 'strategic depth' against arch enemy India. The Taliban thrived as America the champion of freedom for almost 3 centuries stood aloof.

The interpretation of Islam as enunciated by the mullahs required a war against the great Satan -the USA.Hence the diabolical plot of annihilation in New York on 26/11.This act at last galvanized the United States and most of the free world to launch an attack on Afghanistan and the Taliban in particular. The Taliban were defeated and retired into the mountains. The US and NATO forces came in, but lack of a clear cut policy and George Bush Jr. desire to vanquish Saddam resulted in Afghanistan again going off the Radar. This was a fatal mistake, as the Taliban were able to regroup and consolidate themselves with support from some elements of the Pakistan establishment, who still felt more comfortable with the Taliban.

The war is now on and US and NATO allies have realized the gravity of the situation.As Mao has pointed out the guerrilla lives of the land and hence it is important to isolate him from the people. Also the Taliban guerrillas thrive on the power of 'Islam in danger' ploy. This has to be countered.

Militarily the use of airpower can be decisive, more so in Afghanistan where mountains and caves rule the roost. Low flying helicopter gunships with mobile infantry units as well as heavy bombardment both from the air and the ground need to be carried out in a sustained manner. A study of the Vietnam War shows that America lost as what the chiefs of staff demanded ,was never agreed to in full and congress bowing to world opinion always watered down the military requests. This is not likely to happen now as most of the world has realized that the Taliban is threat to all and everybody. It is now incumbent for the United States to lead the attack.

Here a word needs to be mentioned about Pakistan. The United States needs to be vigilant about Pakistan which is the hot bed of support for the Taliban. There are still a lot many people in the Paki establishment who would like to shake hands with the radicals. USA has to beware of this. This war in Afghanistan is not just a military battle but a struggle that may well decide the course of history for the next 100 years.

The NATO forces have to get out into the country side and fight the Taliban on their home turf. Aerial bombardment, heavy arty and heliborne operations are the key to success in Afghanistan. More important is the political resolve to fight in Afghanistan. This resolve may require the execution of cordinated air and military strikes in Pakistan. Pakistan is itself beset by fundamentalism and their plans to export the mujahidin to the Kashmir valley are all linked together. The need of the hour is to join hands with the Indian army to put down the Pakistan proxy war in Kashmir, strike at the roots of training camps and havens in Pakistan and simultaneously launch destructive attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan. In case this three pronged strategy is followed the Taliban can be defeated.Karzai the Afghan president has realized the problem and needs all support.

The war in Afghanistan is certainly winnable but NATO and the USA have to launch a 3 fold policy of attack.Remember the guerrilla can be defeated only at his game and his sanctuaries must be destroyed. The strategy should be to eliminate the Kashmir mujahidin, destroy the training camps in Pakistan and at the same mount operations all over Afghanistan and the tribal areas of NW frontier. The key to winning in Afghanistan is a realization of this three pronged strategy. Once this is followed Afghanistan will not be a graveyard for a conventional army.

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