On 8 March, 1965, when the US Marines landed on the beaches of Da Nang, they had come with the belief that the superiority of American arms would crush the “racially inferior gooks”, and they would return home for Christmas.
They had miscalculated. In a few years time, the Vietcong had turned the American servicemen into psychopaths.
Ten years later, the panic - stricken superpower withdrew, defeated and disgraced, with its arrogance buried in the jungles of Vietnam - until it was resurrected twenty six years later in Afghanistan.
After the rout of the Taliban in October 2001, euphoric shouts of victory had resonated across the United States, the loudest coming from the White House, the Pentagon and the Congress. But these were short-lived as the inevitable Afghan resistance began. Thirteen years later having conducted a campaign in a morass of strategic, operational and tactical confusion and despair, the superpower withdrew in disgrace. And considering that the superpower’s battlefield was confined mainly to the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, unlike the Soviets, who, with fewer troops had to contend with the whole of Afghanistan as the battlefield, the superpower’s performance also was defeat oriented.
The superpower’s military maybe the strongest and technologically the most advanced military power in the world in conventional warfare, but in counter-guerilla warfare, whose strategy and tactics are the antithesis of conventional warfare, they have a lot to learn.
Conventional warfare is characterized by employment of large forces in operations that are designed to create a series of effects on the adversary until he is forced to fight with reversed front, which is a prelude to destruction.
Guerilla warfare has a totally different character. It is characterized by small scale engagements on a wide front at the time and place of guerillas’ choosing - concentration on one side, dispersion on the other side.
The superpower’s generals and their rank and file were unable to adapt to the clandestine nature of guerilla warfare. That is why the generals in Afghanistan, like their generals in Vietnam, tended to fight an unconventional war conventionally which resulted in a mismatch - on the one hand were the guerillas who are masters of their craft, on the other hand were the superpower’s forces who were not of their craft (counter-insurgency).
After the surge in 2009, the US and Nato forces enjoyed a soldier to guerilla ratio of 15 to 1 (Afghan forces included). Yet, due to inept handling of the superior ratio, the military effort failed miserably.
One example of this is half - hearted effort in Eastern Afghanistan where, according to the US, the Haqqani Network operated out of North Waziristan. If that was so, then the crossing sites on North Waziristan’s and Kurram’s borders with Afghanistan should have been secured to intercept the Haqqanis as they attempted to infiltrate into Afghanistan. The 300,000 strong Afghan forces could have been used for isolating the Haqqanis from the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Such opportunities to achieve operational supremacy seldom arise in war, especially in a counter-insurgency war. But the Haqqanis were wiser. They had dispersed their force in the mountains in the three adjoining Afghan provinces. In addition, they had sleeper cells in Kabul which were activated when required.
The Americans and their Afghan lackeys (govt) continue to harp on the Haqqanis and Taliban having their sanctuaries in Pakistan. If that is so, why were the Taliban allowed to infiltrate into Afghanistan, attack, and return to their so-called sanctuaries in Pakistan with impunity?
The fact is that the Taliban sanctuaries were, and still are, in the Hindukash mountains. Here they feel far more secure than the tribal areas of Pakistan for three cogent reasons: one, they have greater operational flexibility; two, the Americans are shy of making a serious effort to venture into the mountains; three, were they to operate out of the tribal areas, they would remain vulnerable to interception on the way out and on the way in.
The US and Nato command had failed to identify the Hindukash mountains as Taliban’s critical space. Had they dominated the mountains, the Taliban would have been forced into the valleys, thus exposing themselves to devastating US air and land - delivered firepower. Perhaps it was the loss of about forty US Navy Seals in the mountains that weighed them down. In Vietnam the jungles had served as Vietcong’s sanctuaries into which the Americans seldom ventured, unless they were deforested. There is something about jungles and mountains that unnerve the Americans.
The fact is that the American military leadership and their rank and file have lacked the prerequisites for conducting a successful counter-insurgency war - a mental capacity superior to the adversary’s. “Every special calling in life requires special qualities of intellect and temperament,” wrote Clausewitz in his treatise ‘On War’. That is why the superpower was defeated by General Vo Nguyen Giap, Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani. And that is why they continue to be obsessed with the fear of Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network.
Instead of carrying out a dispassionate analysis of the causes of their failure, the Americans chose the line of least resistance - blame Pakistan for all their woes. And so was born the ‘do more’ refrain to camouflage their inept conduct of war.
Initially sung by the Pentagon and their generals in Afghanistan, the partisan US Congress and media, instead of holding the former accountable, have joined them. “If we don’t succeed in Afghanistan, it will be because of the ISI in Pakistan,” Congressman Rohrabacher, a Pakistan hater. According to reports Defence Secretary Mattis and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford presumably have briefed the President on the Pentagon’s plan for defeating the Afghan insurgents. “This is an important fight and we need to win and there’s every reason that we should be able to do it”, said Senator Roger Wilker. What 150,000 US and Nato troops couldn’t do, Mattis, Dunford, Wilker and their Ilk have the temerity to think that induction of 4 to 5000 more troops will defeat the Taliban. Laughable thought. It is thought like this that led to the superpower’s defeat in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, the quality of thought of American generals, congressmen and senators needs qualitative improvement. “I personally think that Pakistan should not get any money. They should be designated as a state sponsor of terror,” said Congressman Poe, another Pakistan hater.
Are Poe and his Ilk not aware of India’s efforts in conjunction with Afghanistan to destabilise Pakistan in accordance with a plan devised by India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, through people like Kulbashan Yadav who spilled the beans? It is India not Pakistan, that should be designated as a state sponsor of terror. And so should America.
Take Vietnam for example. America dropped 7.8 million tons of bombs of all kinds, against 2.06 million tons dropped in the Second World War, and sprayed 75 million liters of defoliants including dioxin over the fields, forests and villages of South Vietnam. The war had caused seven million Vietnamese casualties including three million dead. The American generals and their Commander-in-Chief of that time are eminently qualified for trial for war crimes. Take 9/11 for another example. For the loss of 3500 lives in the 9/11 attacks, the Americans killed several hundred thousand non-combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the sole superpower they should show sophistication, serenity of mind, and understanding of Pakistan’s concerns, constraints, and achievements in the war against terror. Their uncalled for outbursts and threats would only serve to test the breaking - point of Pakistani people’s patience.
The writer is a former armour and SSG officer.