Sunday, November 08, 2009

No such thing as an "unwinnable" war

If you've been paying attention to the news at all over the last couple of weeks you must have noticed that the term "unwinnable war" is being applied more and more to our mission in Afghanistan.

It's a stupid phrase because there is no such thing as an unwinnable war. At the end of 1940 the war must have seemed "unwinnable" to the British people. By the end of 1941 the war must have seemed "unwinnable" to the Soviet people - but both eventually prevailed over their enemies.

All wars can be won - it just depends on the strategy and tactics applied. What you actually have are losing strategies and tactics or winning strategies and tactics. If your strategy is failing to achieve the objectives and the tactics are resulting in severe casualties then you need to address that strategy and those tactics - or take advantage of your enemies mistakes in their strategy and tactics.

The truth of Afghanistan - regardless of whether you think we should be there or not - is that our strategy is undefined and our tactics are obviously wrong. First of all, you can not win a war with a political strategy. The overriding strategy must be military. If we insist on pursuing this mission we must face the fact that the Afghan people are neither ready nor capable of governing their country themselves.

The discredited President and his abject, corrupt government must be replaced by a military governance. We ARE an occupying force and an occupying force must take control. Military commanders must have complete control over all areas and be free to take the decisions necessary to achieve objectives.

As for our tactics - well, we keep taking areas which we then withdraw from allowing the enemy to reclaim that land without any effort. Imagine if we had done the same against Nazi Germany? We'd still have a million soldiers camped on the borders of Holland, Belgium and France today!

Our strategy and tactics in Afghanistan are not working. It's always hard - if not impossible - with this style of warfare to achieve success. The only way you can do it is to apply tactics that work and we have only one example where this has been done to a successful conclusion - Malaya.

What we need is an updated version of the "Briggs Plan" - whereby the strategy was to deprive the enemy of resources and safety. Deprive them of food and people and harass them at every opportunity so that they never have a moments respite.

We're not doing that now and as long as we don't do that this war will remain unwinnable.


Quiet_Man said...

It may not be unwinnable, but the lack of troops, equipment is not making it easy.
There's also a growing sense of unease, a feeling that really we shouldn't even be there, not our country and not our war. If our allies other than the USA would actually do something other than not fight it might be different.

Anonymous said...

The British Empire lost three Afghan wars in the nineteenth century, and more recently the red army lost a full scale war there. Any sensible general would avoid fighting a war in Afghanistan. Moreover, the purposelessness of such a war would prevent any sane man from fighting there.

Stan said...

Quiet Man ...

I make no judgement on whether or not we should be there - but we are and while we are we should adopt a strategy and tactics that would give us a chance of winning.

Anon ....

I was only aware of two Afghan wars fought by the British during the 19th century - both of which resulted in fairly decisive victories for the British - but not necessarily with the continued occupation of the country. It's a modern myth that the British Empire was defeated by the Afghans. The British lost some battles - some catastrophically - but they didn't lose the wars. There seems to be an assumption these days that if you don't stay in a country after kicking their ass militarily then somehow you have "lost the war". It's a mistaken assumption. If the military objectives have been achieved or the enemy forced to concede defeat then you've won. By that measure Britain won both 19th century Afghan wars.

Anonymous said...

You are correct. The third Afghan war was fought in 1919 and lasted only a few months ending in an armistice. The three wars were not a triumph for British arms, and tend to be remembered for Lady Butler's famous picture of the sole survivor of the first war, Dr William Brydon and for the destruction of Elphinstone's army. All three wars were fought with much larger British armies than our present army in Afghanistan.

Stan said...

Sorry to keep disagreeing with you, Anon, but I don't believe the "British Army" that fought in Afghanistan was larger - or that much larger than the current British deployment. The majority of troops were actually Indian - just like the majority of troops today are American, except that they aren't under British command. I still ocntend that the wars themselves were successful in achieving their military objectives swiftly and decisively - any failures thereafter were mostly political. Nothing new there either. It's a myth that the Afghan people are unconquerable - they've lived in a perpetual state of being conquered for the last 200 years! What they are is ungovernable - this is because, basically, they are an uncivilised, illiterate and brutal people who haven't developed much beyond the stone age.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace."

Curzon, talking about Waziristan as it happens, but the same is true - in spades - of Afghanistan.

And we no longer have the will to indulge in military steamrollers, let alone the resources.

It's time to grit our teeth and leave; it'll happen soon enough, anyway, when the EU takes over operational command of "our" armed services, so we might as well do it now while shreds or respect still attach to us.

Stan said...

I agree that it is probably time we got out. Actually, it's long past that time as we should really have left as soon as we'd given the Taliban a good spanking in 2001 - I don't agree with all this "nation building" crap and "bringing democracy" nonsense. How can you build a "nation" out of disparate tribes with no desire to be part of a nation and the notion that you can bring democracy through the point of a gun is ludicrous. Nor do I accept the argument that what we are doing in Afghanistan somehow makes our streets safer in the UK. If the government wanted to do that they would just halt any immigration, "student" visas or "asylum" claims from those areas (including Pakistan) and tell those who are already here that they either behave themselves properly as guests of this country or the actions of the few will have consequences for the many - i.e. they, their extended families and known associates will be deported.

Like you said, WY - unfortunately we do not have the will anymore. The days when the British government stood up for the British people first and foremost are gone - but nor forever. This situation will not last. It can not.