Thursday, March 08, 2007

Afghanistan; The Hindu Kush in the Springtime

Afghanistan intruded seriously into the cross hairs of American policy for the first time under President Jimmy Carter when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Carter Administration was surprised and unprepared, for the event was contrary to Jimmy's national intelligence estimate. The Director of Central Intelligence at the time was a pompous naval officer, Admiral Stansfield Turner, whose later claim to fame is that he crippled US human intelligence collection capabilities. As far as his understanding of capabilities and limitations of the Soviet Union's ground forces, for him it narrowly amounted to, "if it was not a submarine or did not float, it was not threat"... The other thing that bureaucratically motivated Turner was the political maxim, "if you do not have a solution, do not present the problem". Except for the Army, all other 15 intelligence organizations predicted that the Soviets would not invade Afghanistan. Wrong... In the US intelligence Community, the majority is seldom right. Remember the WMDs in Iraq and other propaganda the Bush administration wanted to use. Even its latest National Estimate on Iraq is a masterpiece of ambiguity. Carter responded to the invasion lamely by withdrawing the US olympic team from the games in Moscow and curtailing grain deliveries to the Soviet Union.

Ironic point in history was that the same wrong headed, blind arguments made by US intelligence against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 persisted roughly 10 years later by refusing to predict the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, namely, THE SOVIETS WOULD NOT INVADE BECAUSE IT WOULD JEOPARDIZE THE STRATEGIC LIMITATION TALKS. Well, we know now that SALT proceeded despite Soviet invasions of both countries. Contrary to the views of the US Intelligence estimates, the USSR could chew gum and invade at the same time.

The Soviets had prepared carefully for the invasion for at least nine months. Russian agents with an Afghan Communist regime were embedded in the Afghan establishment on almost all levels to include army and police. Soviet cells operated in nearly every city. There were an estimated 2,500 Soviet advisors in Afghanistan. Military forces were massed to invade under the command of the the 40th Soviet Army commanded eventually by Colonel General Gromov, and it was itching for a fight; it got one, but only later after renegade CIA elements and a single US Congressman decided to make it a fight. For details see CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR by George Crile. Though the battle was fought under Reagan, most who know the history will agree that it was won despite Reagan's policies. With heavy casualties, 28,000 KIA, the Soviets were finally forced to withdraw their 103,000 troops ten years after the invasion. Some believe this defeat hastened the collapse of the USSR.

Exit Soviet Union and enter Taliban and bin Laden. The local communists and Soviet forces succeeded in destroying a cohesive government in Afghanistan. This left a vacuum that was filled by the local Taliban led by Mullah Omar and Arab partisans led by bin Laden, who were all religious Islamic fanatics. This group managed to control most of the country except for the northern tribal areas; Pakistan assisted them in these efforts. The fanatics were as ruthless as the Soviets when suppressing dissent: They imposed strict Islamic code that permitted the end of formal female education; they practiced public beating and executions; and they destroyed non Islamic historic sites, many of which predated Islam. Religious police enforced rules with on the spot with beatings. Bin Laden was permitted to build terror training camps which in the end produced the 9/11 attacks, and that later sparked the US invasion of Afghanistan as reprisal for the deadly assaults on New York and Washington.

Enter US, NATO and Karzai into Afghanistan. In a short brilliant military campaign by CIA and US military forces, the Taliban was initially defeated and bin Laden was forced to flee. As the Taliban and Arabs chose to stand and fight, massed and in the open, they were obliterated and vaporized by bombs when US Special forces and CIA operatives riding ponys and modified dune buggies called in air strikes. The northern tribes formed into a ragtag ground force and provided the main manpower while the US provided the deadly firepower. The initial victories went sour quickly... Mullah Omar was prepared to surrender at Kandahar, surrounded by US Marines, but Karzai talked Rumsfeld into permitting him to accept the surrender. By the time Karzai got his make-up on, his cape pressed and his Persian lamb headgear fumigated, Omar had fled; he now remains on the loose and still in charge of the Taliban. Bin Laden was chased into the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan, but because Rumsfeld foolishly decided to have tribal mercenaries guard the escape routes, our prize quarry slipped away and is still making deadly mischief. As it is now, there are 28,000 US/NATO troops. The Soviets were unable to pacify and control the country with 103,000 and did not have the problems of command and control found in coalition force operations.

Five years later Mullah Omar is back, along with his Taliban, bin Laden and all his Arabs. As GW Bush siphoned off forces from the Afghan theater to invade and occupy oil rich Iraq, the military situation in Afghanistan became stagnant. It is now clear that Karzai is only mayor of Kabul with almost no impact throughout the country – he still needs Delta Force guards even to take a piss. There is clear intelligence that Spring in the land of the Hindu Kush is going to be a hot time. Omar's and bin Laden's forces have been rearmed and retrained; most likely bankrolled by expanded opium interests who understand that the US and Karzai want them to substitute sugar beets for the opium crop. Tactically, you can bet they will avoid stand and fight as in the earlier days. They will employ extensive IED on the roads with techniques perfected in Iraq, and will have a stable of suicide bombers who thirst for martyrdom – both the IED and the Kamikaze bombers are something that even the Soviets did not have to face. As far as hearts and minds appeal for US/NATO forces, that was lost years ago by consistent, careless collateral damage inflicted on Afghan civilian non combatants – building roads or hospitals by coalition forces offers little psychologically to compensate for the personal losses of the people.

Pakistan with Musharraf is the key to US interests in the area. His control of Pakistan is limited as evinced recently when he cut a hands-off deal with the tribal areas that de facto permits the Taliban and bin Laden Arabs to stage for attacks into Afghanistan. Musharraf is still haunted by the mysterious aircraft accident that killed Military President Zia-ul-haq, US ambassador Arnie Raphel, the US military attache, and some of Zia's favorite generals on August 17, 1988; this happened right after the Soviet withdrawal. Zia's government was a major factor in supplying the rebels and defeating the Russian forces. Musharraf also has a price on his head with several attempts already on his life. US blandishments for more assistance in Afghanistan has a limited effect on Musharraf due to constriction of his rule. Musharraf and Karzai hate each other, each blaming the other for the turmoil in Afghanistan and bin Laden's escape. Despite his pack of domestic troubles, Musharraf has aided the US by bagging terrorists and turning a blind eye on some US cross-border operations; however, the US in its relations with him has to sit up straight and avoid taking him for granted – after all, he does have Islamic nuclear bombs and means to deliver them. Pakistan, totally under control of Jihadists, is a nightmare for the US; hopefully that will never come. Next time the Israeli lobby tries to block US military aid to Pakistan, write your congressman and senators and demand they vote for US interests and not those of Israel...

By any standards, the Afghan tribal fighter is the most fearful in the world; once integrated into formal military formation, he seems to lose his ferocity. This savage group of fighters slaughtered Tennessee mules for food sent by the US to carry military equipment, after using them as sexual partners. They do not take prisoners in the Western sense; before the prisoners are killed slowly... and horribly, they are sexually abused. The US tried to secure Soviet prisoners from them during the Russian war... managed to receive only two, both of whom were very disturbed mentally. One ended up holding up a 7/11 in Vienna, Virginia, and the other was picked up for molesting a young boy. The British soldiers during the Raj period were told always to save at least one bullet for themselves if overrun. A story is told during the same period, while the British were using very rough interrogation techniques on a tribesman who kept laughing. When asked why he was laughing, the tribesman replied: YOU KNOW HOW TO GET HERE, BUT YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO GET OUT. The British Army was eventually slaughtered by the tribal fighters..... Colonel Robert E Bartos USA RET

*Photograph: Afghan – 1870; oil Painting by V.V.Vereshchagin. Tretykov Gallery, Moscow

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