Today I came across a 1999 publication by the US Marine Corps Studies and Analysis Division that I think would have been valuable in the debate running up to the Iraq War in 2003.
That book is The other side of the mountain : Mujahideen tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War. It was written to help Marines understand the tactics and motivations of guerillas. At the time, the “Islamofacists” of the Taliban/al-Qaeda were on our side, so many Mujahideen cooperated with Marine writers to come up with this volume.
Although concerned with Afghanistan, the foreward seems eerily prophetic if you switch around a few names (Emphasis mine):
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, few experts believed that the fledling Mujahideen resistance movement had a chance of withstanding the modern, mechanized, technologically-advanced Soviet Army. Most stated taht resistance was futile and that the Soviet Union had deliberately expanded their empire to the south. The Soviet Union had come to stay. Although some historians looked at the British experience fighting the Afghan mountain tribesmen, most experts discounted any parallels since the Soviet Union possed an unprecedented advantage in fire power, technology and military might. Although Arab leaders and the West supplied arms and material to the Mujahideen, the did so with the hope of creating a permanent, bleeding ulcer on the Soviet flank, not defeating the Soviet Union. They did not predict that the Soviet Union would voluntarily withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989.
What caused the Soviet withdrawal? The Soviets realized that they were trapped in an unwinnable war where they were suffering “death from a thousand cuts” by an intractable enemy who had no hope of winning, but fought on because it was the right thing to do. After failing to achieve military victory, the Soviet Union cut it’s losses and withdrew. The Soviet Union lost 13,833 killed. Over 1.3 million Afghans died and over a third of the population became refugees.
Note: I quote the part that said the Mujahideen “fought on because it was the right thing to do”, but I am not endorsing the cause of insurgents in Iraq, but I submit that what matters in terms of will to resist is that *they* think attacking Americans is right thing to do, as does 61% of the Iraqi population.
Maybe if we as a country had studied guerrilla movements more closely as the Marines and others had, we wouldn’t have been so eager to invade in 2003.
But what now? US soldiers killed is now close to 3000. Must we wait till we hit 13,000 before we decide to shift from military to economic and diplomatic aid? Will we continue our tactics or even escalate until all Iraqi support attacking US forces?
Will we keep trying to repair a watch (Iraq) with our hammer (occupation) until our global influence wanes so much we join the Soviet Union on the heap of failed experiments in world history? Or will we heed the lessons of the past and try something different?