A book we all should have read in 2003

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?

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3 Responses to A book we all should have read in 2003

  1. Norma says:

    Iraqi Muslims are killing Iraqi Muslims in Iraq aided by other Muslims from Iran and elsewhere. So I’m not sure who you are equating with the Taliban and the Soviets, neither of which where Afghans.The argument you present here was the one we heard for not going into Afghanistan because we would be defeated like the Soviets were.

  2. Daniel says:

    Not suggesting a moral equivalence, but the various Shia militias, especially the anti-American ones such as the Mehdi Army and the Sunni insugents would stand in for the Taliban. The US led-coalition would stand in for the Soviets in the sense that we are an occupying force that over 60% of the occupying nation supports attacking.It’s an analogy.”The argument you present here was the one we heard for not going into Afghanistan because we would be defeated like the Soviets were.”I would like to remind you that the Soviets won a very easy initial victory in 1979/80, just as we did in Iraq in 2003. It was the years of fighting Muslim insurgents that eventually forced the Soviets to leave.And we seem to be repeating the pattern of being bled white financially and death/injury wise for no clear measurable goal. So the analogy of the Soviets in Afghanistan is one I stand by.Afghanistan itself is not doing so well. In part because we chose to obsess over Iraq well before Afghanistan was rebuilt. It and Afghanistan are *still* more al-Qaeda Central than Iraq is. I don’t know whether to praise you for your continued fidelity to the President as opposed to the people who cheered him in 2003 but hate him now; or cry because because because you seem willing to “stay the course” or escalate even though nothing militarily we’ve done since the invasion has improved the security situation. In fact, the more we “stay the course”, the worse it gets. We are “staying the course” or “surging” towards a waterfall when we should be finding a bank.You CANNOT fix a watch with a hammer. We need to try something different. Not an approach that failed in VietNam in the 1960s, in the Philipines from the 1950s till now, and in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

  3. Daniel says:

    As you can probably tell from my last comment, I still haven’t mastered the concept of not posting/commenting when something makes me angry.I won’t delete my prior comment since I put into the public record, but let me try again.I recommended this book because it tells of a war where an invader had a quick conventional victory, but lost the subsequent guerrilla struggle. The idea of a quick military victory followed by serious unconventional resistance was in fact predicted by elements of the intelligence community and the military establishment prior to the start of the war. Given that people within the government took it as a possibility, it would have been logical for the Administration to publicize this possibility during the runup to the war – both to prepare the US public for a long, drawn out struggle and to better plan for fighting a protracted insurgency.Studying other examples of quick victories followed by extended insurgencies (Iraq, West Bank, Chechnya, etc) might also have helped either better prepare or decide that we didn’t need this optional war against a country with no provable al-Qaeda ties – then or now.

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