Monday, September 13, 2021

What Have We Learned from Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam… Lesson 2

 Lesson 1 - here.

Lesson 2: How to fight a motivated force in their territory

Oddly this is a lesson we continue to learn and account for, but then we ignore it right away.

Asymmetric conflicts are where 1 side in a conflict has an overwhelming force and power. In these cases, that power is the United States. And so the other force must use different tactics. 

Being that they usually are from the country itself, they are adept at using the local advantages. Fighting in tropical swamps in Vietnam or hiding the desert in Afghanistan makes these local fighters much harder to defeat. And, by melting into the local populations, it makes differentiating between local combatants and non-combatants almost impossible. 

So, the American forces are forced into one of three responses. 

The first is to melt with the local populations and support them. This is the tactic we used with the Afghans against the Russian forces and the Taliban forces before we invaded. We teamed up with the Mujahideen to tie up the Russians. This method IS successful but limited to where we are a participant with the rebels.

Americans working with the Mujahideen before the Invasion

The second is to operate in places where the local population is antagonistic to the ruling powers, and we support the rebels. What to do when they win, or even if they win is up in the air. This had a positive outcome with the Kurds in Iraq. It had an okay result with the Libyans against Khadhafi - if you call a fractured failed state better than a dictatorship. It had a crap result in Syria, where the locals were overwhelmed by bigger forces (Russian and Turkish). 

The final method is to ignore civilian causalities when conducting the war. This never has a positive outcome, although we do it every now and then.

How then to win these asymmetric wars? I don’t think you can. Whether it is the US in Iraq, the Sudanese in South Sudan or the Russians in Afghanistan - it is almost impossible to win in this situation. The Chinese in Tibet in 1959, the Americans 150 years ago in the Indian Territories and the British in South Africa won by killing indiscriminately. Only the Chinese are still willing to do this in the time of global information. Even still, the Chinese use quieter and with different method for the Uyghurs now versus Tibet before global news.

So, as they said in War Games, the only way to win is not to play. America has learned this over and over. And we forget it - over and over


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