Blunt Instruments in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 10 months ago

The Herald Sun has an article from an Australian perspective on the campaign in Afghanistan. Recall as you read this that based on discussions in The Cult of Special Forces, the Australians do not allow their infantry to engage in combat operations, and in fact require that they sign formal agreements stating that they haven’t provoked kinetic engagements. They allow only their special forces to engage in kinetic operations.

The ambush and serious wounding of nine elite Australian soldiers in Afghanistan this month showed just how tenuous the coalition’s hold is over most of the troubled country.

Despite the advanced weapons and remote technology waged against them by the world’s top military powers, including unmanned spy planes that escort most patrols, Taliban fighters backed by their comrades in Pakistan and Iran just keep on coming.

The situation is so confused that highly trained Australian special forces troops have been implicated in the death of a district governor during a firefight between the Diggers and Afghan police.

For one British attack helicopter crew the reality of this bitter war reflected the fantasy of a Terminator movie during a recent operation in the restive Helmand province.

After firing a Hellfire missile from their Apache chopper to level a building housing key Taliban leaders, they were astonished to see several men escaping from the smouldering pile of rubble in a sports utility vehicle.

The pilots tuned their high-tech optical equipment, which can focus on an individual face from several kilometres away, onto the speeding utility and positively identified a prime target inside.

Another Hellfire reduced the Toyota to scrap metal, but, amazingly, one of the insurgents had survived and what was left of him began crawling away, Terminator -like, from the carnage.

The coup de grace was delivered by a short burst from the chopper’s lethal 30mm chain gun.

The Taliban might be unable to drive foreign forces out with a decisive military offensive, but they are determined to win this war of attrition.

From the heavily fortified United Nations, American, NATO and Afghan government citadels in the capital Kabul to the bloody frontline “green zones” in Helmand and Oruzgan provinces, this is a war that could last for decades and may never be won.

As the coalition death toll mounts and the Western political landscape changes, the question being asked across Afghanistan is not how the military campaign is going but rather what are the alternatives.

The 70,000 foreign troops in the country, including 1100 Australians, represent the blunt instrument of international policy.

But the force is nowhere near big enough to actually defeat the enemy, train the Afghan army and secure desperately needed infrastructure development.

Indeed, the war may never be won, and the last paragraph explains exactly why. Not enough troops. Interestingly, the author calls the 70,000 troops in Afghanistan a “blunt instrument.”

With many of these troops unable to perform offensive or kinetic operations due to rules of engagement, and with strategic incoherence keeping them on FOBs rather than contacting the population, the remaining troops that can engage in combat do so with heavy use of air power with its collateral damage and raids against high value targets.

This is a blunt instrument indeed. While counterintuitive, one lesson learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom is that while some old school counterinsurgency thinkers advocated the small footprint, it is precisely this that causes convulsive contact with the population. The more productive, precise and surgical operations require time and infantry. Infantry contacts both the population and the enemy constantly, with enough force projection to provide security and gain intelligence.  The Captain’s Journal has repeatedly stated a maxim: the necessity to apply force is inversely proportional to the force projection.

So while the pedestrian version of kinetic operations has special forces raids as surgical and infantry operations as blunt, in counterinsurgency exactly the opposite is true. Australia’s political leadership would do well to learn this, and also surmise that in the end, the small footprint model will be more costly. Australia’s military leadership already knows this.

  • Warbucks

    The coming months will indeed be interesting. My instincts still lead me to feel that capturing OBL (or digging up his bones) and hauling him or his remains before some organized world court sitting in judgment is one important element in reaching victory.

    Only the common person possessing street sense of right and wrong might tend to agree with that assessment. Most governments pretend such a process is irrelevant, perhaps because it is too specific and to fail would be disastrous.

    And yet when you look up names on various compiled lists of important wanted terrorists ( ) one finds OBL appears on no official, public, goverment list, only a non-governmental list naming the comprehensive list of violent radical terrorists.

    One can only conclude that the greater wisdom employed by the war planners is to assign victory to other measurable indicies such as functioning central governments in the Middle East based on a democratic consensus, operating model.

    While I can accept the greater wisdom of the war planners as being the path of greater enlightenment, in my mind a lot would be achieved by hauling in OBL or his remains, for judgment.

    I wonder how many assets and of what type, are committed to finding him. It may be easier than we are given to realize.

  • Brian H

    Getting rid of OBL might briefly take the wind out of the sails of some of the more egregious anti-war loons, but it would make little or no operational difference to the Taliban. (OBL was/is Al Queda, not Taliban, to start with, and even they would hardly miss a beat if the figurehead was historical instead of ambulatory.)

    I think that Petraeus (Malik Dauod, King David) is far more important to the West than Osama bin Laden is to the Islamofascists. I think they’re now counting more on guidance and assistance from Obama bin Biden, in any case.

You are currently reading "Blunt Instruments in Afghanistan", entry #1313 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Australian Army,Counterinsurgency and was published September 25th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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