Green on blue, interior lines, liberation fever, history repeating itself, and why popular insurgencies are so hard to defeat
Well, more ugly news from Afghanistan. The latest green on blue attack killed three British soldiers. A green on blue attack is when Afghan soldiers or policemen, or men wearing Afghan soldier or police uniforms, open fire on NATO troops in Afghanistan. In most cases it is Taliban who have infiltrated into the NATO aligned Afghan forces, sometimes it’s the result of personal quarrels. It’s definitely been on the rise though, and is accounting for a significant percentage of the NATO casualties this year. This latest attack was particularly disturbing in that the Afghan in question was a member of an elite unit, supposedly more carefully vetted for loyalty than most. And there is no question that the Taliban are using this type of attack with increasing frequency. This is very very bad news. It’s also fucking brilliant, and an excellent example of how an insurgency’s evolving tactics can be so hard to counter.
Why is it brilliant? Because it is simultaneously devastating to the morale of the occupation forces, and fantastically complicates efforts to train Afghan security forces to take over when NATO supposedly pulls out in 2014. Even worse, attempts to counter this strategy are just going to increase tension between NATO and its putative allies. American for example has adopted a “cocked and loaded” policy in response to this. This means that whenever Americans meet with their Afghan “allies,” American troops with guns ready to fire keep watch on them. That’s right, we are so confident of our “allies” in Afghanistan, that we keep guns pointed at them just in case. I’m pretty sure this just fills them with confidence.
This illustrates what I mean when I say popular insurgencies have the ultimate interior lines. Interior lines is military parlance for a situation where an enemy has another enemy partially or wholly surrounded and can attack from multiple directions, but because the defender is on the “inside” they can rush troops to defend in various directions faster than the attacker can move them to attack from various directions. It’s one of the biggest advantages a defender can have, and a good defender will take full advantage of it. In the case of an insurgency, it means the insurgency because of its smaller and more informal organization can make changes faster than the large military it is fighting. In Vietnam for example American troops sometimes captured manuals to weapons they hadn’t even been issued yet! Yes, the Viet Cong could get their guys informed about upcoming changes in American weaponry before the Americans. It’s a significant advantage, and one that small but professional insurgencies have regularly used to keep fighting effectively even when they were badly outnumbered. In the case of an insurgency it also means the insurgents can attack almost anywhere they want, leaving the defender the daunting task of defending everything. And now including apparently defending against our own allies!
So much for the Taliban being “no longer in existence.” More than ten years after the US intervention in Afghanistan, the Taliban are doing just fine and the regime we set up is as corrupt and ineffectual as it ever was. I do suspect the US will pull out one way or the other. The expense of keeping our forces there is staggering. And there’s no reason to keep them there. There wasn’t any reason to intervene in the first place, Afghanistan posed no threat to the USA and made at least two offers to turn OBL and his lieutenants over to the USA. Bush was having no doing, the American public wanted unconditional revenge for 9/11, and the Bush administration was all to happy to comply, having already ascertained that this was going to be the perfect casus belli for the glorious liberation of Iraq. Intervene we did though, on the side of warlords whose misogyny, corruption, and violence turned Afghanistan into a failed state … where the Afghans themselves for the most part supported the rise of the Taliban. This is where so many Americans are fuzzy in the head, they seem to think (if they even thought about it) that the Taliban were some foreign invader that conquered Afghanistan.
In fact this gets to another aspect of the interior lines meme. Not only does the outside or larger side have to defend more and take longer to react, in the case of large countries and their mind sets, they can get positively moribund. The USA, at least a large part of American thinking, has been stuck in “liberation fever” since at least the war of 1812. This is the idea that American armies will be welcomed as the forces of good, I mean who wouldn’t want to be saved by the USA? In 1812 it was the fantasy that Canada was the “14th colony,” only kept in the British Empire by geographic isolation during the American Revolution. Since then countless wars have been launched with similar sentiments in mind. And since World War Two it’s become ever more entrenched. We “saved” the world from the Nazis, we “saved” the world from the Communists, and now we are going to “save” the world from terrorism. The first was more by accident than design, the second was more propaganda than reality on several levels, and the third has very little contact with reality at all. Keeps the generals happy and the war profiteers happier though, and the only people who pay the price are the American taxpayers, our soldiers, and the foreign recipients of our liberating zeal.
The thing most dismaying about it is that in some ways it hasn’t changed since the Roman era. Mind numbing hypocrisy and self-righteous conquest seem to be a particular weakness of the western soul, though it is by no means limited to the west. The west though is where it reached its apex though, the conquest of the world in so called age of exploration. Most westerners still think that European Christian armies colonizing the world was a good and natural thing. No, no it wasn’t. Just for starters it caused possibly the greatest, and still almost unknown, holocaust in human history. That however is a topic for another post.
Support the troops … bring them home.
(The above image is a picture of Boer Commandos at Sion Kopp, during the Second Boer War. It was taken in 1900, so it’s safely public domain. This was one of the world’s first modern wars, modern in that their weapons now fired smokeless gunpowder. It was a huge change in warfare, and made insurgencies vastly more dangerous. Like the Boers, the Taliban are a local force fighting a vastly more powerful foreign interloper; and like the Boers, the Taliban have many advantages and are going to be hard to defeat.)