Will it Hold?

One of the biggest problems we have in southern Afghanistan is a resurgent Taliban. Pakistan is our contemporary version of what Cambodia and Laos used to be for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. The Taliban leadership hole up in Quetta and from there sends money and advisers. The government of Pakistan is ostensibly helping but for many years they have refused to govern the northern part of their country that borders Afghanistan. With an intelligence service that is riddled with Wahhabi diehards, President Musharraf is walking a very thin tightrope in trying to establish credible governmental authority in northern Pakistan.

Israel is dealing with a similar situation. After thirty four days of conflict Hezbollah (who operated from southern Lebanon), Lebanon, and Israel have agreed to abide by United Nations Resolution 1701 which you can read for yourself by clicking here (it is a PDF file). Israel will hand off Lebanese territory to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) who in turn will hand over the territory to the Lebanese Army. The Lebanese Army is supposed to supply 15,000 troops and UNIFIL will be increased to 15,000 troops as well. They will do joint patrols (sorta like what we do in Afghanistan with the Afghan National Army). Here is the kicker, the Lebanese Army is supposed to be the only recognized ARMED force in Lebanon, implying that Hezbollah must disarm.

In my humble opinion, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban are all cut from the same cloth and have the same sponsors. Iran, Syria, and some Pakistani factions have no interest in a stable and self governing Lebanon or Afghanistan. The Islamist Fascists we are fighting against need a base of operations which a non-functioning state provides. There is also the idea that your typical Muslim nowadays doesn't identify with the state but with their culture and religion. I quote from this article by Mark Steyn:

Here's a clue, from a recent Pew poll that asked: What do you consider yourself first? A citizen of your country or a Muslim?

In the United Kingdom, 7 percent of Muslims consider themselves British first, 81 percent consider themselves Muslim first.

And that's where the really valid Lebanese comparison lies. Lebanon is a sovereign state. It has an executive and a military. But its military has less sophisticated weaponry than Hezbollah and its executive wields less authority over its jurisdiction than Hezbollah. In the old days, the Lebanese government would have fallen and Hezbollah would have formally supplanted the state. But non-state actors like the Hezbo crowd and al-Qaida have no interest in graduating to statehood. They've got bigger fish to fry. If you're interested in establishing a global caliphate, getting a U.N. seat and an Olympic team only gets in the way. The "sovereign" state is of use to such groups merely as a base of operations, as Afghanistan was and Lebanon is. They act locally but they think globally.

And that indifference to the state can be contagious. Lebanon's Christians may think of themselves as "Lebanese," but most of Hezbollah's Shiite constituency don't. Western analysts talk hopefully of fierce differences between Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Persian, but it's interesting to note the numbers of young Sunni men in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere in recent weeks who've decided that Iran's (Shiite) President Ahmadinejad and his (Shiite) Hezbo proxies are the new cool kids in town. During the '90s, we grew used to the idea that "non-state actors" meant a terrorist group, with maybe a few hundred activists, a few thousand supporters. What if entire populations are being transformed into "non-state actors"? Not terrorists, by any means, but at the very minimum entirely indifferent to the state of which they're nominally citizens.

A few of us were sitting around the office wondering what the real goal of Hezbollah was and by extension Iran and Syria. If I learned anything from Gunny Poole, it’s all about the deception, baby. If a non-functioning state is in the best interests of Hezbollah et al, why not get a sworn enemy to do the work for you? How about “creating chaos to make an enemy easier to beat” (one of the 36 stratagems of deception from China).

LTC (Ret) Peters recently wrote an article listing lessons learned from the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. You can read the article here. What follows are the main points he wanted to make.

1: You can win every tactical engagement and still lose at the strategic level.
2: The global media can overturn the verdict of the battlefield.
3: If you start off on the wrong foot in war, you may never recover your balance.
4: Technology alone can't win 21st-century wars.
5: Never underestimate your enemy.
6: In war, take the pain up front, and the overall suffering will be far less.
7: Terrorism is no longer a limited, diffuse, disorganized threat.

As an Information Operations Officer in southern Afghanistan, I am trying to sort out points 1 and 2 (media operations, messaging, and psychological operations), and points 4 and 5 (our western predisposition to look condescendingly on an adversary not as technically advanced as us). Peters also raises the following two questions:

Can a military that relies heavily on reserve call-ups win this new kind of war?
Can we win "Eastern" wars with Western values?

Peters argues that Hezbollah isn’t some rabble with an AK-47 and a couple of magazines. Israeli soldiers encountered well disciplined fighters fighting from well prepared positions with planned exits. They had launched close to 4000 rockets into Israel, used the latest anti-tank weapons, and deployed reconnaissance drones. Israel is going to have to think long and hard about restructuring its military to counter the new professionalism of Hezbollah fighters.

As for the second question, Peters implies that the West will have to sacrifice its values and fight by the enemy's rules in order to win. The example he used was that Israel could have leveled apartment buildings to kill the Hezbollah command centers but instead Israel tried surgical strikes using commandos at great risk

I have to respectfully disagree with the LTC (Ret) Peters. The West is very good at killing people on a large and industrial scale. Ask any person of Japanese or German descent that was around during WWII. Or read Dr. Hanson’s “Carnage and Culture”. We won’t sacrifice our values to win, we just have to make a POLITICAL decision to win and win decisively.

So, what now for Israel and Hezbollah. Lebanon will have to assert sovereignty in her southern area and Hezbollah will have to disarm. I don’t see it happening because Hezbollah has more advanced weaponry and better training than the Lebanese Army. UNIFIL will have to assert its authority by killing violators of the ceasefire who will more than likely be Hezbollah fighters. Because UNIFIL never asserted its authority in the first place, increasing its end strength to 15, 000 with soldiers from countries that think Israel is the real problem and that Germany should have finished the job will not be “combat effective” against Hezbollah.

You are probably wondering why I am talking about Israel and Hezbollah more than I am talking about Afghanistan. With the recent Transfer of Authority (TOA) with the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), we are coming to the realization here in Regional Command South that ISAF doesn’t “get it”. I firmly believe that the Taliban “gets it” and is exploiting the situation. I wish I could say more but I would seriously compromise our operations. To give you a hint of what we are dealing with, ISAF stands for either “I Should Ask First” or “I Suck At Fighting”, depending on what unbelievable pile of crap is excreted from ISAF in Kabul.

Will the ceasefire hold between Hezbollah and Israel? Will ISAF be able to hold what gains we made in southern Afghanistan when we were under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)? We can defeat the Taliban and Israel can totally defeat Hezbollah. Afghans who have studied our history are asking us why aren’t we getting on with it. We are very good at killing the enemy; we just need the political decision to unleash the dogs of war.

CPT NightHawk


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm SPC Chris Erickson with U.S. Central Command Public Affairs. I came across your site and saw your interest in the Middle East.
Consider this an invitation to check out and link to our web site, www.centcom.mil, where you can find articles, photos, video and audio that you're free to use on your blog.

16 August, 2006 14:30  
Anonymous Zach said...

Can a military that relies heavily on reserve call-ups win this new kind of war?
Can we win "Eastern" wars with Western values?

Only if we can find the vaules that helped us win WWI and WWII. So, the answer is.. No... we cant win with todays "values."

16 August, 2006 16:46  

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