Beginners guides

Afghan conflicts for beginners

I like to simplify things for people who don’t have the inclination or the wherewithal to look stuff up on the internet themselves. They may watch a snippet of news on television about something going on somewhere. Maybe even read some more detail in a newspaper. Many though don’t actually realise that what one reads in the newspaper is very much dictated by the political leanings of the paper they are reading. Well except for Guardian readers of course. The Guardian is owned by a trust.

There is some unpleasantness going on in the near east that we have all heard of as many British Soldiers are currently engaged in trying to overwhelm some mountain tribesmen. They are doing this in conjunction with the American military and various other international forces who do not wish to contribute meaningful forces to such folly. Well except the Kiwi’s and the Aussies of course. They have or had most of their SAS doing all sorts of heroic things over there, so much so that they have won a Victoria Cross each. (One trooper from each country, not all of them) That’s pretty special.

This mountainous region of the near east that is causing so much trouble is called Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a large country. The 41st largest in the whole world and it is also one of the most inhospitable terrains on Earth. Its neighbours are Pakistan in the southeast, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast. It is mostly mountains.

There have been battles waged in and over Afghanistan literally since the dawn of human civilisation. Campaigners include Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Soviet Union, and NATO. These massive Armies came and all but one (so far) went. Local ruckuses too numerous to count or remember continued uninterrupted since forever.

We can’t even begin to imagine how hardened the Afghans are to war as that’s been the way of life since Afghan time began so let’s look at what softies they have not become since the Soviet invasion of 1979. The Soviets invaded because they wanted to have a crack at running the Persian Gulf and to do that they needed to get to Baluchistan apparently. Afghanistan is on the way there from Russia which at the time had all the other ‘Stans’ as part of its southern boundaries. Those are independent countries now.

So the Soviets and Americans fought each other using their own Afghans. The Soviets and the Afghan Government fought against the American funded Mujahedeen Fighters. The Mujahedeen are what we came to call the people who did not want to be Russians. Remember Osama Bin Laden? He was a big player in the Mujahedeen which was funded by the Americans, as they couldn’t very well turn up to fight the Russians themselves. This was back in the cold war days. It also doesn’t matter who the Government was as Afghanistan is a tribal country populated by people who have fought among themselves since forever.

During the 10 years of fighting against the Russians over one million Afghans were killed, mostly civilians. This is because even with the reasonably sophisticated tanks, Helicopter gunships and Jets that the Russians had at the time. They are actually pretty useless against tribesmen half way up a mountain. The Mujahedeen with their old weapons and horses, but bolstered with some clever rockets they got from the Americans fought a pretty effective war against the might of the Russian military. Eventually the Russians figured out it was a waste of lives and money, at which point they gave up and went home. It’s worth noting at this point that it is unlikely that the Russians took any Health & Safety officers to Afghanistan and their rules of engagement and fair-play are somewhat looser than the NATO forces.

The Afghans then endured about eight years of bloody civil war with Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia variously sticking their nose in to help fund the Afghans they liked best and felt would give them the biggest share of any spoils once the dust had settled.

During this time some Gentlemen among the Afghan refugees in Pakistan felt that they had a better idea how Afghanistan should be run, along strict religious principles. There was some initial success in military campaigns to take over the country, then some losses. A nearby country decided that the Taliban had the best ideas on how to run Afghanistan so threw their weight and money behind them. The Taliban decided that they had been too soft in their war fighting style so engaged the more vigorous use of systematic massacre, mass-killing, and torture to get their views across. Eventually they ostensibly found themselves in charge and able to mete out the sort of religious interpretation they enjoyed so much. One observation body noted thus

“To PHR’s knowledge, no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment”

That half the population being women of course. The Taliban were very much ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ sort of fellows.

So now we had militant religious extremists running a country fighting a constant and running battle against some other Afghan people who do not wish to be tortured to death for thinking the wrong thing, or looking at a lady.

Next thing we know the Twin Towers in New York are Rubble and the finger is pointed squarely at a wealthy Saudi living on a mountain in Afghanistan. The decision was taken to send an entire Global Military Alliance to find him and that campaign some-how is still going even though he was shot in his pyjamas in Pakistan last year.

I don’t need to discuss the ins and outs or rights or wrongs of the current escapade in Afghanistan, which has now been running twice as long as the Second World War. It has achieved significantly less and surely by now must have cost more in dollars and pence.

No I am just going to simplify why it is futile. This in no way detracts from the heroism of the soldiers fighting there, but remember they didn’t start it. They are there doing an impossible job very well.

But defeating the Afghans warriors, let’s forget the names of those on the other side be they Taliban, Al Qaida or any other group or tribe, is impossible.

This is because they have been fighting all their history. It is their home. They are some of the most battle hardened warrior people on Earth. They are fighting with strength of religious belief completely alien to Westerners. They firmly believe that the more infidel invaders they kill the better their eternity will turn out. They do not have to follow any ‘rules of engagement’. They can use any tactic they can come up with at any time of night or day. They have an inexhaustible network of informers behind every wall and building. The kid pumping petrol in the morning is probably out digging holes for IED’s in the evening.

As I said before even the Russians, who are about as brutal as any Western Army can get away with, had to give up and go home.

British and American soldiers have to abide by very strict rules as to who they can and cannot shoot. Even down to which way a chap is looking or what he might be holding before you are allowed to shoot him.

If you shoot the wrong person by mistake you end up being tried for murder by people making decisions on your judgement under conditions they cannot imagine, civilians. You have a Health & Safety officer making sure you don’t slip on the gangway to and from the mess. You have to account in detail for every action and justify everything you do to someone. Make a mistake and your life is ruined. The Hi-tech Gunships and such like are not a lot of use against widely dispersed tribal fighters who don’t even have the consideration to wear a uniform so you know who the bad guys are.

The bad guys live in a country no-one can or should conquer and follow a way of life completely alien to our western values and culture. I say leave them to have their tribal wars and deal with their own issues as they have done since ages ago. There has never been peace in all Afghan history. All we are doing is contributing to the slaughter. I’ve heard many politicians talk of the right timing for handing over to the Afghan army, when they are able to ensure peace and stability. That would be the first time that has happened in Afghan history so I just can’t see this is something about to happen now. So it is time to call it a day. It’s not a loss, it’s stopping the delay of the inevitable and saving lives that don’t need to be lost in a battle that cannot be won. I have served in the NZ Army alongside guys who fought in Vietnam. They told how you cannot win a war against an inexhaustible enemy fighting for his own Country who is prepared to stoop to activity you are forbidden from engaging in and can’t fight against. The Germans found this out in Russia in World War Two. The Americans found this out in Vietnam. The Russians found this out in Afghanistan. It seems people still don’t learn from history.

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8 replies »

  1. I really worry about women in Afghanistan. The conflicts have affected families, men, women and children, but there are women of my age who have no quality of life and it saddens me.

    A friend of ours joined MSF 14 years ago to work with women’s healthcare in Afghanistan. She had to leave the country last year due to the deteriorating security situation.

    And worse still, will you be needing to tell us how the French colonialists brought Syria to the position she is in now, as our governments consider another show of force in the Middle East?

    Much as I enjoy your blogs, I do hope not.

    Lesley x.

    PS. The pancakes must have done the trick!

    • Its just the basic outline Shauna. I kept the heavy stuff out of it as I didn’t want to upset anyone. My blog is generally a light place. But this has been bothering me as we are being sold a story that some sort of success is possible here. It isn’t

  2. Kipling said it best:

    When you’re lying and dying on the Afghan plains
    And the women come to pick your remains
    There’s nowt you can but roll on your rifle and blow out your brains
    And go to your God like a soldier

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