“A Bridge Too Far: Ramifications of the “Quiet Surge” For Afghanistan”

It seems the past couple of months have played witness to a fundamental shift towards addressing the much belated needs of U.S.-NATO and Afghan Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. Although I am not one for advocating more war or the expanding of conflict, I am one for taking care of our commitments and finishing what we start on a victorious note. I’d rather support a complete pull-out from these cursed deployment areas but the reality of this particular situation is that we haven’t gone far enough to finish the job.

The title caption reference (for those possibly unfamiliar with the words) to “A Bridge Too Far” is a slight homage of mine paid to the journalist/historian Cornelius Ryan’s 1974 non-fiction book (later a 1977 movie adaptation by the same name) recounting the harrowing actions surrounding the WWII Allied Forces Airborne assault into Holland called Operation: Market-Garden. The words were first uttered and immortalized by British Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Browning, then deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, when speaking to British Army Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery prior to the aforementioned operation. His complete sentence was “I think we may be going a bridge too far”. The bridge analogy was one of literal meaning too as the crux of the allied plan was to attempt the securing of actual bridges or bridging points across the several rivers of Holland (or the Netherlands) and eventually north western Germany, namely the Rhine, leading into the industrial heartland of the Third Reich.

The simplest breakdown of Operation Market-Garden (Market = Allied Airborne force and Garden = Allied Ground maneuver forces) is this: a) Allied Airborne forces conducted the world’s (and history’s) largest airborne/glider borne paratrooper assault deep behind enemy front lines, b) said airborne/glider borne forces were only meant to hold secured drop zones and bridges for a short while (owing to the fact that these were light infantry troops not designed to stand up to heavier enemy ground elements, e.g. German tanks, dropped deep behind enemy lines and not easily replenished with soldiers, equipment, or supplies), c) a promised advancement by the British XXX Corps to the hamlet of Arnhem, Holland within 48 hours to link up and relieve the British 1st Airborne Division (relief of the American 101st Airborne Division at Eindhoven and the 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen would be accomplished along the way to Arnhem). The age old adage is “no plan survives contact with the enemy” came through in spades for the Allied forces and five hard fought days later the first advance elements of XXX Corps reach the bitterly embattled British paratroopers. Of course, dropping in unannounced on top of two German SS Panzer Divisions resting and refitting in the same area as your drop zones are located did contribute a wee bit to the overall complexity of the situation. Needless to say, the British First Airborne bubbas were decimated and the bridge not secured until later.

My analogy isn’t meant to go as deep as to draw exact or lengthy parallels between that operation and our current actions in Afghanistan (although having both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions major participants in both conflicts is eerie), merely to illustrate similar ones, namely the one for anticipated reinforcement and re-supply, and refit.

The super basic analogy resides with:
– The U.S.-NATO forces deployed to Afghanistan current represent the light infantry forces deployed deep within enemy territory. Their mission is to vanquish the foe within and then maintain a hold on the territorial integrity and continuity that is Afghanistan (Eindhoven, nijmegen, and Arnhem drop zones).
– Their relief or reinforcement is an anticipated troop surge priority (albeit the decision of this needing to be a priority is very late in coming) (XXX Corps commitment).
– And, finally, their anticipated reinforcements are the much held up by bureaucratic red tape and politics “surge” troops (XXX Corps hold up and the hard fighting left for the embattled airborne forces).

President George W. Bush, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and Commander, U.S. Central Command (formerly MNF-I Commander in Iraq) General David Petraeus have all now put forth press releases touting the need for a “Surge” for Afghanistan. If I wanted to be cynical right at this moment I would berate the fact that at least with Iraq it only took three years to correct an insufficiency of “boots-on-the-ground”, Afghanistan has apparently taken nearly seven years!!!

The acknowledgment that the fight in Afghanistan is distinctly different than in Iraq is crucial and I feel it will prove key to any strategy implemented. I also feel it is imperative that this difference, this distinction in fighting tactics, techniques, and procedures between Iraq and Afghanistan needs be pressed home in the minds of the U.S. Congress and the American people in order for the proper grasping of what is “going on” over there. I really felt a terrible job was accomplished in explaining the “surge” in Iraq to the American people (being cynical again I could also expect that Congress was ill informed too). This likely contributed to the lukewarm reception it has had among the national audience since said introduction.

I have mentioned before, the “fight” in Afghanistan has been, and at times still is, a much more “conventional” one shrouded amidst the usual confines of an insurgency. Yes, the asymmetric warfare elements abound and the arena of the unconventional is still the major playing field. But, it is not entirely a straight-forward unconventional fight. Afghan militants, whether Taliban, Mujahideen, narco-terrorists, or foreign fighter contingents, have been engaging from the beginning in some very “stand-up” fight kind of tactics over the years.

In addition to addressing the need for a troop surge alone in Afghanistan, addressing of the cross-border activities into Afghanistan from Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere, along with so called “sanctuary” areas or safe haven locales, primarily located within the little monitored Pakistani Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) is of the utmost importance.

Over the past several weeks we have seen a tremendous upsurge in the U.S.-Afghan Coalition forces cross border land unit and air asset infractions into Pakistan, namely the Waziristan Agency area. At the risk of putting the Pakistan allies in a trigger happy defensive posture attempting to maintain national and international political face while upholding domestic sovereignty, this cross over into this tribal areas in particular has been much needed for many years. Strange to have to say it again but here it is seven years later and the U.S. is just now handling the situation heavy-handed enough to begin making headway eliminating persistent enemy elements! It’s great that U.S.- Afghan Coalition forces are having such success eliminating key targets there but it comes with a high, stiff price. The U.S. risks escalating our entire relationship with Pakistan into a confrontation with them as a nation state instead of securing mutual cooperation in conducting joint operations to destroy mutual enemy forces.

The “inconvenient truth” of the war IN Afghanistan is that it may actually be best fought OUTSIDE of Afghanistan. The U.S. national military strategy path is now leading possibly towards taking the fight to the sanctuary zones in Pakistan, and may later expand to consider interference from other border fronts of Iran, Uzbekistan, etc. This isn’t a satisfying prospect in the least. Strange how times change circumstances and bedfellows, eh? The U.S. fights the Soviets in Afghanistan from safe haven positions in Pakistan only to turn-around 20 years later to fight Afghanistan Taliban elements in Pakistan from “safe haven” positions in Afghanistan!


Avoiding an Obama‘s “Splendid Little War” Analogy

(Of course this is mostly an opinion piece sprinkled with elements of keen observation, ha-ha…enjoy!)

(### the quote/phrase “a splendid little war” is attributed to United States ambassador to England, John Hay, in regards to the Spain-American War of 1898.)

Since 2002, President Bush has been hammered over the years for Iraq being his “splendid little war” or SLW. Let us hope that Senator Obama, if successful in seeking the POTUS (President of the United States), doesn’t allow the continuance of the war in Afghanistan merely and simply to bolster a weak military and foreign policy background for both he and his potential cabinet. Since Senator Obama migrates quickly away from anything that even appears politically negative or damaging, I’m taking a “wait and see” approach towards his expected foreign policy. Let us hope that his current rhetoric or “tough talk” regarding his and his cabinet’s expected stance on Afghanistan and our national and military commitments there aren’t for two shallow reasons: a) he’s standing firm because the American public isn’t as perturbed with Afghanistan as with Iraq (I could wax on about media bias here but I’ll hold off for now) and, b) having some form of military conflict is always perceived as a bonus to a perceived or otherwise inexperienced military or foreign policy POTUS (see the Balkan Wars, Somalia, the Sudan, and strangely enough Afghanistan with President Clinton). Along with all of this “talking” the good senator purports wishing to inculcate among our foreign policy plate of resources, I hope a healthy dose of under dealings using backwater channels to cripple our enemies is on par too. It’s nice to talk, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it. But while talking and waiting and watching while nations vacillate in the mire of inaction until diplomacy is hashed out, a whole lot of judicious under-the-table pressures need pushed also. It isn’t a savory thing to contemplate but it is however a very reality-based issue to come to terms with. (In our assistance to the Afghans in their fight against the Soviets during the 1980s we entwined Israeli anti-aircraft weapons designs, to be manufactured in Egypt, paid for by Saudi Arabia, transported to dictatorial Pakistan by democratic American CIA handlers, for eventual distribution to God believing radical Islamo-fascist Muslim jihadist to shoot down/kill atheistic communist Soviet military aircraft pilots. To be sure, a longer trail of duplicity may be hard to fine! Basically, it is simply meant to illustrate the strange paths taken sometimes in the pursuit of, many time Machiavellian to an extreme, an “end state.”) I don’t like the outcome our subtle workings have sometimes wrought because many times, especially during this century, we have only engineered our future enemies (Iran coup of 1953, encouragement for Iran to attack Iraq in the mid 1970s, support of Iraq against Iran during Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, etc, etc. etc. Long stories all, another time and forum to do the subjects justice.)

An addendum to the above:

Before you lambaste me for not pointing out any of Presidents Reagan or Bushes senior and junior’s military forays falling into this same category, lets at least establish their non-need to start conflicts so as to establish their foreign policy “cred” (credentials) so to speak (this being said it doesn’t mean I don’t think they had these “splendid little wars” for the record I am so there in thinking that they did, don’t get me wrong). All I want to establish is that they inherited positions that already conferred it on them. President Reagan if you’ll recall inherited the Iran Hostage Crisis and went forth from there with strong public support that he was a strong foreign policy/military engagement fella. President Bush the senior was all about the foreign policy deal as he traveled the planet for eight years with President Reagan’s State Department and when he took office he had the best repertoire with almost all world leaders on a first name basis. President Bush junior had the enemy hand him a ready made conflict to our doorsteps and could have allowed Afghanistan to remain his only “teeth cutting” episode of major national military war making, but of course we have the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say, so that isn’t the case. Many, many folks jumped all over President George W. Bush prior to and soon after hostilities with Iraq for having his “splendid little war” moment recalling similarities to the Spain-American war of 1898 and the current Iraq war provocations, build up, and eventual attack. To some extent I tend to agree, factoring in hindsight and all that comes with received wisdom.

As an aside:

I honestly feel our Global War On Terrorism or GWOT is very much endanger of becoming re-monikered under the old Word War I description/quote “the War to End All Wars”. Only where as the foolish hopes of those who thought this description could apply to WWI and that it would have an eventual terminus (falsely believed to be quick and short), its application to GWOT is likely to become true in that it will encompass all other wars from its inception forward under its banner and be for all practical terms…endless.

Back to the topic:

For as much as Senator Obama speaks of “change” or more specifically “change we can believe in”, I am not buying it. I will extend him the “benefit of the doubt” with great reservations until I see real, hard examples appear. His rhetoric to date seems to be only applicable to “changing” the areas deemed important enough to get elected but not to fundamentally change any real substantive way our country does business. The only point consistently hammered for change is the lobbyist arena of which most Americans know little to nothing about. The domestic agenda aside, I need to hear more concrete, substantive dialog on the “change” implied with the conduct of our nation’s wars, current and potential future ones. I must say now, and will likely repeat often, “how we conduct our wars will determine our benefits in peace”. This is why an extremely relevant question to pose any presidential candidate from any party seeking the office, is “what exactly constitutes your position(s) regarding the conduct of foreign wars by our country?”. If Afghanistan suddenly became untenable to support (e.g. Iraq pre-surge) and politically “hot”, will he back away and leave it hanging? I hope not. Many men and women that I have had the privilege and honor of serving with over the years are still fighting this war. I would not take it lightly if their lives were somehow “cheapened” to political fodder, especially under a “change” banner waving potential Democratic Presidential candidate.

Again, before you lambaste me a good one on picking on Senator Obama and calling me a Republican tool or a two-bit conservative hatchet man, I am and have been a very independently minded registered Democrat since day one of my voting eligible adulthood (going on 23+ years now). To answer the other burning question I know is likely eating at your brain “am I a Hillary person” and just exhibiting ‘sour grapes’, to that I answer no and no. If you must know I was in favor of Senator Joe Biden for the Democratic ticket, but that was a ‘lost cause’ before it began because he was not one of the “media darlings” and so was doomed from the outset. Oh well, you play the cards you’re dealt right? Anyway…

(I realize that now after having shared this personal revelation of my political background I will likely have alienated many GOP, conservatives, or Libertarians from my blog. I hope this isn’t the case. To both liberals, conservatives, or any persuasions in between, I hope to re-emphasize the words from above of “independently minded” Democrat. A good idea, plan, or solution from any source is still a good idea, plan, or solution especially when it comes to the betterment of the United States.)

Besides, if any of us were to be truly honest with ourselves in answering the question “who’s really for change” in the previous candidate field this election year, there were only two choices–Representative Dennis Kucinich and Representative Ron Paul. Representative Kucinich advocates near complete socialism and Representative Paul advocates near complete Libertarianism. I would have to say overall Rep. Ron Paul is the most change-from-the-norm candidate for either party and the most anti-war, so, that would make him the truest “change” candidate. I digress…the last comments are good fodder for a future discussion, perhaps in another forum…

If Iraq is a “wrongful conflict” and an imperialistic act of hubris then why not Afghanistan too? UN mandate or not it is still stands as a unilateral choice made by the United States. And if it was truly our intent to smash the bad guys, their facilitators and supporters, and to pummel the nation states that harbor them, then we have woefully failed. At present according to that mantra we would have to be at war and deployed in at least a dozen or more countries MOST of which are our supposed “allies”. Since our international military conflicts and global economic activities are inextricably linked and both affect greatly our domestic “tranquility” and life, I do want to hear a great deal more from Senator Obama regarding this matter (and Senator McCain too for that matter). What I don’t wish to hear is the same Washington platitudes and by lines for how we are to conduct our affairs in this great matter of national and international importance. Despite the nuclear issues with Iran, how do we handle them in regards to their meddling in terrorist actions in both Iraq and Afghanistan and the harboring of known or suspected terrorism perpetrators? How do we overcome Pakistani resistance to our operating in their country to destroy Al-Qaeda? How do we bring to account the other Central Asian states (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, etc) and their populations that foster, foment, fund, and fill in the ranks of jihadist and other criminal groups aggravating the Afghanistan war zone? I would venture a guess that to most Americans the complexities, vagaries, subtleties, and many nuances that pepper the entire Afghanistan issue are a complete mystery. I would also assume many can’t correctly spell it if asked much less be able to place it on the map or globe or relate a small shred of our historical connection to the country. Perhaps a strong positive that may evolve from Senator Obama’s stance regarding Afghanistan is that while a large portion of America is riveted to him during this presidential contest, many will hear and become better acquainted with the “splendid little (sometimes forgotten) war” in Afghanistan.

Bottom line: If we (the U.S.) choose to fight perpetrators of violence against our sovereignty then I am all for doing it up right! Begin with the formal declaration of war by the Congress (not done for any conflict or war since World War II). Then, complete military mobilization for war. Next, total commitment to overwhelming military supremacy (land, sea , air, and space) to eliminate all enemy forces and means to make and conduct war. Finally, an absolute clear “exit strategy” for rapid disengagement and redeployment back home. Nothing less than this should be the norm for committing the nation to war so that war doesn’t become “acceptable” as an ordinary daily thing.

Also, avoidance of all pretense entering any nation from the outset with specific “nation building” aspirations. Post major conflict management functions is where the whole shebang comes crashing down on nearly all modern deployments (and the centering of our largest casualty counts!). All of our strategies are based the fanciful belief that post conflict management will fall in line with the same model for success of post WW II Europe or Japan. Invariably, since the age of ever smaller defined “self-determination” populations (place some blame on President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations and Fourteen Points and the distortions by others since) post conflict nation building IS the new war zone, so to speak. Toppling a sitting nation’s government and military are the cake walk part of modern warfare’s equation. Managing the multitude of divisions and sub-divisions of minority people groups of whatever determining size and factor is the real messy part.

And as for committing our nation to war in the first place, we often forget the “price“ and price tag for war. Over the intervening years since WW II, our nation has been too fortunate really in not having to feel the “sacrifices” of war on the broad, general public citizenry level. Basically, war has become an “affordable luxury” like many other consumer items. It’s extremely overwhelming to actually contemplate the awesome capability of the U.S. and its military forces to actually pull off this most incredible feat exemplifying an example of “single nation imperial power” not seen before or since in the annuls of human history. I simply never want the American public to become comfortable, casual, and complacent with an “affordable war” concept. To enter war so lightly or slightly is the first undermining of the very fabric our great republic stands for in the world, that of peace, freedom and prosperity.

Should Senator Obama become POTUS my biggest encouragement for him is to not allow his campaign rhetoric regarding the increased attention to the war in Afghanistan be merely election antics devoid of substance. If we as a country indeed wish to accelerate the demise of Al-Qaeda, et al, then we had better commit to resource this campaign properly. Toying around and playing global police man is not what we should be doing. It ultimately leads to strained international relations and massive economic loss. Declare America’s enemies, fight America’s enemies, and finish off America’s enemies, do not dilly-dally.

While Mr. Obama is working to “channel” the spirits of great Democratic Presidents of the past (namely FDR, Truman, and JFK, but hopefully not to Woodrow Wilson or Jimmy Carter!) into his campaign, let’s hope that the lessons of history these men gave us is not forgotten. Please take a page from the ones that successfully fought and won the conflicts America was faced with and that also put us on a greater, more prosperous plane of existence after the fact. Let this be an encouragement to right action rather than a pure indictment of yet unfulfilled promises.

What say you?

Finishing Unfinished Business: US Troop Escalation

Seems I barely added a post for a troop surge in Afghanistan and…voila! articles are flying off the proverbial presses of solid decisions to “send more now”. Check out all of the major news services, they’re all stumbling over themselves to put out the latest and greatest. America’s so called “forgotten war” is apparently (and finally!) forgotten no more. I am ecstatic and fully supportive that national policy is finally addressing this war, but I must draw parallels with both Soviet and other nations invasions of the past. While the Russians, British, and others purposefully invaded Afghanistan and committed forces supposedly sufficient to take care of the problem, they were all distracted with higher priority national concerns which drained resources away. It wasn’t until each previous foreign invader finally admitted the untenable position of their then current resource level allocation and eventually shifted from the other higher priority issue(s) that each began to “surge” into this dusty land with apparent “necessary forces for the job”. Check out the Soviet escalation of the 1980s and the British invasions of the 1800s. Perhaps US involvement will “break the mold” and not follow step with previous similar military incursions. Yes, many could point out the differences in reasons for each invasion force, I guess attempting to make a moral or ethical argument. I am not here to advocate for or against the superior or inferior purposes behind previous invasions, merely pointing out that each one has tended to follow a similar deployment pattern. This pattern seems to allow the enemy forces to establish themselves for a long term resistance. This long term resistance nearly always favors the opposition forces allowing them to establish institutional support systems. For the most part, while attempting to practice good nationhood, the invader nation cannot halt, impede, or destroy these institutional support channels because it would result in a widening of the war or damaging conduct towards a friendly or allied nation. Well, lets see how this plays out for the next few weeks. Will NATO and UN forces increase also? Can Pakistan be brought to greater accountability; will they eventually let us venture into their Federally Administrated Tribal Areas? Questions, questions, questions…where are the answers?

Notes From The Afghan Tea Room

(WARNING: This blog site and moderator are in no way connected, affiliated, supportive of, sponsored by, or otherwise associated with any Islamic, Muslim, Afghan, Central Asian government, non-government agency, corporation, political group, terrorist organization, or state-less group. This site does not and will not advocate for, act as surrogate of, or lend credence or assistance to any of the above same listed organizations.)


This blog is established for the express purpose of debating, discussing, and otherwise haggling over the people, places, and events that are shaping our world today. The initial vector of the discussion and commentary will focus on the subject at hand that I am most familiar with and has occupied a large portion of my recent life history. My curiosity is to “why I myself have been thrust into this world issue” and although playing a minor role, nonetheless a role I have played. If asked prior to my direct involvement in this part of the world whether or not I would have believed my life would be intertwined in these events to the extent so far, I would have said categorically no way! I never ever contemplated that I would have anything to do with the trappings of the Central Asian (or Central Eurasian) geo-political arena. As Paul Harvey use to say: “…and now for the rest of the story…”