Force multiplier, force protection, forced outcome. Whatever US/NATO calls this, tanks in Afghanistan is about more force.
One poor lad described the tanking of Helmand (as if the writing wasn't already on the wall) as follows:
"You know what scares the hell out of dismounted insurgents? 70 tons of badassery that will make them dead if they mess with it...If the problem in Helmand is a highly-active insurgency that requires a firepower solution, then the M1A1 is what you want to bring to the fight."
Afghanistan is deadly riddle. Consider the following fairly straightforward conundrums:
- Is the enemy 'not winning but not losing either' (in the case of the Taliban/AQ/'Terror') a security interest?
- Does it matter if the enemy moves on - should we just stay and fight anyway?
- Counter-insurgency doctrine often demands a lot of tactical thinking into things like where to dig wells, where to build hospitals, roads, and the like. Why do we need soldiers making these decisions - aren't such matters the government's purview?
- Is counter-insurgency or COIN actually relevant or is was this a doctrine used to paper over US/NATO's unimaginative (and doomed) approaches to stabilising Afghanistan?
- If Karzai is a corrupt and ineffective ally, how can his dysfunctional government actually be the recipient ofcounter-insurgency and stabilization (or so-called nation-building) dividends?
- Can a foreign occupier even counter an insurgency as fluid and population-centric as the Taliban? Indeed, doesn't military occupation only fill their ranks?
- How many small wars waged by foreign occupation forces have had legitimate/clean/able government?
- Are the measures used to gather information on AQ/Taliban targets sufficient and reasonable to justify pre-meditated (and extra-judicial) killing? Will this chicken come home to roost in 5-15 years time? And will China exploit this double standard in U.S. committments to upholding human rights?
- Is there a correlation, or a measurable relationship, between the way US/NATO forces conduct their operations and deteriorating security? (The Afghanistan Study Group is slowly coming around to this conclusion. Essentially, they are suggesting that the occupation - in its complexity and through the force of its will - is (re)fueling the enemy.)
Of late, I have found it bewildering that some U.S. commentators think that a U.S. withdrawal will be anti-climactic. These are usually the same commentators who dismiss the release by Wikileaks of nearly half a million classified documents from war theatres in Afghanistan and Iraq as "nothingnew". Glance for a moment at all the major news wires; news on the U.S. is totally over-represented. Any withdrawal, however incremental or precipitate, will create a lot of excitement. (And whilst I am on the subject, if the deluge of war logs released by Wikileaks is nothing new, why is Julian Assange being continually harrassed and Bradley Manning being detained?)
If a withdrawal happens - and I do hold out hope - several things are very likely to happen:
- Karzai will shift allegiances faster than you can say "I am a reliable partner". Iran will get its hooks deeper into Afghanistan, at Pakistan's expense. This game is neither great nor determinative; it's theirs to play. Karzai will be ousted within months unless his contortionist ways save him.
- The UN will have a meltdown of sorts. They'll recover.
- The US economy will recover faster. Because you will have more resources for stimulus and your brighter minds can start thinking their way around this riddle, instead of an unnecessary war in Central Asia.
- The President will have a lot of explaining to do with the idiotic right castigating him for 'cutting and running'. This is the touchstone issue - can Obama afford to lose in Afghanistan? Or is the smarter money on prolonging the war and dumping it in the lap of the next President?
- Pakistan will pack its daks because it will realise that it's waterbed-cum-state is next cab on the rank. The magnitude of failure of this nation as a result of poor policy, service-delivery, and security in Kashmir, Beluchistan, FATA, now Sindh and Punjab, safeguarding the judiciary, and pursuing constructive relations with India are withering and abominable. But it's not the U.S.'s problem. It's Pakistan's. The U.S. can certainly help on the development and trade side, but Pakistan's foreign policy is neither controlled chaos or diabolical. It's infested with its leaders' self interests, which appear to be absolutely rotten.
It will take Herculean effort to pull out of this ditch; the political torque required is there. Obama is a strong leader, still with untapped reservoirs of confidence around the world. Letting Afghanistan gowould transform America's international prestige (positively), but it would also excoriate national morale.
(the photos are from the Battle of Kursk, July-August 1943)