Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Afghanistan - Learn the Lessons of History

Today President Obama is to meet with all his head honchos and top generals to discuss the way forward in the seemingly endless campaign in Afghanistan. Being suggested is an Iraq style "surge" in the number of troops, in order to crack down on the "insurgency" once and for all. However, I would suggest that there are lessons from Afghan history which do not bode well for the NATO mission.

Simply put, Afghanistan has a track record for defeating world powers.

Three times in the 19th century, Britain attempted the conquest of this mountainous country, which borders what was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, pre-partition India. Three times the Afghans repulsed the world's major super power of the time.

Coming closer to our own time, 1979 saw the Soviet invasion of the country, which then led to 10 years of war and destruction. Afghanistan had long been a target for Russian expansionism, both under the tsars and commissars, so it was expected that they would eventually make a move to bring the country under Soviet control. Ten years later the Soviets were driven out by the Mujahideen, bringing to an end a conflict which has been described as the Soviet Vietnam.

Now just 20 years later the American led NATO forces are bogged down in a conflict which shows no signs of ending any time soon.

The lesson of history would seem to be, invade Afghanistan at your peril, and expect to be stuck in a cycle of guerrilla warfare for years to come. How can the West break this cycle? I for one don't have any simple answers, but to defeat terrorism it is not enough to send young men and women to kill and be killed, it is necessary to address the grievances that terrorists claim as justification for their acts. If however the West continues in its belief that the "cold, hard steel of the bayonet" is the way to deal with violence, then violence will simply beget more violence and perhaps the entire region will be dragged into a spiral of war which will take generations to come to an end.