Saturday, April 4, 2009

Misunderestimated Enemy

by Venik for Venik's Blog

Obama’s election campaign put the war in Afghanistan on a pedestal as the single most important national security goal of the post-Bush era. Currently, the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan numbers about 55,000 troops from forty one countries, including about 23,000 American soldiers.The NATO force in Afghanistan has virtually no heavy armor - just a couple dozen of Canadian and Danish tanks.

At the height of the Soviet deployment in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the number of Soviet troops in the country exceeded 120,000, supported by a 300,000-strong Soviet-trained Afghan (DRA - the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan) army. Just the initial Soviet deployment during the first few weeks of the war involved three divisions, one regiment, and one brigade, supported by an entire air army - a total of over 80,000 troops, 1,800 tanks, 2,000 AFVs, and over 1,200 combat aircraft. The operation begun at 19:00 on December 27, 1979 and was concluded by 07:00 the following morning. Most of the initial fighting was done by seven hundred special forces, who, in a matter of hours, stripped Afghanistan of its government, military command, and communications.

In the next few days, the Soviet forces entered more than two dozen major Afghan cities virtually unopposed. All of central Afghanistan was encircled, and the country was split into three sections. Western press (including front-page stories in NY Times and Washington Post) reported a complete Soviet victory within days of the initial invasion. Soviet losses stood at less than one hundred killed (most of these casualties were the result of the crash of a military Il-76 transport, which ran into a mountain in heavy fog Northeast of Kabul, killing all 58 on board.) Everything that followed in the next ten years was one Politburo screwup after another.

Years after the war, top Soviet commanders in Afghanistan - generals Varennikov and Gromov - wrote that levels of troops were simply insufficient to achieve the lofty political goals set by the Kremlin. The DRA army was inexperienced and unreliable. The Soviet commanders asked for 220,000 - 250,000 troops, but for most of the war only had about 108,000 troops - less than half of what the military strategists required.

A 100,000-strong force was trying to pretend to be a 250,000-strong army and, naturally, this required a lot of driving. Available units spent most of the war driving around the countryside, being continuously dispatched to plug up holes in the lines. Most of the Soviet casualties were sustained while combat and supply units were in transit from one position to the next. Most Soviet aircraft losses were sustained while covering troops in transit.

The NATO is currently discussing ways to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Maybe the UK will send another couple thousand troops, or, perhaps, Poland will send another thousand. In other words, NATO ministers are wasting their time, because what they really need is to at least triple the number of troops. But even with the US troops being redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan, the NATO is unlikely to reach the required troop levels. The economic crisis does not help either. Even if the NATO manages to significantly boost the troop levels in Afghanistan, it will not be able to sustain them for long due to purely financial reasons.

And then, of course, the USSR had one huge logistical advantage over the US when it came to fighting a war in Afghanistan - a 500-mile-long border with the country. If a Soviet general needed a hundred tanks, they would load them on five trains somewhere in Siberia and in less than week the tanks will be near the Afghan border. A few more days of driving and getting the sand out of the transmission and the tanks will be ready to level some mud huts.

If an American general needed a hundred tanks delivered to Afghanistan on the double, it would require fifty long-range flights by the C-5 Galaxy - the world’s most expensive military transport plane with the highest operating cost - with in-flight refuellings and about twenty service hours for every flight hour. And this is just to deliver the tanks. Then they would need to go back for fuel, ammunition and spare parts.

There doesn’t seem to be a military solution to this war and Obama’s only hope is to somehow capture the elusive Saudi Waldo and to get the hell out of Dodge. The 300,000-strong DRA army, which the Soviets hoped would take over after the victorious Red Army went home, was infinitely better trained and equipped than the NATO-trained pack of hoodlums pretending to be guarding Hamid Karzai, but in reality just stealing ammunition and extorting bribes. And even the DRA army was viewed by the Soviet commanders as more of a problem than a solution.

This is exactly what happens when you go to war with an idiotic plan of spreading Communism or Democracy; or when you send the army across the oceans to a distant land to catch one guy, who may or may not be there. And this is precisely why the Americans and the rest of the NATO are in Afghanistan: in 2001 Bush gave Mullah Omar of Taliban an ultimatum: surrender Bin laden (who is married to your daughter) or face the consequences. Obviously, nobody seriously expected Omar to comply. And so for the past eight years a force of tens of thousands of soldiers have been eating through a half-a-trillion-dollar budget trying to locate a single guy hiding somewhere in the Hindu Kush mountains