On War #310: One Step Forward, One Step Back

William S. Lind
7 July 2009

According to the July 3 Cleveland Plain Dealer, President Barack Obama said something very interesting last week. He told the AP that he has “a very narrow definition of success when it comes to our national security interests” in Afghanistan. “And that is that al-Qa’ida and its affiliates cannot set up safe havens from which to attack Americans.”

Well. If his words were reported accurately and he really means them, President Obama may have built the golden bridge we need to get out. That definition of success may be attainable.

But here’s the rub. Adoption of a realistic strategic goal in Afghanistan means reversing a decision the administration reportedly made last March, at Hillary’s insistence. Hillary demanded, and reportedly got, a commitment to the opium dream of a “secular, democratic, peaceful” Afghanistan.

Has President Obama already figured out he was had by the Clintons? Will he dare assert his authority over Hillary? How long will he stick to his guns when the Clintons ramp up a guerilla campaign against him among Democratic activists?

As I said in my last column, problems in court politics are often more difficult than problems on the battlefield. Dumping the Clinton’s dreamy-eyed idealism in foreign policy in favor of realistic strategic objectives promises a battle royal at court. Of course, Obama may have just been musing aloud, in which case Hillary will soon set the record straight. But if the President really meant what he said and sticks to it, it would represent a major step forward.

Unfortunately, the July 4 Plain Dealer reported another step back. In a story on the Marine Corps’ “big push” in Helmand province, the paper said that

The stiffest resistance occurred in the district of Garmser, where Taliban fighters holed up in a walled housing compound engaged in an eight-hour gunbattle with troops from the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment. The Marines eventually requested a Harrier fighter jet to drop a 500-pound bomb on the compound, which was believed to have killed all fighters inside.

This time, the problem was not Americans failing to understand that in 4GW, airstrikes work to our defeat. The PD continued,

The commanders directing the huge Marine security operation here had said they hoped not to rely on airstrikes…Officers here noted with pride that they had not used bombs or artillery in the first 24 hours of the mission.

But they were left with little choice after the insurgents refused to surrender.

It is hard to question the details of a tactical situation from half a world away, based on a press report. There may be reasons I cannot see from here why the airstrike was unavoidable. But from what was reported, it seems to have resulted from an all-too-frequent problem with American infantry, a narrow tactical repertoire that offers few options.

Anybody out there ever hear of a siege? That housing compound might not have had infinite supplies of food or water. Must we be in such a hurry to resolve every situation that sieges are not an option? They are, after all, one of the oldest techniques in war (read the Iliad).

Just how sure are we that the guys we killed were Taliban? Yes, they were shooting at us. But lots of Afghans do that. Local Pashtuns will fight us just because we’re there. If we kill locals in an airstrike, we create a blood feud with all their relatives.

Did anyone try to talk to those guys? A siege opens that opportunity. It also gives us a chance to talk to other locals and try to find out who we are fighting. Remember, the Taliban (if they were Taliban) is not a monolithic organization. Like almost all 4GW forces, it is a militia. Militia will often deal.

Ah, the Marines will reply, we told you they refused to surrender. Should surrender or death be our opponents’ only options? Whoever it was we were fighting put up what one Marine commander called “a hell of a fight.” No Americans were killed in the process. So why not let them march out with the honors of war? That would tell the Pashtun that we are men of honor who respect other men of honor. Not a bad message to send when going into a new 4GW neighborhood.

I know many Marines will sniff at this, quoting their favorite line, “No better friend, no worse enemy.” In response, I suggest a modification for 4GW: we should add the option, “No better enemy.” “Better” in this context does not mean “easy.” Rather, it means “honorable.” Against an opponent such as the Pashtun, whose culture puts a high value on honor, being an honorable enemy may be important when it comes time to talk.

In turn, if Marines are to be seen by the Pashtun as an honorable enemy, we may want to reconsider slaughtering — with weapons such as airstrikes against which they have no defense — those who have fought bravely. “Better enemies” respect their enemies, and themselves, too much to do that sort of thing.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

Comments are welcome; please observe our comment policy.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed in Uncategorized | 7 responses so far

7 Responses to “On War #310: One Step Forward, One Step Back”

  1. EmeryNelsonon 07 Jul 2009 at 2:29 pm 1

    If our infantry hits any opposition, tough or otherwise, calling in air is a cultural imperative. To ask them to use other methods is akin to asking them not to drink alcohol. It may be possible in theory, but as long as attack aircraft fly, this will be the solution. Of course with the economy getting ready to go toes up attack aircraft may not fly, so it’s not completely hopeless.

    Bill Lind needs to be commended for being one of about five people in the US who actually understand our enemy. He’s to be castigated for thinking that the Marines (a closed loop if ever there was one) is going to do anything but look in the mirror for solutions. It’s (bitterly) amusing that the Marines still insist on massive amounts of press for all their operations. In this kind of war the more press they get the more enemies they create.

  2. Maxon 07 Jul 2009 at 7:56 pm 2

    “Bill Lind needs to be commended for being one of about five people in the US who actually understand our enemy. ”

    Here’s another, no surprise who it is, among this circle.


    Pierre pretty much covers the whole sorry mess.

    “It’s (bitterly) amusing that the Marines still insist on massive amounts of press for all their operations. In this kind of war the more press they get the more enemies they create.”

    If so, then not to mention tipping off the opposition at every turn, including advertising the fact they now fly around in the V-22,
    which is aruguably a aubstantial hazard, even under ideal circumstances, let alone under fire from 50mm.

    I said once before that the only way to fight this type of conflict
    and truely minimize the risk to neutrals, is block by block, street, by street, house to house, door to door and room to room.
    The way the Germans and Russians went at it in Stalingrad.

    A mighty messy bussiness, and if your really good, and also really lucky you might get 10 bad guys for every 6 of your own lost.

    That’s enough to make you wonder if it’s worth it in the first place, which (as Chet might say) is exactly the point.

    That brings us full circle to the remote control Predator.

    Good night nurse.


  3. loggie20on 07 Jul 2009 at 8:41 pm 3

    Air support is useful when eyes are not on the target to call in artillery. The indirect fires on that compound should have been towed 155 mm which the Marines have plenty. Or 120mm mortar.

    The use of the Harrier is likely for the F-35 useless VTOL variant. Why not run a MV 22 overhead and kick a drum of explosives out to sell more of those, or roll up the latest too expensive, broke down ‘gator’ to sell it?

    The Marine Corps is now the service of expensive battalion level assualt gear.

    A dozen Amphib Ready groups to deliver 800 rifles each!!

    Indeed, keep the reporters writing.

  4. senor tomason 07 Jul 2009 at 10:05 pm 4

    “It’s (bitterly) amusing that the Marines still insist on massive amounts of press for all their operations. ”

    Perhaps this of part of a Marine Corps effort to distinguish themselves from the Army. The Marine Corps’ worst nightmare is to be viewed as a duplication of the Army. Because if they are a duplication of the Army – there is no reason for them to exist.

  5. EmeryNelsonon 10 Jul 2009 at 10:30 am 5

    “No better friend, no worse enemy.”

    Typical US military Busllshit. To all you Marines out there, that’s a threat to the Pashtun. You’re telling them to submit and you won’t kill them. Trust me, that’s how Afghans see it in Fremont, California (I asked) and I can just imagine what they think in Garmser.

  6. McNultyon 11 Jul 2009 at 5:13 pm 6

    Using attack aircraft is not for lack of imagination. Grunts have adapted to the ‘judicial waterboarding’ they face if they close with the enemy. We’ve seen it with Chessani, Winnick, Wuterich, Sharatt, Nazario, Weemer and now Nelson. Grunts call in air more frequently because air is never held accountable. There’s a double standard for air. Why subject your combat decisions to the scrutiny of Washington bureaucrats, court politics, and over-zealous investigators? Just call in air. Unfortunately many times it’s counterproductive, but no grunt wants to face what Sgt Jermaine Nelson is now facing, a court-martial. An airstrike would have prevented this. It’s a lose-lose situation for the grunts. Call in air and risk civilian casualties; don’t call in air and risk every minutia of your combat decision to be called into question by a REMF.

  7. PE0Mon 12 Jul 2009 at 3:08 pm 7

    Nobody can be said to have understood Boyd who claims to adopt his ideas and then moves heedlessly into situations wherein the enemy is intrinsically difficult to observe, one’s own needed orientation to just about everything is largely missing and not to be easily acquired over the short haul, and whose opposition will easily maintain a dynamic position within one’s own OODA loop. I think Cheney may have done the equivalent of “learning the outsides of the technique” in martial arts. That is a beginner’s state wherein the learner has managed to acquire the general sequence of actions required in some technique but does not really know how to make it work. (Another example would be the guy who has read a book and thinks that riding a horse is just a matter of mounting, sticking feet in stirrups, grabbing the reins, and sitting in the saddle.) The “shock and awe” part did indeed occur too rapidly for effective opposition to be mounted, so the U.S and its allies toppled governments and seized capitals. But then what?