Why America would lose a ground war.
September 19, 2001 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I think it depends on our goals (which are as yet unknown, despite many claims to the contrary). I've heard very knowledgeable people suggest that the US has no interest in repeating the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, since our goals will be totally different. Specifically, we could care less about obtaining territory and overtaking cities, as long as we put an end to the terrorist network. If that's the case, I don't think the Soviets' history is a good predictor.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:37 AM on September 19, 2001

There is a very, very important distinction that people seem to be missing when comparing a US ground war now with the USSR ground war.

THE US WAS SUPPORTING THE AFGHANIS. We selected the most extreme faction, armed them, trained them, and educating them about the jihad they needed to engage in against the godless soviets. While this is a lot of the reason this whole mess happened to begin with, its also the reason a ground war in afghanistan wouldn't be nearly as hard this time.
posted by malphigian at 10:45 AM on September 19, 2001

Yet another "America can't win because no one else could". Pure bullshit. America has equipment and resources the likes of which other nations can only dream. We also have the *will* do do what must be done: almost six thousand people murdered on American soil, and untold billions of economic damage.

It won't be easy, but the Afghans are not supermen, and Afghanistan is not the moon. The Soviets were trying to occupy and "pacify" Afghanistan; if we send in ground troops, they will be comparatively small in number and with a definite mission.

It's worthwhile to note that the terrorists will suffer as much from the terrain as we will. They rely on external lines of supply (mostly through Pakistan), and it would be relatively easy to put a stranglehold on their supply of weapons. You can hide individual men with hand-weapons; it's harder to hide large weapons, vehicles, and caches of food and fuel.
posted by mrmanley at 10:49 AM on September 19, 2001


i fail to see your logic. the taliban, right now, don't seem to require any sort of education as to whether or not they need to engage in a jihad with the US. all they need to see is an american setting foot on their soil. i mean, i wish that -- having helped out the afghans in the past -- we would know about troop deployment, or what's buried and where, but we don't.

the afghans are the masters of their domain, and i bet they know where everything is, too.
posted by moz at 10:56 AM on September 19, 2001


We supplied them with arms and funding, now no one will be, where is the confusion in that?

You're right about the holy war thing, though, I was slipping that other point in there because im bewildered that 99% of the american public seems to not know that the CIA essentially created the taliban, and directly funded and trained bin laden (among others) in the 80's.

I'm not saying it will be easy, but I am saying that the comparison to the Soviet action is false, because the Soviets were fighting us, more or less. Moreover, we will have at tens of thousands of afghani soldiers supporting us (the remains of the northern faction).
posted by malphigian at 11:01 AM on September 19, 2001

i mean, i wish that -- having helped out the afghans in the past -- we would know about troop deployment, or what's buried and where, but we don't.

I wouldn't be so sure about that. I try to never second-guess what the government knows or doesn't know.
posted by scottandrew at 11:14 AM on September 19, 2001

Sending US infantry to chase after the Taliban in the mountains is a bad idea.

Better idea: we put in a hundred or so artillery batteries on a nationwide grid, each secured by a company of infantry which does only close-in patrols.

We supply with weaponry and give encrypted GPS broadcasters to anti-Taliban afghani militia. Our artillery and close ground combat aircraft units, supported by satellite and aero reconaissance, anhilate every concentration of more than a few people without the GPS beacons going in the lowland areas, confining the Taliban with limited supply lines up in the mountains, where our allied anti-Talibans, lavishly supplied but with full indigenous mountain fighting skills, polish them off. They are also building their own garrisons and establishing government in the lowland areas secured by our air, artillery and infantry.

We have a strong force presence in Pakistan to be sure to interdict Taliban supply lines and reinforcements.

Just a thought.
posted by MattD at 11:53 AM on September 19, 2001

MattD - awfully good thought. I remember so clearly all the doomsayers talking smack at the beginning of Desert Shield: The Iraqis are Soviet armed (but their arms were in disrepair). The Iraqis are trained by Soviet Intel experts and military tactitions (and they were taught to hunker down and let the desert help them. How many died as a result?). The Iraqis are well supplied (their supply lines were cut in the fist two days of Desert Storm). The Iraqis know the desert (Alliance forces used that against them by end-running their retreat routes). If we start a war with Iraq we will bring out the rage of the Muslim world (not likely then, and less likely now. This isn't Jihad, its protecting a killer of innocent people).

Claim: The Afgani forces that would fight to protect Osama have geographical advantage. Do they? The mountains are a great refuge if you have supply and hope of relief. I live in the mountains, and I know how brutal they must have seemed to a Brit trained to train. American forces and those of our allies train in the Artic, and the mountains, and Death Valley. But yet, the Afgani geurillas probably are better mountain ambush forces. But I'll bet dollors to donuts they are no better than the Blackfeet Indians were. And the Blackfeet were conquered by forces that cut their supply, continiously moved into their refuges of storage, and were waiting for them when they left their mountain holds come Spring.

Claim: Their training makes them superior to the forces that fought the Soviets. Not unless we have the same goals as the Soviets.

Claim: They have the defense of landmines. Sure do, but we have the technology to take those out. The Pakistanis supported the Soviets, (at least to some degree. I'm not trying to cause a pissing match here). Hence many of those mines were cast at the border areas. If we know where they are, then they're gone. Also, considering that there is a growing world concensus that terrorism is wrong and must be stopped, landmines could be another PR nightmare for the Taliban.

I'm not trying to compare the coming conflict with Desert Storm, except to say that those who rely on history for military wisdom had better consider this. We must know history lest we be doomed to repeat it. Here's a clue: Western forces know history. All bets are off.
posted by Wulfgar! at 12:30 PM on September 19, 2001

America has equipment and resources the likes of which other nations can only dream. This is true. It also has commanders who worry about (1) whether any of his men are distracted by their gay sergeant (2) how CNN is going to broadcast his activities on the evening news (3) whether any of his men are going to sue him or his Government for exposing them to trauma. Hmmm. It was also rescued in WWII from the ultimate test of attrition warfare by the disruptive technology of the nuclear weapon. And withdrew from Vietnam and Iraq when public opinion made it clear it there was an upper limit to the number of body bags it would stomach in the pursuit of justice. Have a care.
posted by RichLyon at 1:27 PM on September 19, 2001

We have support and intelligence from the Pakistani's this time.
posted by username at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2001

No pissing match from me other than to point out that it was India which was with the Soviets with Pakistan having very strong ties to the west.
posted by vbfg at 1:48 PM on September 19, 2001

I believe it is accurate and fair to say that none of the armed forces in the Middle East, individually or in any combination, can withstand American conventional forces.

The goal of the war, however, is to defeat non-conventional (civilian-targetting terrorist) attack. Therefore, our fundamental strategic challenge is to craft an array of tactical methods to leverage our overwhelming conventional advantage into non-conventional superiority.

Elmination of the Taliban, or, more precisely, enabling anti-Taliban Afghanis to eliminate and replace the Taliban, can be achieved in the manner I suggest in my prior post.

However, the broader objective of neutralizing terror will require a systematic identification of the command and control, and supply and training, channels. It is is my personal belief that we will ultimately need to use the Afghani intervention as a precedent of American power: each state will be held responsible for the conduct of terror organizations within its borders, and will be conquered and dismantled if it fails to neutralize those organizations. It might mean a 5 or even 10 year engagement with a series of unpleasant urban occupations all throughout the mideast. It might also mean that allies (Saudi Arabia, Egypt) could be come enemies. Not at all a pleasant prospect, but a necesssary one.
posted by MattD at 2:21 PM on September 19, 2001

I say we send in Super Androids with metal claws and twin carbine machine guns in their eye sockets...
Yes...this is surely the way to go.
posted by Kodel at 2:36 PM on September 19, 2001

Anyone here old enough to remember "island-hopping" at the end of WWII? (I'm not, but I have read about it.) American troops went in - infantry, supported by sea and air - with grenades, flamethrowers and tear gas, and we forcibly captured or killed the Japanese soldiers who were holed up in caves, mountains, foxholes, etc., one island at a time. Guerrilla warfare against entrenched, well-armed soldiers. Slowly, in battles starting with Guadalcanal, through the Solomon Islands, the Philippines and Iwo Jima, the U.S. forces wrested the Pacific territory from the Japanese, island by island, until finally Okinawa was taken. Details, island-by-island, here.

Critics at the time said that couldn't be done, either. Look at a map you can see that the Marianas, the Carolines, the Marshalls, and Gilberts make a series of spider webs -- "made to order for Japan," as a Japanese admiral said -- to catch any anyone who might might try to cross the Pacific. These islands and atolls had been protected with airfields, naval bases, and garrisons (some as large as 100,000 troops). The distances between them are so short that Japan could move and supply aircraft and naval forces at will.

From the perspective of supply lines, here's the Quartermaster's view.

As General MacArthur said at the time, it was a "new kind of war." Whoa.
posted by JParker at 3:48 PM on September 19, 2001

Good lord, the answer to this is simple - set up some nicely provisioned refugee camps around the place, offer Afghans safety if they go there, treat them well, then see how much support the Taleban has. This would cost a fraction of the cost of a B2 Stealth Bomber even, right? A few hundred million dollars spent on this would be wiser in my opinion... You help people and you get to weaken your enemy immensely..

Oh yeah, and blindingly good press too.
posted by Mossy at 4:53 PM on September 19, 2001


I don't understand quite what point you're trying to make. Is the military perfect? No. But it is the most finely-honed instrument of war in the world. We have power in breadth and in depth, and hard-won knowledge of how to use it. (Our political and intelligence abilities, on the other hand....)


Your idea wouldn't work (although "cultural warfare" is something I've thought about myself). In fact it would probably backfire on us. For infidels to occupy a Muslim land is considered desecration, and even moderate Afghanis would view any attempt to set up camps as an invasion. And how would you protect these camps from the inevitable reprisals of Islamic militants? How would you protect the poor people who have to go home eventually and face the wrath of the men who still follow the Islamic shari'a?
posted by mrmanley at 6:31 PM on September 19, 2001

For infidels to occupy a Muslim land is considered desecration

Geez, they don't realize the amount of tourist dollars they're missing out on...

and even moderate Afghanis would view any attempt to set up camps as an invasion

Sure, until they try one out and get a hold of some good Texas BBQ and a nice relaxing massage! Actually Mossy, I kind of like your idea, although it does bring up some logistical concerns (as mrmanley brought up).
posted by fooljay at 8:11 PM on September 19, 2001

RichLyon [America] was also rescued in WWII from the ultimate test of attrition warfare by the disruptive technology of the nuclear weapon. And withdrew from Vietnam and Iraq when public opinion made it clear it there was an upper limit to the number of body bags it would stomach in the pursuit of justice.

Well, to a certain point this is true. The bombing of Japan prevented a probable messy land war, but this was not because the U.S. was afraid of land war or lacking morale-- they found another way to do this.

The U.S. pulled out of Vietnam after 10 years because they were making no progress (part of the reason public opinion was against the war.)

The U.S. pulled out of Iraq because the objectives (liberate Kuwait) were achieved, and continuing on to Bagdhad would have enraged most of our allies at the time.


Good idea with the camps, but the logistics are tough, and humanitarian causes would not prevent attacks on U.S.-run camps. But the idea of a food drop that you had a day or two ago was really good. I think that`s probably a safer way to go for both American military personell and Afghani civilians.
posted by chiheisen at 10:30 PM on September 19, 2001

mrmanley. My point was that the US war doesn't conclude when the last man is left standing (a war you would possibly win, but which has never been tested since the Civil War). It is when your public decide they've had enough. That point might come before you have achieved the military objectives you set yourselves - as chiheisen partly points out.
posted by RichLyon at 11:55 AM on September 20, 2001

Additional thoughts on the Afghan terrain, from a British SAS officer who trained up the mujahedin.
posted by holgate at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2001

Hmm, we're thinking of sending exactly how many soldiers over there? And we can't even protect some camps???

I remember when I went to Makkah in Saudi Arabia last December to do Umrah (mini-pilgrimage thingy). I remember thinking:


Then I noticed the Calvin Klein hijabs and all those nice mobile phones those people dressed in two towels had and just shook my head at the advent of the capitalist multinational type religion into even the most sacred of muslim sites (hey, you're not even allowed in the city if you're not a muslim).

Now that in my view is a kind of descration, and its muslims who run the place... Wonder how many Saudi's they had to bribe? Hmm..

Ok, so the logistics may be a bit tough - if it were easy, wouldn't they have done it already? =) Eh, lets just work on that basis and come up with a nice, non-lethal method of winning.. Yay us.. Who's us? Ooh, getting confused again...
posted by Mossy at 6:17 PM on September 20, 2001

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