AFGHANISTAN: HAVE WE LOST IT ...

Medicine Globally by Dr. Rene Menguy

A war forced on us by 9/11 has become a war of occupation; we are the occupiers. We cannot win it because: 1) It’s unpopular at home. 2) The theater is remote. 3) The terrain is ill-suited for our main military assets, armored and airborne. 4) The insurgents, never wanting for Intel, choose the place and time, strike and melt away. I know; I’ve done it elsewhere. 5) The insurrection is assisted by at least one foreign power, Iran; sort of ironic, since we helped the Afghans during their war with Russia. 6) The Afghans don’t like us any more than they liked the British or the Russians. The only occupier they ever liked was Alexander the great. They thought he was a God, and he didn’t overstay his welcome. 7) We can ill afford the cost in lives and money.

World history abounds with examples of wars of occupation that ended badly; if there are any that didn’t, I can’t recall them. Santayana said it well: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The prelude to Bonaparte’s final defeat at Waterloo came during the Peninsular War pitting him against Portugal and Spain. The French were the invading occupiers in a war that dragged on from 1807 until1814, when they withdrew, exhausted, their lines of communication and supply constantly cut off. Incredible atrocities, some chronicled by Goya, were committed by both sides. Pity the French Estafette (courier) captured by Spanish guerilla fighters (the word guerilla was coined in that war). Equally brutal French reprisals did not deter the partisans; only spurred them on. The British helped the insurgents, not out of any love for the Spaniards (Remember the Spanish Armada and Queen Elizabeth.) but because they wanted to get “Bony”.

Those things don’t happen any more. That was the 19th century. We’re more civilized now. Yeah.

In June, 1944 after the Allied Normandy landing, the 2nd SS Panzer Division, Das Reich, transiting from west central France to Normandy, was attacked by resistance fighters. In retaliation, a battalion of the 4th Waffen-SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment entered a village, called Oradour- Sur Glane, herded all its inhabitants, and some passers-by, into the village square, from which they took the men to several barns, machine gunned them, poured gasoline on their bodies, many still alive, and set them on fire. Five men managed somehow to escape; 190 died. Meanwhile, they forced the women and children into a church and set fire to it. Machine guns mowed down those escaping the burning building. In all, 642 inhabitants of the village died. Before leaving, the Germans leveled it.

The atrocity only spurred the Resistance on. The skeleton of the village remains; a lesson to posterity. Unfortunately, the French failed to grasp the object of the lesson.

Weeks after V - J Day, French armed forces returned to Indochina to restore colonial rule. The ensuing guerilla war that the Viets pursued under the wily leadership of General Giap began to bleed the French to death. In November 53, attempting to draw the insurgents “out into the open”, , they dropped 10,000 elite forces into Dien Bien Phu, an amphitheater-like valley, where the “seats” were hills up into which the Viets hauled howitzers supplied by the Chicoms. From these heights, the Viet artillery fired directly down onto French strong points. It was a “fish in a barrel” thing. Surrender came in early May, 54 and, that same year the French pulled out of Indochina altogether. The war, half way around the world, was very unpopular in France. The terrain was unsuitable for armored and aerial warfare and the insurgents had the full support of the Russians and the Chicoms; and an AK-47 is a great equalizer.

For, essentially the same reasons, the second Indochina war, into which Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson led us, dragged on from the late 50ies to 1975. We thought we could best the French. After all, hadn’t we just won WW II? I still have in my mind’s eye the haunting picture of helicopters hauling stragglers off the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon.

Back to the French who had not yet understood the lesson of their martyred village. Barely free of the Vietnam imbroglio, they faced a far worse conflict in Algeria seeking its independence from France, something unthinkable for the French, who considered Algeria a part of France. Thus began a war (1954-1962) of insurgency and counter-insurgency, of terrorism and counter-terrorism, a war marked by unbelievable atrocities on both sides; a war that ended when De Gaulle returned to power in 1958. Paradoxically, and probably because he had directed an insurgency against the Germans during WW II, he believed that Algerian independence was inevitable and took steps to secure it in March, 1962. Elements in the French Army, strongly opposed to this, attempted to assassinate him, an event chronicled in the movie, “The Day of the Jackal”.

Without De Gaulle’s wisdom, Algeria could have been a war for which, one could again quote Santayana: “Only the dead have seen the end of (this)war.”

As for Afghanistan, it will become a quagmire that public opinion will force us to abandon unless:

Someone in the Pentagon knows the “unless”. No, it isn’t the Nibelungen Brigade!

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