Monday, April 4, 2011

A battle in Afghanistan sends ominous signals

Wired online magazine's Danger Room military blog has an interesting article about a major battle in Margah, Afghanistan, late last year. Here's an excerpt.

It was the one of the biggest localized fights of the 10-year-old Afghanistan war - and one of the most lopsided battlefield victories for American forces. But the nearly 12-hour Battle of Margah barely registered in the news cycle back in America.

All the same, a half-year later Margah remains an important object lesson for the U.S. military and NATO, and for politicians betting on improving security to allow them to withdraw troops from Afghanistan starting this summer.

It’s an axiom of successful on unconventional war that insurgent fighters require safe havens. As long as Afghan and foreign fighters can move unmolested between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S.-led coalition will never be able to reverse Afghanistan’s deteriorating security.

In their Pakistani shelters, insurgents re-arm, refine their intelligence and hone their training. That’s the hidden lesson of the Margah battle, and of Fox Company’s ongoing operations in eastern Paktika.

True, the insurgents failed to capture the American outpost in the October fight, and few of them survived the attempt. But it was close.

. . .

That the Margah attackers could muster the necessary manpower and weaponry and also plan and support such a large-scale attack is a sobering sign of the insurgency’s enduring, or even increasing, strength - and a foreboding signal of the potential intensity of this spring’s fighting season.

Soon after they arrived in Margah in August, the young men of Fox Company received reports of as many as 700 insurgents crossing the nearby border all at the same time. They say they were skeptical of such huge figures - until a sizable proportion of that insurgent army appeared in the Americans’ night scopes in October, armed to the teeth and shouting "Allah akbar" as they stormed the outpost.

. . .

The free flow of insurgents across the Af/Pak border, which six months ago allowed hundreds of insurgents to mass in Margah, remains one of the major reasons NATO is losing the Afghanistan war. Until that border is sealed, insurgents will enjoy safe haven in Pakistan, and the coalition will fight the same battles, every spring, against refreshed insurgent forces.

The coalition understands this danger. As part of the Afghanistan "surge" approved by the Obama administration two years ago, the U.S. Army added several battalions from the 101st Airborne Division to Paktika, in hope of interdicting border crossings. It’s not clear yet whether that effort is working.

The Battle of Margah changed the lives of its participants - and not always for the better. But the Americans were lucky. For as awful as that night’s fighting was, no Americans died. The next time hundreds of Pakistan-based insurgents surround an isolated border outpost, the defenders might not be so fortunate.

There's more at the link. Some of the details of the fighting are graphic, and may disturb the fastidious.

I've written before about the situation in Afghanistan, and nothing I've seen in recent months has led me to revise my opinion. It is not possible for the US and its allies to win a military victory there. No invader or occupier has ever succeeded in winning a permanent military victory in that part of the world, from Alexander the Great to the present day. It's simply not possible - not without slaughtering every man, woman and child in the area and leaving it a barren, lifeless wasteland; and that's not about to happen.

One hopes the Margah battle will drive that point home to the powers that be . . . but I'm not sure they're listening.



Anonymous said...

Of course it's possible to win this particular conflict. IT JUST AI'NT POSSIBLE TO DO SO USING THE PRESENT "RULES" OF "ENGAGEMENT". This just Viet Nam writ large in the ME - by the same politicians that ensured that we would lose anywhere we fought since the "police action" in Korea..

ajdshootist said...

It is not possible to win when your hands are tied behind your back,the enemy is not hamperd by the rules of war as they dont follow them,if you want to win against those kind of people you fight like with like it is the only thing they understand.

Ol' Lurker said...

"In their Pakistani shelters, insurgents re-arm, refine their intelligence and hone their training."
Wonder if any of our political geniuses ever heard of a place called "Vietnam." Sanctuaries=defeat. Only cost us over 58,00 dead to learn that. How many this time Mr. Nobel Peace Prize?