A black dog stalks me, barking a dire warning of an upcoming military disaster. History not only repeats itself, but it can haunt those who study it. Reflecting on previous military enterprises through the ages by aspiring empires, I predict this year that the US will suffer a significant military defeat in Afghanistan. It will result in the loss or near destruction of a US company size unit; perhaps even up to battalion strength, by local insurgents. Our nation will be shocked and amazed that a ragged band of native guerrillas will have soundly defeated the best-trained and modern-equipped soldiers of the most powerful nation on earth. Worse, the defeat will only result with the US committing more troops, more air strikes (resulting in collateral damage to civilians), and more treasure poured into a stone-age environment that can absorb everything we can throw at it, and ask for more. All in the name of national "honor." The fallen will be hailed by the government as latter-day Spartans, who fell while holding at bay the terrorist hordes that threaten our freedom.
I hope I’m wrong. I would take no pleasure being right, at the expense of US casualties. But historical precedents all point to it, like blazing neon lights at midnight in Vegas. Every military operation, no matter how carefully planned, risks failure by the unknown — referred in military parlance as the "fog of war." No plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Certain actions taken by imperialistic nations, that appear original and innovative at the moment, turn out to be merely a variation of the same formula that creates military disaster.
Facing modern rifles, artillery, and rockets of the invading imperialistic British army, the Zulus annihilated the 24th Foot at Isandlwana, armed only with rustic assegai spears and cattle hide shields. An arrogant Custer, seeking to subdue the rebellious Sioux for the sake of Manifest Destiny, led elements of the Seventh Cavalry into a massacre at Greasy Grass Creek. General MacArthur’s hubris pushed the Eight Army aggressively to the Yalu, despite intelligence reports of Chinese troops massing at the border and oncoming winter. The resulting counteroffensive by footslogging Communist troops, whose main artillery support consisted of mortars, completely routed a modern western mechanized army that enjoyed complete air superiority. Other failed military adventures in the name of nation building include the Romans at Teutoburg Forest, The French at Dien Bien Phu, and the US at Mogadishu. The law of averages cannot be ignored in a combat zone. Sooner or later, some commander’s conceited strategy, mixed in equal parts with Murphy’s Law, is going to collide with some insurgent’s cunning ambush. The only way not to tempt fate is to get out of the casino, and stop playing the odds. For as any rich casino owner will tell you, the house always wins.
The US/NATO forces in Afghanistan are woefully undermanned for their assigned mission. Too much territory, and not enough boots. Even with the slated increase of 30,000 troops, this reinforcement is a mere drop in the ocean. The US/NATO units depend on sophisticated military technology, requiring a complex logistics and specialized maintenance to keep them battle ready. Any disruption with the supply chain can throw the airborne and road-bound mechanized forces into disarray.
More serious is the reckless deployment of troops in a combat situation by an administration who overrate their military capabilities, while continually underrating the enemy’s. Just because the President demonstrates the iron resolve to win while in the safety of his executive office, does not magically mean our soldiers will fight more skillfully and earnestly at a distant battlefield. Patriotic posturing cannot compensate for a flawed strategy with insufficient military forces. The Afghanistan theater is taking on a Fhrer bunker mentality, with leaders moving unit counters on a map that have no reflection of the reality going outside their walls. Sooner or later, some infantry company will be obliged to play its part in someone’s grand but delusional offensive operation. It will unknowingly fall into a trap in some forsaken valley that both time and cartographers forgot. It will be cut off, and all the King’s artillery and all the King’s air support will not prevent it from being broken before a belated relief column comes to its rescue.
I really hope I’m wrong.
Ron Shirtz [send him mail] is a transplanted Californian teaching Graphic Communications in Northern (Not “Upstate”) New York. His hobbies include arranging deck chairs on sinking ships, tilting at windmills, and being fashionably late.