Monday, January 12, 2015

studying war

"And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
(Isaiah 2:4)
Gonna lay down my burden,
Down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside...
I ain't gonna study war no more,
study war no more,
ain't gonna study war no more....
(traditional American spiritual)


----------- It's initially disorienting to listen to Vickers talk about guerrilla war.  He makes it sound as if it were a business school course. -------------------- [excerpt, Charlie Wilson's War, by George Crile] -----------------  Avrakotos himself

was taken aback by the young man's bloodlessly precise responses to questions about weapons and strategy.  It was as if he were quoting from a textbook, but there is no such textbook.

Avrakotos, a math star himself, was mesmerized.  This man seemed to have studied guerrilla warfare the way others study medicine.  He seemed to know exactly what to prescribe and in what dose, when to be alarmed by developments, and when to stand back and let time take its course. 

Some deep organizing principle was at work; and Gust could sense an exuberance behind the calm exterior, particularly when this utterly self-confident young man announced that he saw no reason why the mujahideen could not win.  Avrakotos hired him on the spot and turned him loose to review the entire program.

Vickers is a grind,

and once he began poring through the Agency's files and the history of the war, he didn't look up until he had assimilated everything.  What he saw both pleased and dismayed him.

The good news was that the resistance was intact and growing in the face of unbelievable casualties.  (Special Forces doctrine held that if a guerrilla insurgency survives and grows, then it is by definition winning.)

The rest of what he saw appalled him.  By his way of thinking, whoever had been responsible for choosing the weapons and the broad strategy for backing the freedom fighters had verged on criminal negligence.  Vickers had already been alerted that the Afghans had no meaningful anti-aircraft capacity. 

But he was amazed to find that they had no modern communications; no battlefield radios to coordinate attacks; few mortars; few antitank weapons; no light machine guns to speak of; no proper medical kits;

no boots, which resulted in a number of cases of preventable frostbite;

not enough food to keep their families from starving unless they returned from the front regularly;

no mine-clearing devices; no sniper rifles; and far, far too few modern assault rifles.  For some reason, the basic weapon the CIA had given the mujahideen was the bolt-action World War I Lee Enfield.

That might have worked in the early years of the [20th] century, when armies faced off against each other from fixed positions in trenches, but now? 

Clearly the thinking behind Howard Hart's decision to flood the Afghans with Enfields was to give a sense of empowerment, however ill-equipped they might actually be. 

The Enfields were cheaper than the modern AKs, and given the small early budgets, it must have seemed the way to go. 

Standard guerrilla doctrine, however, called for giving the mujahideen the same rifles that their enemy used.  It was the only way they could use captured ammunition. 

Needless to say, the Soviets didn't use Enfields.  Nevertheless, the Agency had robotically supplied the mujahideen with hundreds of thousands of these antiquated weapons -- and nowhere near enough ammunition.

It became instantly clear to Vickers that there was no way for the Afghans to wage sustained combat.  All of this leapt out of the CIA's secret ledgers to offend Vickers's sense of professionalism.  By Agency protocol, Vickers was

far too junior to go shooting off his mouth

about his conclusions.  In fact, he was so low on the totem pole that had it not been for Avrakotos, he would have had no right to take any initiative.


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