It is not an uncommon thing to hear politicians on both sides of the aisle try and come up with a new and comprehensive strategy to address national security threats abroad. For the past 16 years, these strategies have almost all revolved around or been heavily dedicated too addressing the threats that exist in the Middle East and North Africa, and rightly so. In August of 2017, President Trump came out with his outline for how he wanted to change U.S. military strategy in the Middle East that he claims will allow retribution to be “fast and powerful.” His strategy strays away from some of the stringent regulations put in place while President Obama was Commander-in-Chief. The fact of the matter is that whatever strategy our leaders have our nations Armed Forces execute, there is one thing that is clear: This is not a new kind of war.
We have fought this war before all over the world, from the mountains of the Philippines, to the Jungles of Nicaragua to the hills of Haiti. The ‘War on Terror’ certainly has brought some new things to the table but at its core it still has the familiar feel of the past. The ‘War on Terror’ is a modern-day guerrilla war. It has all the right actors, with the U.S. and its wealthy, powerful, technologically advanced and superior nation-state allies doing battle against insurgents armed with weapons older than most of the young Western men and women they are fighting against. The point being that all the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces have had experience with dealing with this kind of war.
In every Guerilla war, you have 2 main actors. On one side you have the powerful, organized, state and on the other you have the loosely organized group of insurgents who are just common people with no military training or real organized financial backing. In conventional warfare, it isn’t even a contest who would win, as we saw in 2003 when the U.S. sliced through the Iraqi military like a hot knife through butter. After the conventional combat was over, we then had to deal with the growing insurgency in major cities across Iraq. The issue we face is not inferior technology, or a lack of funding and manpower, it has been our strategy.
In his 2008 Presidential bid, President Obama ran on a platform of ending our commitments in Afghanistan in Iraq, claiming that our job there was done. This sounded rather appealing to an American public who had then endured 7 years of constant warfare with no tangible victory in sight. This is a constant across history though. The aim of the guerilla is not to totally destroy his enemy, for he knows that isn’t possible, but to wear him down enough so that he is no longer willing to engage in combat any more. After 7 years this tactic had worked on enough Americans that the idea of no more war, regardless of whether victory had been achieved sounded incredibly appealing.
President Obama’s endgame was to totally pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan but that wasn’t how he approached the situations initially. In Afghanistan, President Obama initially granted General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal’s wish of an increase in troops by deploying 20,000 additional troops to the country. This sounded good up until the point when he announced on national television from the United States Military Academy in front of dozens of Cadets and Servicemen and Women that not only would he deploy these additional troops but that they would only be there for a year and a half. This meant that the enemy didn’t have to worry, because all they had to do was hold out for a year and a half and then they could get back to business as usual. After the initial 20,000 returned home, total U.S. troop count in Afghanistan reduced to a meager 8400.
The major problem with this is that it prevented the Coalition from achieving its goals. To ‘win’ the war in Afghanistan, the Coalition first had to rid the country of insurgents. The 8400 troops that the U.S had deployed meant that strategic goals couldn’t be achieved. Most of these 8400 troops were stationed in and or around Kabul. This caused a variety of problems that in some part still exist today.
The Taliban want to have total control of Afghanistan, as they did pre-2001. One of the easiest ways to do this is to secure major cities and economically important regions in Afghanistan. As it stood, and still more or less stands, the Taliban, and other terrorist actors know something that is key. They know, that if they muster up a few hundred fighters to capture a major city or township across the country from Kabul, it will take several days for Coalition or Afghani government to get a force together to attempt to retake this city. This will give them precious time to set traps and prepare for any potential counteroffensive.
The key to stopping the Taliban is not controlling just major cities, but being able to exert influence in the Afghani countryside. Terrorists organizations love the mountainous terrain because it enables them to hide from hostile forces and easily move men and supplies without being detected. The way the Coalition exerts influence is through Forward Operating Bases or FOB’s.
FOB’s are incredibly important. If there is a city that the Taliban is considering taking, an FOB is a great deterrent. They won’t waste the time gathering precious men and supplies for an assault on a major urban target if they know that a coalition force is just a few miles, or hours, away. This will allow for the coalition and Afghani government to maintain control of major population centers and regional seats of power.
FOB’s deep in the Afghani country side allow for the ISAF to go on the offensive and not just be constrained to fighting a reactionary war. They allow for units to conduct patrols, launch operations and most importantly, interact with the Afghani people. If a portion of the people are not behind the coalition and government, then the war will be perpetual. Many people who live in the Afghan countryside don’t have access to infrastructure or things like education. It is of the upmost importance that the ISAF develop the Afghan country side and build positive, long-lasting relations with the Afghani people.
To be Continued in a Future Installment