Afghanistan- 13 Part Series

December 15, 2011 Mike Scruggs 2350 Views

AFGHANISTAN The Graveyard of Empires- Part 1 of a series By Mike Scruggs- 2011,

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, American, British, and Allied troops of 36 other nations have been involved in defeating the radical Islamist allies of Al-Qaeda and bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. The security of the United States and many nations depend on the success of their mission, but it will not be easy. Many empires, nations, and alliances in the past have found Afghanistan to be a hellish trial.

Once part of the Persian Empire, Afghanistan is a country of 29 million people, approximately 80 percent Sunni Muslim and 19 percent Shia Muslim. In addition, about 2.7 million Afghan refugees are in neighboring Pakistan.

The area that is now Afghanistan was a crossroad of trade, war, and empires in ancient times. Its temporary conquerors included Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. It is a region of mountains and windswept plains, frigid in winter and blazing hot in the summer. Water flows through the country from the melting winter snows in the mountains, but the climate is generally very dry.  It is a country rich in unexploited minerals, but its major products representing 35 percent of the economy are illicit drugs made from growing poppy and exported as opium, morphine, heroin, and hashish.

Afghanistan is a land of ethnic diversity and strong tribal loyalties. Approximately 49 percent speak Afghan Persian (Dari) as their first language, which is also widely spoken as a second language.  It is the primary language of the second largest tribal group, the Tajiks, representing 27 percent of the Afghan population.  Pashtun is the first language of about 37 percent, but the Pashtun tribes make up about 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population. Approximately eleven percent of Afghans speak Turkic languages, primarily Uzbek and Turkmen. The rest speak 30 different languages, the largest of which are Balochi and Pashayi.

Modern Afghanistan began about 1709 with the rise of the Pashtun and became an established state in 1747. Two-thirds of the population lives on less than two U.S. dollars per day. Adult male literacy is about 43 percent and female literacy is under thirteen percent.

In the nineteenth century, the British and Russian empires vied for dominance of Afghanistan and Southwest Asia in what has been called the “Great Game.” The British occupied Afghanistan from 1839 to 1919 and fought three Anglo-Afghan wars in 1839-1842, 1878-1880, and lastly in 1919.

As Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) immortalized in his poem entitled “The Young British Soldier,” Afghanistan was a dreaded assignment for British troops:

“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s Plains And the women come out to cut up what remains Just roll on your rifle an’ blow out your brains An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier:”

During the first Anglo-Afghan War, Britain suffered one of the most devastating military disasters in its history. In 1838, the British attempted to form an alliance with Pashtun Emir Dost Muhammad in order to block the Russians from threatening India. This alliance failed, so an expeditionary force of 21,000 British and Indian troops under the command of Sir John Keane marched into Afghanistan and installed Shuja Shah Durani as Afghan leader.  Keane was subsequently replaced by Sir Willoughby Cotton and then by Major General William Elphinstone, and all but 8,000 troops returned to India. In order to improve the morale of these occupying troops, Sir William Hay Macnaghten, the senior British diplomat assigned to Afghanistan, allowed military dependents to accompany soldiers stationed near Kabul. This was seen by the Afghans, however, as the establishment of a permanent British-Indian occupational force and ignited further resistance led by Dost Muhammad’s son, Prince Muhammad Akbar Khan. It soon became evident that a small British-Indian occupational force would not be able to maintain control of Afghanistan, and the growing tribal alliance under Akbar Khan, succeeded in occupying much of the country.

By October 1841, the main British-Indian expeditionary force in Afghanistan found itself surrounded in an indefensible cantonment just northeast of Kabul. In November, a senior British diplomat, Sir Alexander Burnes and two of his aides were killed by a mob in Kabul. British failure to respond with resolute force only intensified Afghan revolt.  As the British military situation in Kabul deteriorated, Macnaghten secretly offered to make Akbar Khan vizier of Afghanistan, if the British were allowed to stay. At the same time, however, British secret agents were disbursing large sums of money to have him assassinated. On December 23, Macnaghten and Akbar Khan met for direct negotiations, but Akbar Khan, having discovered this impending British diplomatic treachery, had Macnaghten and three accompanying officers seized and killed.

On January 1, with the British-Indian force near Kabul cut off from immediate supply, Elphinstone negotiated with Akbar Khan for the withdrawal and safe passage of his forces and their dependents from Afghanistan.  The plan was to withdraw to an area of India now in Pakistan, first joining the smaller besieged British detachment at Jalalabad, near the border. The 90-mile trek included a 30-mile passage through the treacherous gorges along the Kabul River between Kabul and Gandamark.

The British-Indian expeditionary force included only 4,500 troops composed mainly of Indian regiments.  Only the 690 men of the 44th East Essex Foot were British. In addition, there were 12,000 camp followers, mainly the dependents of Indian soldiers.

Despite the safe passage the British had been granted, the withdrawing expeditionary force and their dependents were harassed and continually attacked by Ghilzai Pashtun tribal warriors. As British supplies and ammunition diminished, the attacks became more intense, finally resulting in a running battle in two feet of snow. By January 13, the entire British-Indian expeditionary force had been reduced to less than 40 men who were massacred at Gandamark. Nine men of the remnants of the 44th were taken prisoner. Only one man, Surgeon Dr. William Brydon reached Jalalabad.

In the spring, the British regained Kabul and reestablished British hegemony in Afghanistan. Following the British military victory in the third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, a firm Indian-Afghan border was established, and the Afghans agreed not to foment trouble on the British side. In return, the Afghans were allowed to conduct their own foreign affairs as a fully independent state. But there is much more bloody history to tell of this “graveyard of empires.” To be continued.



AFGHANISTAN From Independence to Soviet Tanks- Part 2 of a Series By Mike Scruggs-2011,

The First Anglo-Afghan War, briefly described in part one of this series, is remembered for the ferocity of Afghan resistance to foreign occupation. A withdrawing British-Indian force of 4,500 troops and 12,000 dependents of Indian soldiers that had been granted safe passage to India by Pashtun Prince Akbar Khan were almost completely annihilated by Ghilzai Pashtun tribal warriors in January 1842. Only ten men of the 44th East Kent Foot survived.

The Second Afghan War, sparked by the resistance of Emir Shir Ali’s to a British legation in Kabul, brought Emir Abdur Rahman to the Afghan throne in 1880. Called the “Iron Emir,” he ruled as an absolute and oppressive monarch and had has many as 100,000 people killed. The Third Anglo-Afghan War began when his son, Habibullah, was assassinated, probably because of his British sympathies, and his brother, Amanullah, gained control of the government and launched an attack on India.  The Treaty of Rawalpindi ended the war and granted Afghanistan political autonomy. Its signing on August 19, 1919, is celebrated as Afghan Independence Day. Russian intrigue and support for Afghan resistance to British occupation and political hegemony was a factor in all three Anglo-Afghan conflicts.

Inspired by Turkey’s Kamal Ataturk, Amanullah Khan, now the new king of Afghanistan, embarked on a plan to modernize and secularize his country. He established Afghanistan’s first constitution, which made elementary education compulsory. Supported especially by his Foreign Minister and father-in-law, Mahmud Tarzi, an ardent supporter of women’s education, many coeducational schools were opened, and the traditional veil for Muslim women was abolished. These reforms, however, alienated many tribal and Muslim religious leaders, and Amanullah was eventually faced with overwhelming armed opposition. He resigned in 1929 after Kabul fell to forces led by Habibullah Kalakani.

In the same year, Amanullah’s cousin, Mohammad Nadir Khan, defeated and killed Habibulah Kalakani. With considerable support from Pashtun tribal leaders, he was declared King Nadir Shah and took a more gradual approach to modernization, Unfortunately, he was assassinated in a revenge killing in 1933. His son, Mohammad Zahir Shah, continued his policies. In 1953, he appointed his brother-in-law, Mohammed Daoud Khan as Prime Minister, but Daoud was forced to resign because of an economic crisis in 1963. In 1964, King Zahir Shah promulgated a liberal constitution initiating many democratic reforms and sharing some power with a bicameral legislature. These reforms, however, permitted the growth of the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had close ideological ties to the Soviet Union.

However, poor economic conditions, charges of corruption against the royal family, and a severe draught in 1971 and 1972 resulted in a bloodless coup by his brother-in-law and former prime minister, Mohammed Daoud Khan, on July 17, 1973. Daoud abolished the monarchy and the 1964 constitution and declared himself President and Prime Minister of a new Afghan Republic. Daoud’s policies, however, failed to result in economic success or badly needed social reforms. Opposition to Daoud and his new republic was widespread by 1978, and the PDPA was able to organize an uprising and take power on April 27, 1978. Daoud and all his family members were murdered.

Nur Mohammad Taraki became President, Prime Minister, and General Secretary of the PDPA on May 1, and the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA). The PDPA immediately began to implement a liberal social agenda and Marxist economic policies. This included replacing religious and traditional laws with laws enforcing their secular and Marxist agenda. Women were forbidden to wear the traditional burqa, and men were required to cut their beards. Attending or visiting mosques was prohibited. Farmers’ debts were cancelled and usury was banned. Women, however, were allowed to vote, and forced marriages were outlawed. Equal education, job security, health services, and free time were also mandated for women.

The PDPA also invited the Soviet Union to assist in modernizing Afghanistan’s infrastructure and mining industry. The Soviets responded by sending contractors to build roads, hospitals, schools, and drill wells. In addition, they began to train and equip the new DRA Army.

Many people in the larger cities welcomed these reforms and Soviet assistance, but most Islamic religious leaders and their fundamentalist followers vehemently resented them. Both Muslim clerics and traditional tribal leaders were wary of such a large Russian presence in Afghanistan and its longer-term social, cultural, and economic consequences. Social unrest and ferocious resistance began to rise on a broad tribal and religious front. The resistance came from many factions, but a strong bond of Islamic fundamentalism and many common tribal traditions united them. The gathering ranks of fighters opposed to the PDPA and Russian influence become known as Afghanistan’s Mujahideen (holy Muslim warriors). They were soon engaged in organized sabotage and violence against the PDPA and the DRA Army.  The PDPA responded with a typical Stalinist heavy-hand: military reprisals, arrests, and executions. The Mujahideen countered with widespread, full-scale civil war.

In March 1979, DRA Field Marshall Hafizullah Amin became prime minister and vice-president of the Supreme Defense Council. On September 14, he overthrew Taraki, who was killed.

With the DRA Army unable to cope with the spreading insurgency and violence, the Soviet Union sent troops to support the DRA government and crush the Mujahideen. On Christmas Day, 1979, Soviet armor and infantry units entered Kabul. Thus began ten   years of Soviet occupation and war in Afghanistan. The bloody and far reaching consequences will be revealed in part 3 of this series.


AFGHANISTAN The Soviet Invasion 1979-80,  Part 3 of a series by Mike Scrugg- 2011,

Late in 1979, the communist regime of Hafizullah Amin and the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was losing its fight against an armed tide of tribal rebellions opposing new social mandates, coercive economic policies, and Russian influence. The fierce Muslim fighters aligned against the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) soon became known as the “Mujahadeen” (Muslim Holy Warriors of Allah). Amin begged the Soviets for more assistance, and in response, Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev decided to invoke the Brezhnev Doctrine, developed in 1968 to justify armed Soviet intervention against Czechoslovakia’s democratic revolution.  This doctrine was that the Soviet Union would not allow any Soviet allied communist regime to fall.

Several Soviet generals had serious reservations about a full-scale invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but Brezhnev’s will prevailed, and plans and preliminary actions were set in motion. Besides the usual communist doctrinal and foreign policy considerations, three predominantly Muslim Soviet Republics—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan—shared their southern borders with Afghanistan. In addition, Brezhnev believed Amin’s reckless speed and rough Stalinist approach in implementing policy changes were a major part of the problem and wanted to get rid of him.  The Soviets must also have been acutely aware that in January 1979 the United States had lost an important ally in Iran, when an Islamic revolution overthrew the Shaw. Moreover, Afghanistan shares its western border and a common language with Iran. In addition, the United States began sending weapons and other covert help to the Mujahadeen in July. Brezhnev and his supporters in the Soviet Politburo concluded that a successful Muslim overthrow of a communist government on the southern border of the USSR could have far reaching negative consequences for Soviet security, power, and influence.

On Christmas Eve, 1979, Soviet airborne troops and Spetsnaz commandos began landing at Kabul airport and Bagram airbase further north. These were protected by the unsuspecting DRA Army, which though surprised, offered no opposition to their supposed Soviet allies. On Christmas Day, the 357th and 66th Motorized Rifle Divisions (MRDs) entered Afghanistan from Turkmenistan in the north and began to advance south on the main highway. The 360th and 201st MRDs crossed the Amu Darya River, Afghanistan’s northern border with Uzbekistan, on pontoon bridges the same day. The 360th secured the Salang Pass and tunnel en route and reached Kabul on December 26, while the 201st continued and secured important towns in eastern Afghanistan. More airborne troops were landed at Harat, Kandahar, and Jalalabad. By December 27, Marshall Sergei Sokolov, commander of the 40th Soviet Army, had 50,000 soldiers, 1,800 tanks, and 2,500 armored troop carriers in Afghanistan. More than 5,000 troops and Spetsnaz commandos surrounded Kabul. That evening Spetznaz commandos dressed as Afghan soldiers and supported by airborne troops broke into the grounds of Duralaman Palace and after a four hour firefight routed the defenders and killed Amin. His Soviet appointed replacement, Babrak  Karmal, immediately announced the end of Amin’s reign of terror and Afghanistan’s rescue by the Red Army, citing the 1978 Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighborliness.

Meanwhile, Red Army Mechanized units occupied key defense points, administrative buildings, and communications centers in Kabul. More than 750 tanks and 2,100 other combat vehicles spread like a web around the country. Within days, Red Army strength in Afghanistan was up to 80,000. Within a few months it was up to 100,000. Overall, the operation was extremely well executed with only a few Soviet casualties, most of whom were the result of helicopter crashes. After a few days of stunned calm in major urban areas, thousands of Muslim Mullahs in the unconquered rural communities began to declare a Jihad—a holy war against invading foreign infidels. In Islam, an infidel is anyone who is not a Muslim. Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are all unbelieving infidels. The peace of military shock and awe was not to last.

The DRA Army began to melt away in response to the preaching of Jihad and Mujahadeen guerilla successes. On January 1, 1980 the DRA 15th Division revolted in Kandahar. Three battalions of the 11th DRA Division deserted when the Soviet 201st MRD rolled into Jalalabad. By mid-1980 the once 90,000 strong DRA had melted away by desertion, casualties, and switched loyalties to only 30,000 confused and largely ineffective troops.

In March, the 201st MRD launched an armored thrust up the Kunar Valley to relieve the remnants of the 9th DRA Division. The Soviets repeatedly came under intense hit and run fire from the heights on both sides of the valley. Several Red Army detachments incurred heavy casualties in short battles where the Mujahadeen poured intense fire on soldiers attempting to knock out their gun positions on commanding heights. According to Mujahadeen commanders, 1,800 civilians died during the twelve days the 201st spent in the valley.

In June, the Mujahadeen wreaked a terrible revenge on a 201st MRD battalion of relatively new Soviet conscripts. They were ambushed as they ventured into Paktya, on the road from Gardez to Khost near the Pakistani border. The mostly young Soviet soldiers apparently stayed inside their armored personnel carriers and fired inaccurately at their attackers until their ammunition ran out. The guerillas then came in for the kill and slaughtered the whole battalion of about 400 men. This was a devastating loss for the 40th Red Army, but their tight press was able to keep the disaster out of the news. The only official reports were the individual death notices sent to the families of each soldier. Nearly nine more years of war and still more casualties would follow.  To be continued.


AFGHANISTAN The Red Army versus the Mujahideen- Part 4 of a series By Mike Scruggs- 2011,

The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from December 1979 to February 1989 was part of the Cold War. That is to say, it was in many respects a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. The most important U.S. ally was Pakistan, which has a long border with eastern Afghanistan and boasts the second largest Muslim population in the world. Because 99 percent of the Afghan people are Muslim, the resistance to Soviet occupation had strong religious overtones and took the form of Jihad, holy war against invading foreign infidels. This brought the Mujahideen resistance considerable financial support from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. This aid in money and arms was largely coordinated through the CIA and the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Agency).

Beginning in 1980, the U.S. supported the Mujahideen with over $600 million per year in arms and other aid. Combined aid from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, other Muslim countries including Iran, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which has a short border with eastern Afghanistan, amounted to perhaps another $1.2 billion per year. In addition, a wealthy Saudi, named Osama bin Laden, contributed part of his own family fortune to give training and arms to a fanatic Arab legion dedicated to Jihad against infidel invaders of Muslim lands. This force was never more than 2,000 strong, but a total of 35,000 of these intensely indoctrinated soldiers of Allah served some time fighting the Soviet Union in the course of the ten-year war

The Soviets never intended to occupy Afghanistan for ten years, but under the Brezhnev Doctrine they would not allow a Soviet sponsored communist regime to be brought down. They hoped to defeat the Mujahideen and rebuild the crumbling PRA Army in a few years and then withdraw their troops and support the PRA government with weapons and advisors. However, the dogged perseverance of the Mujahideen and huge commitments of financial support and arms by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Communist China prevented the success of this plan.

The first step of the Soviet military strategy in Afghanistan was to secure and occupy the major urban centers, key airbases, and principal connecting roads and infrastructure. Once these areas and highways were secure, they would then go into the rural and largely mountainous areas and clean out the Mujahideen resistance. Meanwhile, they would be rebuilding and retraining the PRA Army to take over these tasks within a few years. This Soviet strategy did not fully comprehend, however, that the rural areas of Afghanistan had never paid much attention to any government in Kabul and had been governed essentially without interference from Kabul by tribal elders and Muslim mullahs for hundreds of years. Approximately 85 percent of the Mujahideen lived in these rural mountain and desert areas and could operate from an estimated 4,000 small bases.

Military strategy in Afghanistan is dominated by the largely mountainous terrain. The Hindu Kush Mountains, the western end of the Himalayas, extend from Pakistan southwesterly into the center of Afghanistan and are surrounded for the most part by desert areas in the southern and western provinces. Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan is dominated by high mountains. The main route to Pakistan and the city of Peshawar, teaming with Afghani Pashtun tribal refugees, is through the famous Khyber Pass.

The initial Soviet penetration of Mujahideen dominated areas consisted of roaring down existing roads in tanks and armored personnel carriers and blasting everything in their path with 105mm. cannons and heavy machine-gun fire. In difficult situations, MiG 23s were brought in to plaster the area with 500-pound bombs. But the Soviets’ most feared and effective weapon was the Mi-24 Hind helicopter-gunship. In addition, the Soviets used twin-engine, swept-wing Tu-16 jet bombers stationed in Soviet Turkmenistan for high-altitude carpet-bombing of difficult to reach mountain areas. After the first year, the Soviets withdrew many of their tanks and increased their helicopter force from 60 to 300.

There was no unity of command among the Mujahideen. Their military leadership was divided among various tribal and regional leaders. They were only unified in their tradition of extreme resistance to foreign invasion and the defense of Islam. Although the Mujahideen could field an estimated 1.2 million highly motivated but uncoordinated holy warriors scattered about the country, the most important leaders could muster no more than five to fifteen thousand men with great effort. Most could muster at most three to four hundred. However, they found that massed opposition to the Red Army, especially when supported by the Soviet Air Force, was suicidal. Early demonstrations of Mujahideen strength of more than a few hundred men were quickly obliterated by Red Army firepower, which frequently included horrendous human slaughter by Mi-24 helicopter-gunships. Additional attacks by Soviet Air Force Mig 23 ground-attack bombers, sometimes supplemented by high-altitude Tu-16 carpet-bombing, completed a circle of death that few could survive.  With some exceptions, the Mujahideen were forced to operate in small guerilla teams of ten to thirty men.

To be continued.


AFGHANISTAN Mujahideen Resistance- Part 5 of a series By Mike Scruggs- 2011,

Potential Mujahideen manpower vastly outnumbered Soviet forces in Afghanistan. During the course of the ten-year war, from 1979 to 1989, approximately one million Mujahideen soldiers engaged in armed resistance to the Soviet Union’s invasion of their homeland. The vast majority were either native Afghans or Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. Many, however, were Pashtun tribesmen whose territory overlaps southern and eastern Afghanistan and adjacent areas of western Pakistan. The term “Afghan” has two meanings: broadly, one who is a native of the modern nation of Afghanistan; and the original and narrower meaning, a member of one of the Pashtun tribes, as opposed to the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and other smaller tribal groups. The various Pashtun tribes make up 40 to 50 percent of the population of Afghanistan.  In addition, about 35,000 Arab Muslims, many trained by Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, joined the Jihad against the USSR.

Soviet forces never numbered more than 118,000 at any one time. The Red Army and Soviet Air Force, however, had a tremendous firepower advantage over the Mujahideen, so much that en masse Mujahideen opposition to Soviet operations in the field proved suicidal.

Faced with the enormous superiority of Red Army firepower meted out by tanks, helicopter-gunships, long range artillery, and supported by devastating attacks by Soviet Air Force fighter-bombers and high-altitude carpet bombing launched from Soviet Turkmenistan, most Mujahideen warfare was conducted by ten to thirty-man guerilla teams.   Their primary tactics were ambush, sabotage, laying roadside mines, and hit and run mortar and rocket attacks. They also made use of snipers, assassination teams, and bomb detonation teams.

It was normal for the Pashtuns, who have fierce warrior traditions, to own and sometimes carry rifles. In the Anglo-Afghan wars from 1839 to 1919, the Afghan long rifle (jezail) proved more accurate and deadly than British muskets. Few in the Northern tribes, however, were familiar with guns and even fewer possessed them. Massive desertions and defections in the DRA Army, however, soon made AK-47 assault rifles, rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, explosives, mortars, mines, and light machine-guns available.  In addition, the CIA and Pakistani ISI had been funneling weapons into Afghanistan for six months before the Soviet invasion. This quickly rose to more than $1.8 billion in arms per year. By agreement, most of this aid—including Chinese manufactured AK-47s, RPGs, mortars, light artillery, antiaircraft machineguns, handheld antiaircraft rocket launchers, and other infantry weapons—went from the Pakistani ISI to the leaders of seven Afghan political groups headquartered in Peshawar, Pakistan. These groups were distinguished by regional, tribal, religious, and political loyalties.

The most important of these were the fundamentalist Party of Islam, headed by the young, tough-minded Pashtun leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Society of Islam, headed by the brilliant intellectual Tajik leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani.  Rabbani’s principal military commanders in Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Massoud and Ismail Khan, turned out to be formidable military leaders.  These Tajik leaders would later be associated with the Northern Alliance, a coalition of non-Pashtun parties who allied against the Taliban, an extreme fundamentalist faction of the Pashtun, in 1996.

The U.S. wanted to supply the military commanders of Mujahideen forces directly in the field, but Pakistani President, General Zia-Ul-Haq insisted that going through the Peshawar political groups was much more efficient.  It also allowed Zia to favor one group over another. Both the Pakistanis and the Saudis strongly favored the more militant Pashtun Party of Islam.

The fundamentalist and Islamist-leaning Madrasah schools in Peshawar were a fertile recruiting, indoctrination, and training ground for Mujahideen warriors. This would have unfortunate consequences for the United States and its Western allies in future years.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev died in November 1982. He was replaced by Yuri Andropov who died in February 1984. His successor was the grandfatherly-looking Constantine Chernenko who pursued a ruthless policy of attrition against both the Mujahideen and Afghan civilians.  The USSR had been for many years an instigator of guerilla warfare in Vietnam and other places, so his application of counter-insurgency warfare makes an interesting comparison to Mao Tse Tung’s statement about guerillas being “fish swimming in the water of the people.” Chernenko simply decided to drain the water.

The heaviest fighting of the war occurred near the Pakistani border, northeast of Kabul, in the Panjshir Valley, and in the provinces along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan. The Red Army launched nine major air-supported offensives against Massoud’s 5,000 Mujahideen in the Panjshir Valley but failed to dislodge them from the mountains and small side-valleys. Massoud, a gifted 1973 graduate of the Afghan Military Academy with superb linguistic and public relations skills, became a favorite of the Reagan Administration. Despite Tajik defensive victories, however, he told journalist Edward Girardet that the Soviets might win by depleting the population:

“Unfortunately, we are in danger of losing our people. This is where the Soviets may succeed. Failing to crush us by force, as they have said they would with each offensive, they have turned their wrath on defenseless people, killing old men, women and children, destroying houses and burning crops. They are doing everything possible to drive our people away. “

Devastating Soviet firepower and airpower inflicted appalling casualties on both the Mujahideen and their civilian population during the war, causing 3.5 million refugees to flee to Pakistan and another million to Iran.


AFGHANISTAN Reagan, Gorbachev, and the Soviet Pull Out-  Part 6 of a series By Mike Scruggs- 2011,

In the early months of the war, the Soviets packed their initial Afghanistan invasion force with soldiers from their southern Muslim republics. This was a reasonable attempt to soften the cultural impact of their invasion. However, the Pahhtun tribes, representing 40-50 percent of the Afghan population, considered Muslims from north of the Oxus River to be their ancient enemies. This was like pouring gasoline on smoldering coals. In addition, the atrocities perpetrated by Lenin and Stalin on the Uzbek, Turkmen, and Tajik tribes in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s were will known by their kinsmen in Northern Afghanistan, many of whom were descendents of refugees.

Even more important, the predominance of Muslims in the Red Army force in Afghanistan caused dangerous rifts, distrust, and suspicions of divided loyalties within the Red Army. In a few months, the Red Army in Afghanistan assumed its normal Slavic character.

Afghanistan is a country dominated by its predominantly mountainous terrain. This bedeviled the Soviets more than any other factor and essentially determined not only tactical warfare but also overall strategy. They could control the key cities and main roads around the periphery of the mountains, but they experienced great difficulty establishing any sort of permanent control of hundreds of mountain valleys and any populated areas in rugged terrain. The Mujahideen usually operated in small groups centered on over 4,000 small base camps, usually well dug into caves and positions difficult to reach by Red Army armor and mechanized infantry. From these camps they ventured out to ambush Soviet mechanized infantry and truck convoys and make hit-and-run mortar and rocket attacks on Red Army positions.

Faced with difficult and dangerous ground access to Mujahideen strongholds, the Soviets pursued a strategy of attrition, leaning heavily on Soviet airpower. Carpet bombing and tactical airstikes were used extensively simply to kill as many of the Mujahideen as possible. In addition, the Red Army made extensive use of its dreaded Hind helicopter-gunships, often supplemented with the latest Soviet long-range artillery and tanks.    The Soviets made little distinction between Mujahideen combatants and civilians, both of whose casualties were enormous.

Despite the heavy pounding by Red Army and Soviet Air Force firepower, the Mujahideen hung on, largely with the help of U.S. and other Allied finances and weapons. China supplied them with SA-7 handheld surface-to-air (SAM) missiles and long-range 107mm and 130mm artillery. The Soviet Air Force, however, brought in new MiG 27 fighter-bombers and new SU-25 Frogfoot attack-bombers, roughly equivalent to the U.S. A-10 Warthog.  The SU-25s were amazingly effective in making steep dives into narrow mountain valleys and canyons. Red Army mechanized units also upgraded the firepower of their tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers, and the infantry now carried new AK-74 assault rifles.   Constantine Chernenko died in March 1985 and was replaced by Mikhail Gorbachev, who was interested in pursuing foreign policies that did not include military involvement in Afghanistan. However, he owed much of his support to the Soviet military. and gave them a year to pursue whatever military tactics they wanted in Afghanistan, with the objective of victory and then withdrawal. Consequently, they continued their policy of attrition, adding a new weapon to their arsenal, the anti-personnel Frog-7 cluster-bomb missile. By these means, the Soviets were inflicting combat deaths on the Mujahideen at a ratio of better than thirty-to-one. They were also successful in building up the DRA Army to 302,000 by 1986.

Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan, empowered by a reelection landside, signed a national security directive committing U. S. support to Afghan resistance “by all available means.”  The CIA was also successful in persuading Reagan to supply the Mujahideen with the new shoulder-fired, heat-seeking Stinger anti-aircraft missile.

It was a turning point in the war. On September 25, 1986, eight of the dreaded Hind helicopter-gunships on a routine mission to Jalalabad were approaching their landing zone, when the lead gunship suddenly exploded in midair. The second Hind was also hit by a Stinger and burst into flames. The other six quickly dropped low to avoid the danger, but another exploded and spread its debris across the landscape. On the ground, an American trained Mujahideen team shouted “Allah akbar.”  Soviet air superiority had been severely jolted.

This clinched Gorbachev’s decision to pursue domestic reforms and foreign policy moderation rather than an extended war in Afghanistan. Beginning in January 1987, Soviet forces in Afghanistan participated in only one major offensive operation to smash the Mujahideen forces besieging Khost near the Pakistani border. Otherwise, they only defended against Mujahideen attacks.

At the end of 1987, Gorbachev informed Mohammad Najibullah, who had replaced Babrak Karmal as DRA leader in May 1986, that Soviet troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

When the last Red Army units crossed Friendship Bridge back into the USSR on February 15, 1989,  nearly15,000 Soviet soldiers had died in nearly ten years of war. However, of the 17 million people in Afghanistan at the beginning of the war, an estimated 500,000 Mujahideen had been killed and as many as a million Afghan civilians had perished. In addition, 3.5 million Afghans had fled to Pakistan and another million to Iran.  To be continued.


AFGHANISTAN Knowing the Players- Part 7 of a series by Mike Scruggs- 2011,

Like many other nations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, Afghanistan is a nation whose borders were largely established on an arbitrary geographic basis by past empires, especially the British Empire. These borders often cut through tribal and ethnic identities that are held more important than an Afghan national identity. One cannot therefore speak of something like Afghan public opinion, traditions or loyalties with the same confidence that we might speak of German, French, or even American opinion, tradition, and loyalties. To understand Afghanistan, we must pay much more attention to the character of its tribal and ethnic components. Without this knowledge, military, political, and foreign policy strategies that might seem logical to Americans and Europeans could be fatally flawed.

I have gone to many college football games in the last twenty years, and I always get a program. I like to know the players, their numbers, and the coaching staffs. In Afghanistan, it is vitally important to know the ethnic and tribal players to have any chance of a satisfactory outcome to our military and diplomatic mission there.

As an overview, we first might consider that Afghanistan is a nation of 29 million people, 80 percent Sunni Muslim, and 19 percent Shia Muslim. It borders on Pakistan, Iran, and the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, and even has a small border with Communist China. The high and rugged mountainous terrain of the Hindu Kush dominates its northeastern and central geography. Its major tribal/ethnic groups are the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and the Turkmen, but several smaller tribes have also been important in Afghanistan’s history and recent events. The most important tribal/ethnic divisions are briefly described in the paragraphs below.

PASHTUNS.  The Sunni Muslim Pashtuns have been the dominant ethnic group for nearly 300 years. The CIA 2008 Factbook estimates that they constitute about 42 percent of Afghanistan’s total population. It depends on how strictly criteria like the tribal code of conduct (Pashtunwali), ancestral identities, and tribal dialects are applied. The Pashtuns generally claim to be at least 50 percent of the population. An even larger number of Pashtuns live in two provinces of western Pakistan—the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and northern Baluchistan.  Many on both sides of the border would prefer to be part of “Pashtunistan.” The term “Afghan” historically meant Pashtun,   Most of the Pashtuns speak a dialect of Irano-Persian called Pashto, Pashtun, or Pathan with several spelling variants. The Pashtuns inhabit (rather roughly) the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan south of a line through Kabul, Jalalabad, the Khyber Pass, and Peshawar in Pakistan. The have proud warrior traditions and tend toward strict practice of Islam and Sharia. The Taliban originated with the Pashtuns in 1994, and the Pashtuns are generally more likely to have Taliban sympathies. The major Pashtun tribes are the Ghilzais, the Durrani, the Gurgushusht, and the Karkanri.  In physical appearance, the Pashtun are most likely to have the long face and long convex nose typical of what anthropologists once termed the Irano-Afghan variety of the Mediterranean subraces. Genetic studies, however, indicate they are a stabilized blend of several Near Eastern and West Asian ancestral strains.

TAJIKS. The Sunni Muslim Tajiks represent about 27 percent of the total population of Afghanistan and tend to be non-tribal urban dwellers, They are a majority or near-majority in the larger cities and usually dominate commerce, education, and government bureaucracies. Many have a high degree of accomplishment in the literature and culture of the Persian language. Most Tajiks, however, are farmers and herders occupying the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan including the Panjshir, Shomal, Salang, and Badakhshan valleys. Although the dominant Tajik political party is Islamic oriented, the Tajiks have constituted the strongest resistance to the fanaticism of the Taliban and have furnished much of the core leadership of the Northern Alliance, which has been essentially an alliance of everybody but the Pashtuns. Many Tajiks are the descendents of refugees from the Stalinist purges in Soviet Tajikistan. Although their pigmentation is typically Mediterranean, many Tajiks resemble Central Europeans in body build and facial characteristics, but their DNA indicates a distant relationship to the Slavic peoples of Northern Europe.

HAZARAS. The Shia Muslim Hazaras live in the central mountains of Afghanistan. Their language is a dialect of Persian, but 50 percent of the men belong to the same DNA grouping as Ghengis Khan, and many of Hazaras have strong Mongol features. According to the CIA, they are nine percent of the total Afghan population, but some estimates run as high as 15-20 percent. They have been the objects of both religious and racial discrimination since the rule of Abdur Rahman (1844-1901) and have been harshly treated by the Taliban.

UZBEKS.  The Uzbeks are Turkish speaking Sunni Muslims and are an extension of the Uzbek population in Uzbekistan. They inhabit adjacent areas in Northern Afghanistan, and according to the CIA, represent nine percent of the total population.

TURKMEN.  The Turkmen are also Turkish speaking Sunni Muslims spilling over from Turkmenistan on the northwest border of Afghanistan. The CIA estimates that they constitute about two percent of the Afghan population.

NURISTANI. Native to the rugged mountains of the Northeast, the Nuristani are less than one percent of the total Afghan population, but they have been important politically and militarily. They were forcibly converted to Sunni Islam by Abdur Rahman in1895.  The Nuristanis have a speculative origin due to a somewhat exaggerated reputation for lighter coloring.

To be continued.


Afghanistan and Vietnam- Part 8 of a Series on Afghanistan By Mike Scruggs- 2011,

I often hear people compare the war in Afghanistan to American involvement in Vietnam from 1962 to 1973 or to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. There are certainly some valid comparisons, but there are enough substantial differences to make comparison dangerous.

For one thing, Americans tend to think they know “the lessons of Vietnam,” but what they really know are the “myths of Vietnam,” which are largely wrong. In fact, most of them are a perpetuation of the propaganda of the former Soviet Union and their leftist sympathizers in American academia and the media. The most persistent myth is that Vietnam was a “can’t win war.” It is certainly true that President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and his successor, Clark Clifford, pursued military strategies and rules of engagement that were transparent folly to most experienced military commanders and advisers. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had five major confrontations with McNamara before Senate hearings headed by John Stennis finally resulted in McNamara’s resignation to save Presidential face.

President Richard Nixon was a slow to learn, but he eventually discarded the policies that allowed North Vietnamese Army sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos to threaten South Vietnam and Allied forces.  Moreover, he freed our most potent weapons—American air and sea power—from hyper-restrictive rules of engagement. The Johnson Administration’s timid gradualism, victory-relinquishing bombing halts, and naïve and overly eager concessions at the negotiating table all signaled a lack of resolve to the North Vietnamese and their Soviet sponsors. In 1972, Nixon completely reversed this lack of resolve by mining North Vietnamese harbors and pounding strategic North Vietnamese targets using B-52 bombers and precision bombing by USAF and Navy fighter-bombers. We actually won the war in December 1972, but Congress threw the victory away in 1975 by cutting off promised military supplies to the South Vietnamese and Cambodian governments and allowing the North Vietnamese to overrun South Vietnam and Cambodia unopposed by USAF and Navy airpower. The South Vietnamese and Cambodian armed forces simply ran out of ammunition, spare parts, and fuel, and the North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge took cruel vengeance on any potential civilian resistance or dissent.

As I have pointed out in my book, Lessons from the Vietnam War, we could have easily won the war in 1965, 1967, and 1968, and effectively did win it in December 1972.  In fact, we could have won any time we resolved to win. Demonstrating resolve is the sine qua non of both victory and survival.

Contrary to popular beliefs, the Soviet Army was not defeated in Afghanistan. They withdrew because Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to pursue more moderate domestic and foreign policies. It is true that they were frustrated and unable to establish control in the mountains, but they very nearly defeated the Mujahideen by attrition. As Tajik military commander Ahmned Shah Massoud told reporter Edward Giradet:

“Unfortunately, we are in danger of losing our people. This is where the Soviets may succeed. Failing to crush us by force, as they have said they would with each offensive, they have turned their wrath on defenseless people, killing old men, women and children, destroying houses and burning crops. They are doing everything possible to drive our people away. “

Of the 17 million people in Afghanistan at the beginning of the war, an estimated 500,000 Mujahideen had been killed and as many as a million Afghan civilians had perished. In addition, 3.5 million Afghans had fled to Pakistan and another million to Iran.  In contrast, Soviet forces had less than 15,000 deaths from all causes, and they never had more than 118,000 men there at any one time.

On the other hand, U.S. strength in Vietnam peaked at 543,000 in April 1969. Total American deaths from all causes had accumulated to over 57,000 by the end of 1972. The Soviets lost 451 aircraft, including 333 helicopters in Afghanistan. The U.S. lost 3,332 fixed-wing aircraft alone during the Vietnam War. Over 900 of these were jet aircraft lost over North Vietnam during Lyndon’s Johnson’s Operation Rolling Thunder, the epitome of “powder-puff” air warfare. The Army and Marines lost 3,300 of 7,000 UH-1 “Huey” helicopters during the war.

Although there are mountains and hills in Vietnam, there are few countries in the world with more rugged terrain than Afghanistan. The Hindu Kush is part of the Himalayan chain. Noshaq, in northeastern Afghanistan, is its highest peak, rising 24,557 feet above sea level. Afghanistan is completely landlocked and except for a small border with China, completely surrounded by other Muslim nations.

Perhaps the most challenging difference of war in Afghanistan is Islam. Communists could be ruthless, but Jihad against outsiders and infidels can be ruthless and fanatical. Furthermore, multiculturalist philosophy and political correctness have prevented a realistic American and European assessment of Islam. In addition, Afghanistan’s greater tribal and ethnic diversity and rivalries make peaceful stability more challenging.

Bringing stability to Afghanistan will be a difficult but not insurmountable challenge. It will be tempting to throw up our hands and let them stew in their own juice. But think one step ahead. What will be the result of abandoning Afghanistan and Southwest Asia to the aggressive fanaticism that characterizes the Taliban and neighboring Iran?


AFGHANISTAN The Plot Thickens- Part 9 of a series By Mike Scruggs- 2011,

When the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, they had not suffered military defeat. In fact, the Mujahideen had become worn down by the tremendous loss of life, about 500,000 combatants and as many as 1,000,000 civilians. Soviet military deaths were only about 15,000. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had much more pressing domestic and global priorities to address than Afghanistan. Gorbachev’s chief concern was to save the Soviet Union from the inevitable ravages of bad government, the inevitable result of Marxist policy and despotism.

By 1985, the failure and corruption of the communist system in the USSR was beginning to cause economic stagnation and political and social unrest in Russia and several Soviet Socialist Republics. Gorbachev attempted to address these grievances with both democratic and economic reforms, but they resulted in unintended consequences. Fearing that the Communist Party was losing its iron grip on the people and the Soviet Republics, a group of hard core Communist Party leaders opposed to Gorbachev’s reforms attempted a coup. The coup was successfully countered by Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin who emerged as head of a new non-communist government of the Russian Federation. By the end of 1991, the Communist Party was out of power, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was no more.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, most observers in the West expected the communist government to fall within a few months. However, the Soviets had managed to build up the communist DRA Army into a much more effective and better-equipped force of 302,000 that soon scored some major victories over the exhausted Mujahideen forces. In 1992, however, the DRA’s principal financial and arms support collapsed with the break up of the Soviet Union. The government was dealt another major blow with the defection of General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his forces to the Mujahideen. Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, joined forces with Tajik military leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. Their combined forces took Kabul on April 18, 1992 and declared the new government to be the Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA).

However, the largest and most militant ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns, were not well represented in the ISA government in Kabul. The non-communist militias soon divided over religious, tribal, ethnic, clan, and personality issues, and a new phase of civil war began. Intense fighting between rival militias soon left much of the country in a state of anarchy and the rule of warlords.

In the spring of 1994, in the Kandahar region of southern Afghanistan, a relatively obscure Pashtun religious leader began a phenomenal rise to power and influence. Mullah Mohammed Omar, a Wahhabi Islamist and advocate of strict Sharia Law, was told by neighbors from his hometown that a warlord commander had abducted two teenage girls, shaved their heads, and took them to his camp where they were raped repeatedly. Thirty of his students (taliban) rescued the girls and hanged the warlord on the barrel of a tank. Following that episode, Omar’s followers partook in several rescues of people suffering under the crime and brutality of warlords and soon gained a reputation as regulators insuring justice to common people.

Now calling themselves “the Taliban,” the followers of Omar took the city of Kandahar in early November 1994. In the next three months, the growing army of Taliban, composed primarily of students and former Mujahideen, took over 12 of 34 provinces not controlled by the Kabul government.  They were first looked upon as Allah-sent liberators, bringing stability where crime and chaos had prevailed, but their strict imposition of Sharia Law soon gained them a reputation as oppressors. Civil rights were minimized and not available to women at all. With minimum or no judicial hearing, they executed summary justice by cutting off people’s arms and hands, and Taliban hit-squads roamed the streets enforcing their strict Sharia rules by public beatings. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi and former commander of the Mujahideen Arab volunteer brigade during the Soviet-Afghan War, nonetheless, gave strong support to the Taliban, many of whom had been schooled in Pashtun madrassas while refugees in Pakistan.

By late 1995, the Taliban had conquered the southern two-thirds of Afghanistan. Many local militias defected and joined them without resistance. Along their way, they massacred thousands of uncooperative civilians, especially in villages of the Shia Muslim Hazara, whom they considered to be lower than dogs. As they approached Kabul, however, they were handed some significant defeats by Ahmad Shah Massoud, the hero of the Soviet-Afghan War and favorite of the American CIA.  Massoud had been made Defense Minister by ISA President and fellow Tajik Burhanuddin Rabanni.

Nevertheless, in September 1996, the Taliban, along with 28,000 allied Pashtun Pakistani nationals and many of Osama bin Laden’s Arab Mujahideen veterans, backed by Saudi money and Pakistani intelligence sources, succeeded in taking Kabul. Massoud was forced to retreat into the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. Dostum was also forced back and had to flee the country in 1998.

The Taliban now ruled most of Afghanistan, but the Northern Alliance of Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks still held onto many mountain valleys just as they had against the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989.

On September 9, 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by Al-Qaeda agents of Osama bin Laden. To be continued. _________________________________________________________

AFGHANISTAN The Shadow of 911- Part 10 of a series by Mike Scruggs- 2011,

On September 9, 2001, two days before a coordinated suicide attack by nineteen  al-Qaeda terrorists took the lives of nearly 3,000 people in the United States, al-Qaeda agents of Osama bin Laden assassinated Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Commander of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

Massoud was a popular and much admired hero of the Soviet-Afghan War, who had earned the sobriquet, “the Lion of  Panjshir” for his repulse of nine  formidable Red Army attempts to take the Panjshir Valley from 1979 to 1988. He was highly regarded as an anti-communist leader by the CIA and President Ronald Reagan but received practically no material U.S. aid during the war, because American aid was routed through Pakistani intelligence (the ISI).  The Pakistanis favored the Pashtuns and  Pashtun Commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who later became an avowed enemy of the U.S.

Hekmatyar favored and still favors terrorism as a military and political strategy. He was thus a natural ally of al-Qaeda and had frequent conflicts with Massoud because of Massoud’s popularity and opposition to terrorist tactics and strategy. Massoud also differed considerably from Hekmatyar and most Pashtun and Taliban leaders on social mores. He signed the Women’s Rights Charter in 2000, and women and girls in areas controlled by Massoud were allowed to go to work and school. They were not required to wear the burqa. Massoud’s conviction was that men and women were equal and entitled to equal rights, but he was wise enough to realize such changes would require a generation of education. He had a reputation not only for military skill and courage, but was also a gifted scholar known for his wisdom, fairness, and genuine concern for his people. Like many educated Tajiks, he was probably influenced by the moderate practices of Sufi Islam. Sufism is considered heretical by most Muslims, however, and is especially despised by militants.

When the Taliban took over most of Afghanistan in 1996, the United States and most Western powers continued to recognize the Northern Alliance as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, while Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Emirates recognized the Taliban. As many as 28,000 Pakistani nationals, mostly Pashtuns, aided the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. In addition, several militant Arab brigades loyal to Osama bin Laden assisted them and were responsible for  massacres of hundreds of Northern Alliance civilians during the war.

Massoud believed that Pakistan was responsible for “deepening the crack between the ethnic groups in Afghanistan” and that they intended to prevent any sort of unity that threatened Pakistani dominance over Afghanistan.  American journalist Sebastian Junger, who has just published a stunning new book on Afghanistan, called War, stated in March 2001 that: “They (the Taliban) receive a tremendous amount of support by Pakistan….without that support from Pakistan, the Taliban would really be forced to negotiate.” Massoud believed that without Pakistan’s support the Taliban would not be able to last a year. Early in 2001, he told the European Parliament that:

“The Taliban are not a force to be considered invincible. They are distanced from the people now. They are weaker than in the past. There is only the assistance given by Pakistan, Osama bin Laden, and other extremist groups that keep the Taliban on their feet.”

By that time, al-Qaeda was virtually a Taliban-protected state within Afghanistan.

According to Indian journalist Rajeev Srinivasan, the U.S. blew their early victory over the Taliban, when the CIA allowed Pakistan to airlift more than a thousand Taliban out of their besieged last stronghold at Kunduz in November 2001. According to Indian sources, these were mostly Pakistani Army and ISI officers involved in supporting the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and U.S. Special Forces. Because they are wary of Pakistan, India would prefer that the U.S. stay in Afghanistan.

In a June 2010 article published by DNA India, Srinivasan suggested that U.S. President Barack Obama’s announced plan, which he characterized as “surge, bribe, declare victory, and run like hell” was “not about winning but spinning a face-saving retreat.” Srinivasan and apparently many other Indian observers fear that a negotiated deal to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan would essentially outsource the war to Pakistan and leave the Taliban in control of large parts of Afghanistan.

By August 2001, the situation in Afghanistan had already caused the Bush Administration to consider covert operations against the Taliban. Meanwhile, Massoud was picking up information that something large was being planned by al-Qaeda..

Following the shock of September 11, 2001, no one knew what was coming next. The U.S. Financial markets were devastated, and no one knew whether al-Qaeda possessed the power and organization to implement further devastating attacks on the U.S. or its allies. What were al-Qaeda’s intentions, global structure, capabilities, and weaknesses?   Did they have or could they get nuclear weapons, poison gasses, or biological weapons? Far from knowing these precisely, President Bush was forced to act quickly to prevent a worst-case scenario. The consequences of underestimating al-Qaeda’s capabilities, access to weapons of mass destruction, and intentions could result in horrendous tragedy. He had to act decisively but without complete knowledge—the most common situation in war.  To be continued.


AFGHANISTAN The Aftermath of 9/11- Part 11 of a series by Mike Scruggs- 2011,

Following the attack on the United States by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, it was necessary to take immediate action to prevent further attacks. Due to a de-emphasis on intelligence resources and collection in the Clinton Administration, the intelligence community was not able to give anywhere near certain answers on some critical questions. What were al-Qaeda’s capabilities and intentions?  What was their global structure? Who supported them and how? One overwhelming fear was that they might have access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—nuclear, chemical, and biological. Although there was little evidence that would confirm al-Qaeda’s access to WMD, the cost of being wrong in that regard could result in calamitous loss of life and economic damage.  President George W. Bush was forced to assume the worst.

Al-Qaeda’s connection to Afghanistan was one of the few things that were certain. To depose al-Qaeda’s equally radical Taliban allies in Afghanistan was a no brainer. It was also clear that the U.S. could not allow any nation to be a friendly base for terrorist attacks against us. We needed to send a strong and unequivocal signal to any potential enemy that support for al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations intending to attack the United States would be met with decisive retaliatory action.

Initial actions in Afghanistan took the form of aiding the anti-Taliban coalition of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and miscellaneous smaller tribes (the Northern Alliance), against the (predominantly Pashtun) Taliban. This we did primarily with Special Forces advisors, U.S. and UK airpower and covert operations, and Allied logistical support. Initial defeat of the Taliban and return of the Northern Alliance to power was quick and cost few American lives. In December 2001, under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council, an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), eventually numbering 42 nations, was established. Most of the active members are also NATO members. The ISAF is primarily responsible for securing the area around the capital—Kabul. Some American, British, and Canadian infantry—along with Australian Special Forces units—were committed to combat operations in 2002. NATO assumed control of the ISAF in 2003, and German, Norwegian, and New Zealand special operations units were added.

In the meantime, President Bush had to shore up our intelligence capability and domestic anti-terrorist security operations. The latter is now under the Department of Homeland Security. One obvious measure of the success of U.S. anti-terrorism operations is that there have been no large-scale terrorist attacks on the United States in the nine years since the 9/11 tragedy. At least there have been none so far. Al-Qaeda, however, is not limited to using Afghanistan as a base. The core leadership has been driven into the high and rugged mountain terrain of western Pakistan, but they could attempt operations from Yemen or other radicalized Muslim nations.

Two larger declared enemies of the United States that might ally with or use al-Qaeda or anyone else to attack the U.S. were obvious—Iraq and Iran. Both had ambitions to be regional nuclear powers and are blessed with lots of oil money. Iraq had actually used chemical warfare in its 1980-1988 war with Iran. Furthermore, Iraq had attacked Kuwait in 1990 with the possible further intent of invading Saudi Arabia to gain its vast oil wealth.  Additionally, Iraq was frequently uncooperative with United Nations inspectors seeking to confirm Iraqi destruction and discontinuance of existing or planned biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

In early 2003, U.S. intelligence capability was still not able to confirm or dismiss with reasonable certainty whether Iraq still had the chemical warfare weapons and capability that they had used against Iran and Kurdish dissidents from 1983 to 1988 or whether they were secretly developing nuclear weapons. They had received related technology and materials aid from various Western countries in the past. These threats were uncertain, but their magnitude and probability could certainly not be characterized as low. Iraq’s relationship to al-Qaeda, however, was uncertain.

Critical intelligence is most often characterized by various degrees of uncertainty. High degrees of uncertainty hinder correct evaluation. In addition, high urgency threats generally tend to crowd out the importance of intelligence reliability in decision-making. However, correct evaluation made too late is a common fatal mistake in war.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis once pointed out that it was unwise to wait for an enemy whose gun was pointed in your chest to fire the first shot. Dead men seldom launch successful counterattacks.

In weighing alternatives, the WMD issues loomed large.  The consequences of dismissing or seriously underestimating Iraqi intentions, capabilities, and their relationship to al-Qaeda could result in horrendous loss of American life and damage to the American economy. Saddam Hussein and his sons had proved themselves to be ruthless oppressors and killers of their own people by whatever ghastly means. Moreover, Iraq was providing financial support to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. An evaluation of Saddam Hussein’s character perhaps tipped the balance of the decision to invade Iraq in March 2003.

The 2003 U.S-led multi-national attack on Iraq was another spectacular display of U.S. airpower and mechanized speed and firepower. The Iraqi Army quickly collapsed. The problem remained to bring a stable pro-Western government to Iraq. This still unfinished business, however, drew attention away from a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan.

To be continued.


AFGHANISTAN Troubling Foreign Complexities- Part 12 of a Series By Mike Scruggs- 2011,

The modern history of Afghanistan is a record of foreign powers vying for empire, religious ascendancy, and regional political dominance. For more than a hundred years, the British and Russian empires schemed and engaged in small proxy wars to keep each other from occupying or dominating Afghanistan. This competition, called in history, the “Great Game,” was largely defensive on both sides. The British wanted a stable buffer zone to protect their greatest 19th century colonial possession, India, from the perceived threat of Russian expansion. The Russians were anxious about the British Empire’s expansion into areas of traditional Russian hegemony. Such imperial defensive strategies, however, often resulted in preemptive aggression on the smaller nations and peoples in the way.  The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the peak of empire and colonialism. Conflict between colonial powers abounded.

From the Soviet point of view, the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-89) was about defending Moscow’s brand of communist ideology and securing a buffer zone for three predominantly Muslim Soviet Republics—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. They sought to maintain their overall political influence in Southwest Asia and prevent the emergence of a radical Islamic Republic that might inspire Muslim upheaval within the USSR.

The United States, Britain, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Emirates financed the Mujahideen rebels and supplied them with weapons, technology, and covert operations. Their principal objective was to hurl back the spread of communist ideology and prevent the USSR from expanding its power and influence into the oil rich Persian Gulf. Pakistan, moreover, has ambitions to be a dominant influence in Southwest Asia. The People’s Republic of China, which has a small border with Afghanistan, also supplied weapons to the Mujahideen. They hoped to advance regional and global Chinese influence at the expense of their Soviet ideological cousins.

The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was a victory of sorts in the U.S. and the UK battle against the Soviet communist empire, but winning that victory had some unforeseen negative consequences. In that battle, the U.S armed and trained many Mujahidden and radical Arab Muslims who are now the core leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We gave them high technology anti-aircraft weapons and taught them how to conduct covert operations and guerilla warfare. In the end, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had very different ideas about the future of the Soviet Union than his predecessors. After exacting horrendous casualties against the Mujahideen and Afghan civilians in nearly ten years of war, the Red Army departed, but civil war continued.

In the present conflict, Pakistan has often acted at cross-purposes to the U.S. and Britain. Pakistan is nuclear-armed and is the second largest Muslim country in the world. Their desire is to be the dominant power in Southwest Asia. They also have a large Pashtun population, many of whom are Taliban. In fact, most of the Taliban leadership received their religious education in Pakistani madrassas. Pakistan has usually favored the Pashtuns in Afghanistan over the Northern Alliance, although Pashtun Taliban in Pakistan have recently escalated terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Most recently they bombed a Sufi Muslim Temple to demonstrate their intolerance for the few moderate influences in Islam.

Unless the Taliban are completely defeated, civil war will continue when the United States withdraws its ground forces. If President Obama negotiates a peace that essentially outsources the war to Pakistan, the Taliban will continue to dominate large areas of Afghanistan that could act as a future launching ground for terrorist acts against the United States. U.S. security will depend on Pakistan rethinking its relationship to Pashtun militants.

India does not want the U. S. to withdraw from Afghanistan and Southwest Asia because it fears the consequences of Pakistani dominance. India and Pakistan have a long-standing border conflict over the Kashmir, and India has recently been afflicted with radical Muslim terrorist attacks.

The Russians have allied with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, seeing them as a dangerous influence on Muslim minorities in the Caucasus and Russia. Chechnya is an obvious concern as well as the former Soviet Muslim Republics that border Russia.  However, Russia is not unhappy to see the U.S. tied down in Afghanistan. It sees American concentration on Afghanistan as an opportunity to advance Russian interests elsewhere.

Shiite Iran also has an interest in the future of Afghanistan. It has a huge border with Afghanistan and supports the Shiite Muslim Hazara against the Taliban.  Although they strongly oppose the Taliban, they have sometimes provided them with weapons, shelter, and training when it worked against the interest of the United States.

The Taliban are fierce, radical, and ruthless, but they are by no means invincible. They are largely dependent on support from Pashtun Taliban in Pakistan. Yet they are unlikely to give up or compromise their cause, when they know the U.S. will soon be leaving.

The U.S. is truly in a dilemma. The U.S. and ISAF-NATO mission is costly, and no clear victory or solution is yet obvious, but withdrawal could result in regional destabilization as the Northern Alliance fights for their lives, and Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and even China move to advance their interests. Will we get peace or lay the foundation for expanded global conflict and danger?


AFGHANISTAN   Trouble Brewing in Pakistan- Part 13 of a series by Mike Scruggs- 2011,

On September 30, three Pakistani Frontier Scout border guards were mistakenly killed by American AH-64 helicopter gunships on the Pakistani side of the Afghan-Pakistani border. The gunships had been called in by U.S. troops on the Afghan side of the border in response to a mortar attack from a Taliban position in Pakistan.  This might have been written off as one of the unfortunate but common “friendly fire” accidents of war.  The U.S. ambassador in Islamabad and NATO apologized to Pakistan, but Pakistan has so far insisted that there should be no more NATO violations of Pakistani sovereignty. NATO military action in Pakistan has been extremely unpopular among Pakistanis, and Pakistani leaders undoubtedly fear political repercussions. Any Pakistani regime changes, of course, could also be harmful to U.S. diplomacy in South Asia and NATO objectives in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the U.S. is especially unwilling to allow the enemy to fire on NATO troops from sanctuaries. Allowing enemy sanctuaries was one of the key political errors of the Vietnam War, putting the Allies at a military disadvantage and increasing casualties. The Pakistani Army, however, has not demonstrated much enthusiasm for preventing Taliban sanctuaries or rooting out al-Qaeda in Pakistan

The impasse between Pakistan and the U.S. has thus far resulted in Pakistan shutting off the primary logistics route supplying American and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Most of the Allied supplies are landed at the Pakistani port city of Karachi, the largest city (13 million people) in Pakistan. Private trucking companies then move the supplies to Peshawar, through the Khyber Pass, and to Kabul. Unless resolved, Pakistan has thus dealt NATO a tremendous logistical setback, which could force withdrawal of NATO forces and the abandonment of the Northern Alliance. The alternative would be to negotiate a supply route with Russia or Turkmenistan or to depend on a huge “Berlin Airlift” type operation for supplies. Many halted truck convoys are now being attacked by Pakistani Taliban, but so far the Pakistani Army has done little to stop it.  In addition, the impasse places the successful CIA drone missions in jeopardy.

President Obama’s plan is essentially the Pakistanization of the war.  As the U.S. and NATO pull out, Pakistan would take over the job of stabilizing Afghanistan. But Pakistan’s rather cozy and ambiguous relationship with the Taliban would probably result in a large part of Afghanistan remaining under Taliban control, opening up an opportunity again for al-Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist organizations to use Afghanistan for more terrorist attacks on the United States.

Most American military leaders favor crushing or degrading the Taliban to the point that they will not be a serious threat to the Northern Alliance or effective protection for al-Qaeda or other international jihadist organizations. President Obama has thoroughly jeopardized that possibility and his own plan by announcing a July 2011 target date to leave Afghanistan. The primary strategy of guerilla warfare against stronger occupying forces is simply to outwait them. Guerillas avoid decisive battles but keep inflicting casualties and creating a climate of fear and political instability. Usually, it is the politicians on the home front of the occupying force who decide that the war is politically uncomfortable and start agitating to pull out. Encouraging guerillas by announcing an exit date is essentially a “white flag.”  Hence we should not be surprised that there is tension between the generals and the President.

Any U.S. exit from Afghanistan that can be construed by the Muslim world as a face saving American negotiated surrender will likely prove an exhilarating encouragement to terrorists everywhere. In addition, Russia and China will probably see it as an opportunity to assert their power wherever they choose. We are in a considerable dilemma, but we should not fall prey to bringing back a false peace that will really mean continuous and ever increasing war.

In the last few months, Pakistan has moved more into the news.  With a population of just over 170 million, it is the second largest Muslim nation in the world. Over 95 percent of its people are Muslim, about 75 percent Sunni Muslim and 20 percent Shia Muslim. Pakistan has the sixth largest population and the 27th largest economy in the world. With 612,000 members on active duty, it has the seventh largest armed forces in the world and has nuclear arms capability. .

Pakistan’s ethnic diversity complicates its relationship to Afghanistan. Punjabis are the leading ethic group with 45 percent of the population. However, 26 million Pakistanis, nearly 16 percent of the population, are Pashtuns.  There are about twice as many Pakistani Pashtuns as Afghan Pashtuns. As in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns tend to be Taliban militants. In the last two years, about 3,000 Pakitanis have been killed in Pashtun Taliban terrorist attacks.  Despite increased terrorism, the Pakistani government has tended to appease the Pashtun minority to stay in power. Pakistan also fears that Pashtun militants on both sides of the border might try to establish a Pashtunistan Islamic Republic hostile to Pakistan.

In the past, Pakistan has been America’s most important non-NATO ally in South Asia. Pakistan’s ambiguity toward the Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan has become a source of irritation and frustration to the U.S. and her allies. Recent intelligence reports accuse Pakistani Intelligence (the ISI) of encouraging Taliban leaders to reject the Karzai government’s bribes of cash and political jobs and continue military resistance.


End of Series











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