meat shield

Yeah, so Vlad Putin is ‘mobilizing’ 300,000 Russian men to serve in his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. In fact, he’s probably ordered a much larger conscription; some estimate as many as a million Russian men, mostly from the more rural ethnic regions of Russia.

The vast majority of these conscripts will receive little (or no) training before being deployed. This is a feature of the Russian Army, not a design flaw. The lack of training is a deliberate aspect of Russian military strategy in Ukraine.

You may be thinking, “Greg, old sock, that doesn’t make a lick of sense.” And you’d be right (aside from calling me ‘old sock’ and I don’t know WHY you insist on calling me that) IF we were thinking about any conventional Western military strategy. But the current Russian military approach is built around what they call a Battalion Tactical Group (BTG).

The BTG approach involves a cadre of highly skilled soldiers around which poor quality infantry units can be attached. Different types of unskilled units will be attached to a BTG depending upon the nature of the mission or the condition under which they’re fighting. The unskilled or untrained units serve as a literal meat shield to protect the core of the BTG.

This is how it works. Say you’re a Russian officer and you want to know if there’s an ambush ahead, or if there are tanks in that village. You send the meat shield forward to draw their fire. That exposes the location of the enemy units, allowing the BTG’s artillery to target those positions. It works the same way on defense; station the meat shield in between the advancing Ukrainians and the core BTG; when the conscripts get attacked, the BTG artillery can target Ukrainian attackers more effectively.

It’s hard on the meat shield, to be sure, but it keeps the core of skilled professional troops more or less intact. Since the conscripts require little or no training and, for the most part, aren’t given decent weaponry, the meat shield is easily replaced. Just conscript a few thousand more ethnic peasants, and hey bingo, you’re back in business.

It’s a mistake to think of the effectiveness of the Russian Army in terms of casualties. It’s designed to have high casualty rates. Lots of dead and wounded conscripts are acceptable, so long as they achieve the strategic and tactical goals, and keep the core BTG units relatively secure.

The mobilization of a 300,000 body meat shield will help the Russian Army defend the territory they’ve stolen — for a period of time. Maybe it’ll be enough to get them through the winter, which will give them time to train and reinforce the BTGs. And that will prolong the war.

This, of course, is assuming Putin doesn’t contract ‘high building syndrome’ because of his unpopular war policies. It’s looking more and more like he’s losing control of the nation.

inert, but lethal

I confess, I’m fascinated by military tech. Always have been. It’s awful, of course. So much military tech is about killing people, and, well, you know—killing people, by and large, is pretty much wrong, right? Yeah.

And yet, there it is; I’m still intrigued by military technology. I mention this because over the weekend the US, at the order of President Uncle Joe, killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda. They killed him with a modified Hellfire missile fired by a Predator drone (and yeah, there’s a whole deeply weird, perverse taxonomy at work here—a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone). They killed him “as he stepped onto the balcony of a safe house in Kabul.”

Him. Just him. Just al-Zawahiri. Nobody else. No so-called ‘collateral damage’.

They were able to do that because the Department of Defense, in conjunction with the CIA and engineers from Lockheed Martin, modified an AGM-114 Hellfire missile and turned it into an AGM-114 RX9—basically a hundred-pound laser-guided Ginsu Knife Bomb. Instead of explosives, this missile has—and I’m NOT making this up—six sword-like blades that pop out of the sides of the missile moments before it strikes the target (and by ‘target’ I mean ‘the person the CIA really seriously no-shit wants to kill’).

Smaller than a six-foot-tall human (not sure why that’s important).

The idea, of course, is to limit the number of casualties. Most versions of Hellfire missiles involve explosives, which are notoriously indiscriminate. When shit blows up, anybody in the blast radius is going to get fucked up. That’s a problem. I mean, if the person the CIA really want to kills is, says, standing on a balcony in Kabul and you fire an explosive weapon at him, you’re going to see a lot of kinetic damage to the building and anybody in it (and anybody near it). Kinetic damage is a nice way of saying blown the fuck up.

When a hundred pounds of inert steel with half a dozen blades hits a target on a balcony, the damage is significantly more limited.

Okay, maybe not a Toyota—I dunno. But still.

This missile is so precise that it can target a specific side of a moving vehicle. When the CIA decided to kill Abu Khayr al-Masri, who was riding in the passenger seat of a Toyota (okay, I’m not certain it was a Toyota) the missile hit the passenger side of the Toyota. And yeah, it also killed the driver, because we’re still talking about a hundred pounds of metal WITH a half dozen sword blades flying at mach 1.3, so it’s not like the driver could duck and escape. And sure, anybody in the back seat probably got dinged up and will very likely require years of serious therapy. But still, that’s better than a fucking explosion, right?

Let’s face it. The Hellfire AGM-114 RX9 is a monstrous weapon. We should look on it with horror. And yet, I’m fascinated by it. I have deep, contradictory feelings about the US (or any nation, for that matter) conducting extra-judicial assassinations. But I also think terrorists like Ayman al-Zawahiri (and yeah, he was a terrorist) can’t be allowed to roam around free to plot acts of terror. Given the option, I’d prefer they get a fair trial and, if convicted of a crime, incarcerated. But that wasn’t really an option, was it. So I’m perversely glad that some heinous engineers put this Ninja Ginsu missile together.

What was it Walt Whitman said about containing multitudes?

failed russian flatworm strategy

Even flatworms have demonstrated the ability to learn from experience. Flatworms, like mammals, have a centralized brain; they can be trained to remember a behavior and perform it on cue. They can also be trained to avoid behaviors.

The same apparently isn’t true of Russian Army field commanders.

Your basic flatworm–not clever, but capable of learning from experience.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the staggering incompetence of their field commanders, who repeatedly fail to take even the most basic precautions to protect their troops. I mean, anybody who has spent any amount of time in military harness just assumes their commanders are fucking idiots who are casually trying to get them killed. The difference is that in the Russian Army, that appears to be true.

Behavioral psychologists back in the 1950s trained flatworms to avoid electric shocks. The Russian Army has failed to learn that lesson. In the weeks since they invaded Ukraine, the Russians have repeatedly left troops and vehicles in vulnerable, stationary positions. And the Ukrainian military has repeatedly shelled the shit out of them.

Last week, the Russians decided to take the town of Lysychansk, which meant they had to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. Crossing a river in a combat zone is a big deal. It’s a complex tactical situation for a couple of reasons. First and most obvious, the troops and vehicles crossing the river are terribly exposed. There’s no cover or concealment on a bridge. Second, you have a LOT of vehicles and troops concentrated in the same place, waiting to take their turn crossing the bridge. So they’re exposed, vulnerable and stationary. An army has to prepare to cross a river.

The Ukrainians knew the Russian Army needed to cross the Siverskyi Donets River. They sent a guy named Max–an engineer and an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) officer–to scope out the situation. He took a recon unit along the river, found the best place to ford it, and left some recon troops in place to keep watch. They prepared to defend the river.

And hey, the Russians showed up as expected. The Ukrainians let them build a pontoon bridge. They let a few troops and combat vehicles to cross over. Then they shelled the shit out of the bridge and the troops and vehicles waiting to cross over. When the artillery subsided, the Ukrainian Air Force showed up and did some close quarters bombing. The Ukrainian recon units hunted down and killed the troops that had already crossed the river and had no way back.

A flatworm wouldn’t have made this mistake.

We don’t have any solid numbers, but it appears the Russians lost over 50 armored combat vehicles and anywhere from 1500 to 2000 troops–and that includes specialized combat engineering troops, which are really hard to replace. That’s effectively a couple of battalion tactical groups eliminated. It’s a staggering loss for the Russian Army at a time when they’re already getting their ass kicked.

This was clever work by the Ukrainians, but it was made possible by the incompetence of the Russians. They failed to do any reliable reconnaissance before the operation. They failed to have reliable real-time drone recon information. They failed to establish and provide any artillery protection for their troops. They failed to provide close air support. They failed in every possible way.

A flatworm can learn from experience.

As a supporter of Ukrainian independence, I’m glad to see Russia get bloodied. But as a military veteran, I hate seeing any troops get killed because of the rigid stupidity of their leaders. The Russian Army has demonstrated it can’t win a traditional, linear ground war, not even against a smaller nation.

The Russian Army is dumber than a flatworm.

UPDATE: It appears the Russian Army attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets River three times. They failed in their first attempt as reported, so they made a second attempt AT THE SAME LOCATION. I’m not making that up. And hey bingo, they got the same result. Lots of destroyed vehicles, lots of dead troops. So, being the Russian Army, they decided to try cross the river a third time AT THE SAME LOCATION AGAIN. With the same result.

EDITORIAL FLATWORM NOTE: Okay, this has nothing to do with Russia or Ukraine, but there’s an exceedingly cool thing about flatworms and memory. Like a lot of other types of worms, flatworms can regenerate themselves. If you whack off a flatworm’s tail (and really, you shouldn’t, because what’s a flatworm ever done to you?), in a couple of weeks it’ll grow into an entirely new flatworm, complete with a shiny new centralized brain.

But that’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that if the original flatworm had been taught to run (well, not run–it’s a flatworm, after all) a maze, the newly regenerated flatworm would remember how to run the maze too. Which suggests memory isn’t limited to the centralized brain. Memory MAY be somehow stored in other cells. How cool is that?

dead generals

Yesterday I wrote that I didn’t need to write about the war in Ukraine all the time. So this morning, what am I doing? Right; writing about the war in Ukraine. Specifically, all the dead generals. The Russian Army has lost five (and possibly a sixth, though that’s unconfirmed at the moment) generals in the last 25 days. They’ve lost three regimental commanders in the last 24 hours. When I say ‘lost’ I don’t mean they became confused and wandered off; I mean they were killed in combat.

Generals and regimental commanders (in the US military, RCOs are usually full colonels, the rank just below general) hardly ever get killed. They might die of a heart attack or liver disease or something, but they just don’t get killed in combat. They’re rarely close enough to the fighting to be at risk.

You may be asking, “Greg, old sock, why would these Russian generals and RCOs be so close to the fighting?” It’s a valid question (and c’mon, stop calling me ‘old sock’). The answer is, they’ve got to be close to the fighting because failures in their electronic communications equipment force the generals to be there in person to give orders.

You may be asking, “Greg, old…uh, these ‘failures in electronic communication equipment’ of which you speak…what are they?” Another good question, and the answer is both tragic an hilarious. The Russian Army developed a sophisticated, highly secure, cryptophone system called Era. It was supposed to allow secure communication in almost any situation–so long as there is at least 3G cellular telephony available.

What did the Russian Army do at the beginning of their invasion? They destroyed all the cell phone towers. So they basically knee-capped their sophisticated Era cryptophones; they just won’t work. That means the Russians have been reduced to using ordinary cellphones with sim cards to communicate with each other, and those calls are easily intercepted by Ukrainians. Now the generals and RCOs have to get close enough to the fighting to issue strategic orders. Which means they’re close enough to get killed.

Generals and RCOs getting killed plays hell with morale–both the morale of the troops, who hate not knowing who’s in charge, and the morale of the remaining generals and RCOs who now have to take their place close to the fighting.

To make matters worse for the Russian Army (and yeah, we want to make things worse for them), Russia accidentally acknowledged that almost 10,000 Russians have been killed in action, and more than 16,000 wounded. The WIA number is undoubtedly low. As a general rule of thumb, you can assume two to three times as many combat wounded as combat killed–so the number of WIA is probably closer to 20-30,000.

Here’s another thing to take into consideration: in combat, wounding the enemy is often more effective than killing them. A dead soldier can’t be helped, so troops can ignore them and keep fighting. A wounded soldier, on the other hand, is screaming (which has to be distracting) and requires aid, which means other troops have to stop and treat them and carry them off the battlefield–which further reduces the size of the fighting force.

Again, these casualty numbers are in just over three weeks of fighting. The US, in the 20 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, had 7,000 KIA.

In an earlier post, I talked about the Russian Army running out of trucks. They’re also running out of generals and combat troops. They should load the remaining troops into the remaining trucks and get the fuck out of Ukraine.

Oh, and fuck Putin in the neck.

in which vlad putin drives a truck over his own dick

First, let’s admire the courage and determination of the Ukrainian military and the civilian volunteers. I think we all knew Ukraine would put up a fight; we all knew they were scrappers. But damn.

Their resistance has been inspiring. And let’s be honest, it’s also been intimidating as fuck. “Here, carry these sunflower seeds in your pocket so the ground on which you die will flower.” That’s ice cold, right there. That goes beyond Josey Wales ‘plumb, mad-dog mean’ levels of scrappiness; that’s deep into Keyser Söze territory. We’re talking grim poetic borderline pathological resistance. And it shows.

Just over seven thousand US troops died in twenty years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia has lost more than that in three weeks.

I say Russia ‘lost’ that many troops, but it would be more accurate to they’ve ‘thrown away’ that many. It’s increasingly obvious the Russian military is hollow. The inside has rotten away. A couple decades of systemic corruption left a facade that appeared solid and sturdy, but masked a military that was drastically unprepared for sustained military operations.

Ural-4320 supply trucks.

What it comes down to is this: the Russian army doesn’t have enough trucks.

We hear a lot about Russia’s 190,000 troops involved in the invasion, the majority of them are support personnel. In the military we refer to this as “tooth to tail”ratio–the number of support troops (the tail) necessary to keep combat troops supplied and fighting (the tooth).

Russia is big. Really big. So big that it takes forever to get from one side to the other. Because of that, their military depends on railroads to rapidly move equipment from one place to another. Trains are more efficient; the army can move military units and supplies around inside Russia pretty quickly. But that all stops at the Russian border. Beyond the border, it comes down to trucks and truck-like supply vehicles.

We know that in the weeks leading up to the invasion, the Russian army amassed a LOT of troops and supplies on their border with Ukraine.

So this is what you need to know. The standard Russian military truck is the Ural-4320. The Ural-4320 is a multi-use truck; there are armored versions to carry troops, versions to transport fuel, and it’s also used as a platform for the BM-21 rocket launcher. But mostly, it’s just a really solid truck used to haul stuff. It has a top speed of around 50mph and can carry about 6.5 tons of material on hard surface roads.

Bones of a Ural-4320

Now, let’s say Ukraine’s road/highway network will allow a Ural-4320 to move at a sustained 45mph, which may be a wee bit optimistic. Let’s say it takes an hour to load six tons of supplies (food, ammunition, replacement parts for armored attack vehicles, medical supplies, fuel, etc.). It takes another hour to dive 45 miles into Ukraine. Another hour to unload supplies. And one more hour to return to the supply depot. That’s four hours.

Let’s say that truck can make four trips per day–sixteen hours. The other eight hours will be spent on stuff like truck maintenance, drivers eating and sleeping. That’s the very best case scenario. That’s assuming nothing disrupts the process–no ambushes, no caltrops in the road, no flat tires or engine issues, no loading or unloading problems, no refueling issues. That means Russian combat troops and assault vehicles can expect to be resupplied up to four times a day. If they’re only 45 miles from the Russian border.

If elements of the Russian army are 90 miles from the Russian border, the very best case is they could only count on resupply twice a day. At 180 miles, only once a day.

Kyiv is about 230 miles from the border.

Ural-4320 with BM-21 rocket launcher

We see lots of photos and videos of tanks and other armored vehicles destroyed by the Ukrainian army–and yay for that. But perhaps more importantly, they’re taking out resupply trucks at an astonishing rate. That’s one reason we’re seeing so many abandoned Russian vehicles and tanks. No fuel, no food for the troops, no ammunition to fight.

Russia will do as much damage as it can in the hope that Ukraine will give up, but it doesn’t have enough trucks to keep it up or take it very far. And the Ukrainian army won’t relent enough to allow the Russians to establish safe supply depots inside Ukraine. It’s not very dramatic, but in a contest between Ukrainian grit and Russian trucks, the trucks lose. And if the trucks lose, so does Russia.

some semi-related thoughts on Ukraine

First off, this is just fucking nuts. I think we can all agree on that. I mean Russia (and when I say ‘Russia’ I mean that motherfucker Vlad Putin) is conducting what is essentially a war of conquest–the type of war that pretty much disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century. Russia is basically saying “Ukraine has shit we want, they’re not going to give it to us, so we’re going to take it.” It’s a large scale gangster war.

Nations (and gangsters and racist police officers) could get by with that shit back in the day before ubiquitous online real-time videography. Not anymore. Now there’s always somebody with a camera and an internet connection to record and distribute the violence. And not just the violence, but the ugly result of the violence. And not just the violence and the ugly result, but also the failures–those times when the violence rebounds against the violent.

A dead Russian soldier smells as bad as a dead Ukrainian civilian

Ukrainians are using tech to undermine Russia’s superiority of numbers. They’re using Google Maps traffic reports to identify streets where Russian military convoys are disrupting traffic–and a convoy that’s moving slowly is a target. Ordinary people are using cell phones to send and receive military intelligence in real time, to coordinate not just attack plans but also places for non-combatants to shelter. They’re using social media to support and encourage each other, to gain international support, and to undermine the morale of Russian troops and the Russian population.

They’re making videos of ordinary Ukrainians confronting and threatening Russian troops. The woman who offered Russians sunflower seeds to carry in their pockets so flowers will grow from their dead bodies. The guy who said they’d play football with the heads of Russian soldiers. They’re making videos of Russian troops surrendering, of Russians being ambushed and killed–videos of dead Russians. It’s brutal and ugly, to be sure. But Russian soldiers will see it on social media. The parents of Russian soldiers will see it back home. They’ll see the bodies of their sons, mangled and burnt. And some of those parents will take to the streets to protest the war. Anything that discourages the aggressor is probably worth it.

Another weird and awful benefit of modern tech. All those combat video games have taught young Ukrainian how to fight an urban war. They know how to create and use choke points, they know the benefits of sniping (an ounce of sniper is worth a pound of suppressing fire), they know the difference between cover and concealment and how to use them, they know not to stay in one place, they know the vulnerable points of tanks and armored vehicles. They’ve used those skills in games, and while there’s a massive difference between knowing stuff in a game and implementing it in real life, the knowledge is there and it’s useful. It’s horrible that young Ukrainians need that knowledge, but it’s good that they have it. This is an urban war in which Playstation and Xbox have been training tools.

Nobody really wins when civilians have to take up arms

The thing is, in video games death is just a delay. In video games, you’ve always got a fair chance of winning. Russian troops may not be very well trained, they may be poorly equipped, they may have serious logistical issues regarding supplies (like food, fuel, ammunition), they may have morale issues, they may not be a very effective fighting force, but there’s a lot of them. Numbers matter. And no matter how dedicated and clever and determined the people of Ukraine are, the odds are against them.

There’s a great deal of bold talk about how Putin has already lost–and there’s a lot of truth there. Putin has fucked Russia’s economy for years, he’s fucked the reputation of Russia. But Russia still has the power to seize Ukraine. They have the power to install a puppet regime. What they don’t have is the power to peacefully occupy Ukraine. So yeah, in that sense, Putin and Russia have already lost. But that doesn’t mean Ukraine will win. Or even survive as anything other than an underground resistance movement.

I do think, though, that this could be one of those inflection points people keep talking about. I think this invasion could teach the democratic world that we can no longer sing the praises of democracy and claim to value human rights AND continue to conduct business as usual with dictators and tyrants. Tolerating authoritarian regimes because there’s something in it for us–that’s just encouraging those regimes to flourish. We can’t continue to treat economics and human rights as separate, unrelated issues.

Democracy may be an unwieldy and awkward and inefficient system of governance, but it’s infinitely preferable to an efficient dictatorship. The people of Ukraine understand that.

aid and comfort

I haven’t read the book. I mean, it hasn’t even been released yet. But like a lot of news enthusiasts (that sounds a lot nicer than ‘news junkie’) I’ve heard a lot about Peril, the new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. One of the book’s revelations is that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was so concerned about Comrade Trump’s emotional instability during the closing days of his administration that he called his Chinese counterpart (General Li Zuocheng) to assure him the US wasn’t planning to attack China. Milley also apparently assured Li that IF the US was going to launch any sort of attack, he’d call Li first to let him know.

Gen. Mark Milley

Republicans, of course, are calling this treason. Republicans, of course, are fucking idiots. Just to be clear, treason is a crime and like all crimes, it has to be defined. Here’s the definition of treason as written in the US Constitution (Article III, section 3):

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

That’s it. The Constitution outlines treason, but in order to make it a criminal offense, Congress had to pass a law against it, and the law had to articulate the elements of the crime. And hey, Congress did just that. Title 18 of the US Code § 2381, which reads as follows:

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

So, back to Gen. Milley. Does he owe allegiance to the US? Damn right, he does. Did he levy war against the US? Nope. Did he adhere to the enemies of the US? Under law, adhere refers to the act of joining or being in league with. Did Milley join China? Was he in league with China? Nope. Did he give aid and comfort to China? Aid, nope; comfort, yeah, probably.

Now some folks will be thinking Lawdy, General Milley gave comfort to CHINA! Traitor!. Nope. Every politician or military figure or corporate CEO who has gone to China and said stuff like “We want to be partners, we want to be friends, we want to work together” has given comfort to China. As far as that goes, every corporation who has opened a factory in China has given them aid and comfort. Every US business who buys Chinese products is giving them aid and comfort. Look around your house or apartment and you’ll find stuff made in China.

Dude, you done gave aid and comfort to China.

But you didn’t commit treason, did you. (Wait…did you? Just asking.) But buying products made in China isn’t treason because…and this is the thing all those GOP fucking idiots either forget or ignore…China isn’t the enemy of the US. We’re not at war with China. Hell, despite what Trump used to bellow, we’re not even in a trade war with China. In fact, China is our biggest trading partner.

What Gen. Milley did was inform a worried trading partner who was being threatened in speeches by an emotionally labile and irrational POTUS (who, if you’ll recall, was openly suggesting China had deliberately unleashed a global pandemic and promising some sort of retaliation) that the US had no plans to launch an attack. And IF an attack was planned, he’d let Gen. Li know about it.

Now that last bit sounds dodgy, doesn’t it. I mean, why would we warn somebody we’re going to attack them? We do it because we’re not monsters. This is actually a pretty common practice in modern international warfare. Retaliatory strikes tend to be made against structures rather than people. Radar sites, command and control facilities, chemical plants, armament factories, aircraft hangars, stuff like that. The intent is to punish the enemy by degrading their military capabilities. The targets are usually announced in advance to give personnel a chance to leave. Basically, it’s a warning, a statement. It’s saying, “Dude, we just blew the everlasting fuck out of these buildings, but we could have done that when there were people inside. Do NOT fuck with us. Next time we might not be so nice.”

Gen. Milley wasn’t committing treason. He was being a professional military leader. He was basically telling Gen. Li that even if Comrade Trump was unstable, the government of the United States was…well, less unstable. What Milley did — reassuring China that POTUS wasn’t out of control — wasn’t alarming. What’s alarming is the fact that the nation’s highest-ranking military officer and principal military advisor to the President thought it was necessary to reassure China.

yeah, it did

You know what’s annoying? You probably do, but I’m going to tell you anyway (which is undoubtedly annoying). What’s annoying is folks who ought to know better–and maybe actually do know better–repeating the same stupid shit. They continue to claim to be absolutely shocked at the completely predictable outcome of the US/NATO adventure in Afghanistan.

“It didn’t have to be this way,” they say. And yeah, they have a point–but it’s a very narrow one. The moment the Bush administration decided to step beyond its simple, achievable objective of eliminating the influence and capabilities of the al Qaeda network, they created an inevitable monkeyfuck situation.

It didn’t have to be this way. Yeah, it did–as soon as we decided to ignore 1700 years of history, it had to be this way. When we decided to engage in a conflict against multiple ethnic and tribal cultures we don’t understand, that operate on traditional rules and norms unknown to us, that have values and ethics that are often alien to us, and that have goals that are foreign to us, it had to be this way. We didn’t understand Afghan Rules, and we were too lazy/arrogant to bother to learn about them. I said this back in April, when President Uncle Joe announced the withdrawal date: Forget it Joe, it’s Afghanistan.

It didn’t have to be this way. Yeah, it did–when we implemented a style of combat that was heavily dependent on sophisticated technology and massive firepower in an environment that’s hostile to any machinery more complex than a Toyota pickup and has a mountainous terrain that moderates the effectiveness of firepower. Military tech is great, but that shit is expensive and it breaks. We made it all worse by training the Afghan army to fight an American-style high tech war, then failed to train them to maintain the tech required to support it.

This terrain is fucking nightmare for an invader.

It didn’t have to be this way. Yeah, it really did–when we decided to impose a Western style centralized democracy on a diverse group of tribes and clans that have zero experience with democracy. In fact, many/most of them reject the notion that they all belong to a single nation. They don’t think of themselves primarily as Afghans. The Tajiks speak Farsi and generally identify as Tajiks, not as Afghans; the Balochs speak Balochi and identify by any of dozens of local tribal or clan affiliations, not as Afghans. The same is true of the Uzbeks and the Hazara and the Kyrgyz and all of the other tribal groups. (See the Editorial Note at the end.)

Various ethnic/tribal/clan groups that make up Afghanistan

It didn’t have to be this way. Yeah, it did–when we brought an American football mindset to fight against a fútbol mindset. In football, orders are given by a coach who isn’t on the field of play. Those orders are sent to a single player who relays the commands to the others and controls the ball. The other players each have a specialized skill set and very specific roles to play; they wear complex specialized gear and follow their orders. Most of the players never touch the ball, only a very few can achieve the goal. After each play, the action stops, the team regroups and waits for the next set of orders. In fútbol, the play never stops, the players don’t depend on gear to protect them, the players learn to recognize situations and adapt their play to the immediate situation, they shift roles easily and often as the situation changes, no single player controls the ball, at any given moment any player can assume temporary control, and they’re all capable of scoring. Football is about a rigid centralized command structure, and following strict orders. Fútbol is about decentralized flexibility and quick idiosyncratic responsiveness to changing situations.

It didn’t have to be this way? Yeah, considering all the bad choices we made, it did. It was a monkeyfuck almost from the start.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I’m too lazy to count and categorize the various ethnic and tribal groups that comprise what we like to call Afghanistan, but the CIA collected a list in 2005. Many of these groups speak their own language, have their own unique identity, have their own cultural norms, have their own conflicts/feuds/vendettas with other groups. There is no United States of Afghanistan; anybody who thought we could create one was an idiot.