Syrian Data Point

There was an article on Strategypage which I answered but the answer got lost, so I'm just posting it here instead. The article basically says that Afghanistan shouldn't be used as a model. But I'm a big fan of the Afghan model and believe it should be the basis of future warfare. Here's what I had to say:

I disagree with this article. Depending on what your military objective is, the Afghan model has worked brilliantly. A couple of points are made clear:

1. Modern wars are won in the air, no matter how much soldiers hate to hear that.

2. Modern wars are wars of liberation, not conquest.

There has been an additional fact in Afghanistan and Iraq (but not Libya) - the US has desired (for good reasons) to do nation-building. But nation-building was always optional. If you just want to get rid of an enemy government, it is sufficient to provide arms to some locals and then usher them to victory from the air. As was done in Libya. It was always possible to do a Libya, just no-one had ever tried it until now. Afghanistan was even easier than Libya - they already had a military in place that was able to hold out against the Taliban (although they were in the process of losing). In Iraq, no-one actually attempted to do it Libyan-style. There was no shortage of brave Shia willing to form long queues to join the new Iraqi security forces. They were always there. The US would have had to artificially create a liberated city, because unlike Libya and Afghanistan there weren't pre-existing liberated areas. But assuming Basrah was liberated by coalition paratroopers, a local Iraqi army could have been created which would have been able to knock over Saddam's military.

Note that I'm only talking about knocking over the enemy military (regime change), not nation-building.

Assuming you're willing to agree that regime change is possible using locals (Libya being the best example of that), the next step is nation-building. Libya is also about to demonstrate that it is possible to build a nation without foreign troops. Was it a mistake to do nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq? No. These were two important countries. We needed to see if they could be built along western lines, as at the time these countries were great unknowns, and it was time to try a "western experiment" on them. These places have tried every experiment known to man EXCEPT secular capitalist liberal democracy and it was important to create institutions along western lines and then protect those institutions to ensure that they "worked", and then see if the whole thing became self-managing.

"1. There were too few ground troops in Iraq to control the country after the destruction of Saddams security apparatus."

The thing is - it was not the goal to control the country. The goal was to ensure that the country was uncontrolled to see what the Iraqi people would innately choose if there was no-one controlling them (ie neither Saddam nor the US). They were allowed to experiment with "Sunni fundamentalism" in Fallujah, and all reports were that that sucked really badly. They were allowed to experiment with "Shia fundamentalism" in Najaf and it turned out that Sistani didn't like having his favourite mosque trashed and issued a call to the Shia to just join the new security forces instead of following an idiot like Al Sadr.

"2. There were and there are still too few ground troops in Afghanistan."

Perhaps the Taliban insurgency will take longer to put down with fewer ground troops. However, the Afghan government with it's 164,000 ANA troops is undefeatable. With air support added, even 10,000 Northern Alliance troops were enough to beat the Taliban (which had heavy weaponry at the time). 164k is a walk in the park. No foreigners required. If you want proof of that, just try it. Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with the US making it easier for the ANA to win, but they will win regardless.

"3. Libya could have greatly used real Nato ground troops, probably the War would have ended a day after Nato armor raced into Tripolis. Since there were obviously almost no defenders there, they could have landed directly in the harbour, which the Rebels could not."

Absolutely. We could have had the war over in a week instead of 6 months. However, then we would have lost the real life data point of just how much can be achieved just by providing air power to a local population. And given that they weren't keen on seeing NATO ground troops anyway, that was the appropriate path to follow. Wars are won in the air, and for whatever reason they don't consider foreign air support to be humiliating, despite the fact that that in reality means that it was NATO who won the war. The ground forces are just photogenic.

"How on earth can anyone derive from this facts that we need LESS ground troops is beyond me."

It's even more pronounced than that. In the case of a country like Syria with conscription, you have an entire population that has military training. What you can do is directly fly in tanks and jump-start a one-sided civil war. You need enough troops to take over a Syrian airport and that's about it. I can understand why you would doubt this would work - because you've never seen it tried. That's why I would advocate doing Syria in this manner (taking over an airport) to give a deeper understanding of military options if nothing else. Best to get all the data points you require BEFORE we start massively reducing the number of ground troops.

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