Of “Battle Fatigue” and National Caveats

Posted first to Registan.net, your one-stop shop for all things Central Asia, this is a tangent to a really excellent theme I’ve been tracking the past few weeks—the flow of press releases masquerading as journalism from Afghanistan to our largest publications. Check it out if you like this.

It appears NATO is feeling “battle fatigue” after six years of combat. I feel for them, I really do—and it would be impossible for me to criticize the stance since I have never been in combat. But why, then, is the notion that Afghans just might be too exhausted to fight any more so alien to western thinking? That some may not be as actively battling off Taliban and associated militants with sleepless fervor as they could because they’re just too exhausted?

The most battle-hardened U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have been there for a total of perhaps five years (this is an educated guess; it could be either more or less). After so much time fearing for one’s life, feeling utterly fatigued is perfectly natural. And the political desire to end the expense of such a sustained conflict is also perfectly natural and understandable.

Most Afghans, however, cannot remember a time without warfare. With a median age of only 17.6 years, the vast majority of Afghans simply were not alive during a period without active warfare in their country—warfare that will, in about 19 months, reach its 30th anniversary.

I would say the Afghans are rather more resilient than we are. But NATO’s fecklessness certainly doesn’t help. The revelation that German special forces allowed the Baghlan bomber to escape because they were not authorized to use lethal force—they were only permitted to capture him, not kill him—drives this point further home. Many NATO countries are simply not acting as if they want to win. Only five of the 26 countries currently operating in Afghanistan—the U.S., the UK, Canada, Denmark, and Netherlands—can behave like a normal army. The rest have their operations crippled by restrictive caveats, some of which now can be shown to be actively aiding the insurgency.

The threat to the international relief workers and the ISAF soldiers stationed in the north may now be even greater than it was before. Warned of ISAF’s activities and intent on taking revenge, the man and his network are active once again. Over 2,500 Germans are stationed between Faryab and Badakhshan, along with Hungarian, Norwegian and Swedish troops.

The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while — and to “eliminate” the hardliners through targeted assassinations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The German KSK is actually a highly respected, highly capable force. They were able to track the bomber down, observe him for weeks without him realizing it, and even close almost to capture before they were discovered. But they were just not permitted to behave like any other SOF or even police unit would: kill a dangerous man if he looks ready to escape.

And this strategy of purchasing Taliban sympathizers is the height of folly: it is precisely what the British tried during their disastrous invasion in 1838. When the money ran out some years later, those Afghans they had bribed didn’t walk home thankful to have received British gold, they rose up in murderous fury at the foreign invader who now didn’t even have money to placate their wounded pride. Refusing to fight while spreading Euros like Nutella on toast might work for a little bit. But, as Der Spiegel has documented, it will also fatally undermine what had been one of the great successes of the war.

I’m sure hanging out in Feyzabad and getting fat is really tiring, but honestly, bitte, stop undermining everyone else.

This Topic Continues:

  • Germany and Afghanistan
  • The Germans Have to Learn How to Kill
  • About the Baghlan Bombing
  • Disassembling the Baghlan Bombing
Sphere: Related Content

2 Responses to “Of “Battle Fatigue” and National Caveats”

  1. on 21 May 2008 at 7:26 pm Frank_A

    The German special forces couldn’t use…lethal force.
    I didn’t know that.
    That’s…pretty lame.
    I know the ole Deutchland is trying to get rid of the the Nazi association but this tactic is absurd is almost 99.9% likely to get more innocents killed.

  2. on 21 May 2008 at 9:24 pm synova

    I don’t think that anyone really expects Afghanis (or even Iraqis on our side) to display fervor.    Well, maybe some people do, but it’s not reasonable, I think.    Sometimes I think that the best thing, and probably the hardest, is for people to get on with making a living.
    The thing about the Germans makes me mad.   I suppose I didn’t know that in particular but it’s no surprise at all that various countries send troops to “help” that can’t shoot.   It’s not anything new.    (Usually, it’s France or the UN, but there you go.)
    I wonder how these soldiers feel about that?   So I’m mad *for* them.   And certainly I’m disgusted at their home countries… and that’s a pretty inclusive thing.    I’m not impressed by empty words and empty promises and empty gestures.    It’s powdering both ends of the baby, or something.    Get the creds for “helping” and get the creds for NOT helping.    Whoo-hoo!    It’s moral vacuity to be certain but why don’t people making these policies see it?   And why don’t they care?

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