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“I am the army”

The fog of war thickens in the final stages as the soldiers start leaving the contested battlefield in an indeterminate war. One solitary Englishman survived to tell the base camp at Jalalabad what happened to the British column led by Maj. Gen. William Elphinstone that retreated from Kabul in January 1842 — Assistant Surgeon William Brydon — and he too, with part of his skull sheared off by a sword and was given refuge by a kind-hearted Afghan shepherd who took pity on the Englishman. Later, when asked by his superiors at Jalalabad what happened to the army, Brydon famously answered: “I am the army.”

I found last week’s report by Washington Post rather intriguing — “U.S. turns to other routes to supply Afghan war as relations with Pakistan fray”. True, it makes sense to cut down on the two Pakistani transit routes that currently ferry as much as three quarters of the NATO supplies for troops in Afghanistan. Given the state of play in US-Pakistan relations, the right thing to do is to line up alternate transit routes. But the problem with the alternate supply routes through Central Asia is that they depend on Russia’s goodwill and the US has to first make up its mind as to what to do with Russia — especially if Vladimir Putin returns to power in the Kremlin in the March 2012 presidential election. As Russian history shows, Moscow unfailingly haggles when the interlocutor is desperate.

Something doesn’t gel. Pray, when Russian and US diplomats are descending on Dushanbe, locked in a bitter struggle to secure control of Tajik-Afghan border, when they are outdoing each other in Bishkek, why should Moscow facilitate the consolidation of US and NATO’s military presence in Central Asia? In fact, will Russia do such a favour to the US without consulting China? And, will China welcome it? The WikiLeaks just disclosed over the weekend that China brushed aside repeated US requests to allow transit facilities through Chinese territory to Kazakhstan for ferrying supplies for Afghan war.

The heart of the matter is that a northern transit route can come very handy during the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan. Anders Fogh Rasumssen, NATO’s secretary-general, must be already doing contingency planning on an orderly withdrawal. He has to worry about the men and a lot of heavy equipments that need to be relocated. Technically, the best routes will be via Pakistan to Karachi port and off to Europe. But then, Elphinstone’s shadow looms large at the NATO Hqs in Brussels. So, Rasmussen dropped by for a pow-vow with Dmitry Medvedev who is vacationing in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The US faces the same dreadful scenario in Iraq – and in Iraq, all it entails for the remaining 40000 troops to leave is to travel along a 250-kilometer stretch of road cutting through the desert into Kuwait. The US commanders have taken precaution by paying off the 10 tribal leaders along the route a princely amount of 10000 dollars per month just to hire workers to clear the roads so that the US columns can pass without trampling upon the IEDs that the militants may plant. In a June report, NYT quoted Col. Douglas Crissman who is in charge of 4 Iraqi provinces that it is “one of the greatest challenges” to get the US troops safely out of Iraq. He asked: “Our forces were attacked today, and we were just sitting still. What is going to happen to the threat when we line up our trucks to leave and start moving out of the country?” Of course, the militants’ strategy — as manifest in the Taliban attack on the Intercontinental in Kabul — is to step up the efforts to kill US soldiers to press Washington to withdraw troops lock-stock-and-barrel on schedule and not to leave any residues in the Mesopotamian desert.

Posted in Military.

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5 Responses

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  1. mahesh thakur says

    You can win territories, destroy enemy infrastructure and you can not win the hearts of local populace with such aggression.

    Unfortunately for all of us, US won all the battles but lost the war for self and rest of the world

    I respect its leadership for taking such decisions but then distroying the whole nation in the name of justice will always remain questionable.

  2. Balaji says

    I find this blog really good

  3. Chamarthi Srinivas says

    Great american mistke is that It excluded India from Afgan theater @ pleasing Pakistan. It rolled in to afgan teritory forgetting the pakistan’s deep complexity in it.

    Now it entered its own teritory of getting mugged by pakistan for every thing. what ever pakistan does it shows it as a fight aginst terror and bills are sent to America. By making the dependent angry, America is going into a state of self anihillation of its own forces.
    America should wake up and disband the Pakistan armed forces as quickly as possible so that some sanity to retun to itself and the pakistan neighbourhood.

    If indian has taken into confidence, America should not have ended into this quagamire sa it is very easy to reach out to Afgan through India.

  4. Mandar Bhome says


    Some time back I read an article in Time magazine on how difficult the war in Afghanistan is. In that the author reminded us that it is the same place where Alexander the great faced his first serious challenge from Porus and other kings. Though he could eventually capture the territories, the brilliance of Chanakya and the determination and self pride of the local population did not let him enjoy his victory. He was not able to sustain for long and had to leave with a massive blow never to come back again. Also the British could never conquer Afghanistan despite all their efforts. Though the motives of Afghan wars are much different from before, the terrain, and the psych of the natives still remains the same.
    The only way these territories can be controlled and won over is by having a perpetual long term strategy to slowly win over the mind and beliefs of the people. This happened through sustained Islamic invasions over a period of hundreds of years, but by then the intent of the war is totally lost. We know US neither has that kind of patience, nor interest. As long as people of Afpak region remain busy within themselves sorting out their problems, US and for that matter India should be happy.

    Thanks for all your blogs, I love reading them. They are very informative.

  5. HB says

    US can organize an attack inside Russia and blame it on the “terrorists”. in the backdrop of such an event, its easy to make a deal with them for a supply route from central asia.

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