War is hell. It's also complicated, and eight years after arriving in Afghanistan, the Western Allies still haven't figured out the corect way of waging this one.
Subsequent British contingents were similarly stretched out. One aim was to clear the road to the Kajaki dam to allow the refurbishment of a hydroelectric plant. Another was to retake the town of Musa Qala, abandoned by the British in 2006 despite American protests. British tactics changed with each six-month rotation of troops. One especially damaging practice was “mowing the lawn”—raiding areas repeatedly to clear out insurgents without holding the ground, exposing anyone friendly to the British to grisly retribution. Whereas the American army and marines drew up a new manual on counter-insurgency in 2006, the British have yet to revise their doctrine. They rely heavily on American thinking, without American resources.The really significant part of the report, however, tells about efforts not to kill Afghani civilians:
The American overall commander, General Stanley McChrystal, has urged his troops to minimise civilian deaths, even at risk to themselves. It is easier said than done, as Major Giles Harris, a company commander, explained. “When we meet the bad guys, we win,” he said. But protecting civilians was “a continual challenge”. “It is the discipline required not to take the gloves off. You are asking my guardsman not to empty the magazine of his weapon into the compound wall from which he is being shot at.”
Factual. Matter of fact. Even more serious, the article repeatedly makes the point that the more British casualties, the lesser the public support at home without which the war cannot be fought. Which means, even if the soldiers do manage to let more of them get killed so that fewer Afghanis will be hurt, this may only expedite the loss of public support and - potentially catastropically - an Islamist victory.
Fiendishly complicated, and then some.
Now try to imagine what would happen if an IDF unit was facing similar conditions. This is not a hypothetical question. On January 18th earlier this year I linked to an article that had just appeared in the Economist in which the editors asked themselves if Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza. The grudging answer was that maybe, but then again maybe not, it would depend on the specifics. And at the time I added:
Of course you might ask if the Economist regularly poses this question whenever anyone else (the UK included) goes to war, and the answer is probably no.Actually, the answer, it appears, is a resounding No. The Economist doesn't dream of talking about its own soldiers, or their American or Nato allies, as they do about Israel. And the Economist, I remind you, isn't the Guardian.