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Sunday, October 5

Voices from the Past

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
- Rudyard Kipling, "A Young British Soldier"

The mountains and plains of Afghanistan have been the graveyard of armies since the days of Alexander of Macedon. The British learned through three wars that the tribes of the region, while having their own differences, can put those differences aside in defense against a common adversary.

The Red Army learned that lesson as well, through ten years of ruthless war that sapped their military and eventually forced them to simply declare victory and go home.

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, President Bush handed down an ultimatum to the Taliban regime that took power throughout most of Afghanistan after the Soviet Union departed: Hand over Osama bin Laden, or face the consequences. The Taliban refused, saying that al Qaeda's leadership were its guests and customs forbade what Bush demanded.

The carpet bombings followed soon thereafter, along with a massive invasion. NATO troops were involved (including the first German combat units sent outside Germany since 1945) because of the collective security framework in the North Atlantic alliance. About 70,000 troops from several nations (most of them, admittedly, US troops) are still in Afghanistan, taking casualties from suicide bombers and IEDs.

Now we hear of a report from the British commander in the field there, who acknowledges what nearly every British schoolboy should know if they read their nation's literature.

"We're not going to win this war. It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army," he said.

That's the best that can be hoped for - lower the violence to a level that can be managed by the local army and security forces, and pull out of the country. It took the Red Army's commanders ten years to realize that.

The Karzai government's Ministry of Defense pooh-poohed the idea, saying that it had to be the commander's personal opinion and that the mission goal must be total victory over the Taliban. I can almost hear the past's echo of the man's words.

Now it is not good for the Christian's health to hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles, and the Aryan smiles and he weareth the Christian down;
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear: 'A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.'

- Kipling, "The Naulahka"

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