May 04, 2009

What T.E. Lawrence, Afghanistan, and girl's basketball have in common

Interesting think-piece from the reliable Malcolm Gladwell here.

One thing I was struck by in Afghanistan was how much we were all expected to be familiar with T.E. Lawrence's work (valuable, true) and yet how much the actual warfare in Kandahar Province had come to resemble the Turkish experience of fighting Lawrence, all the same. Tremendous resources are spent every day to keep the primary highways, such as Ring Road South, open and free of IEDs and ambushes.

Like the Turks with their trains that Lawrence could blow up so reliably, the need to keep that single land supply line running through daily sweeps, air overwatch, etc., consumes so much of our efforts. In Kandahar Province, a third of the Afghan army brigade and their Canadian partners, and a significant portion of the local police, do nothing but IED sweeps. This is one thing the deployment of American ground forces actually isn't going to help with as much as you'd think, either (as they'll be largely deployed on the ends of those roads, making it even more of a necessary activity.)

Throughout our tour, we saw the insurgents responding to more resources being put toward route clearance by just expanding their "attack surface"... starting to place IEDs a little further down the road, forcing the extension of the sweep. Even if we're entirely successful, it's tremendously uneconomical: with ISAF spending millions to offset the insurgents' spending of thousands, with comparable loss of life on either side. Which is, of course, why the insurgents are now fighting that way.

Posted by BruceR at 03:40 PM