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We received this in the E-mail today from an employee of one of my
larger customers (Raytheon Missile Systems). Very interesting letter
that I think some of you will like and understand. If there are any
glaring problems with what he says, let me know.
Best to everyone
Richard Kidd, F-4, 86
Many of you are probably not aware that I was one of the last American
citizens to have spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan. I was first
there in 1993 providing relief and assistance to refugees along the
border and in this capacity have traveled all along the border region
the two countries. In 1998 and 1999 I was the Deputy Program Manager for
the UN's mine action program in Afghanistan. This program is the largest
civilian employer in the country with over 5,000 persons clearing mines
UXO. In this later capacity, I was somewhat ironically engaged in a
War" as decreed by the Taliban, against the evil of landmines, and by a
special proclamation of Mullah Omar, all those who might have died in
effort were considered to "martyrs" even an "infidel" like myself. The
action program is the most respected relief effort in the country and
because of this I had the opportunity to travel extensively, without too
interference or restriction. I still have extensive contacts in the area
among the Afghan community and read a great deal on the subject.
I had wanted to write earlier and share some of my perspectives, but
frankly I have been a bit too popular in DC this past week and have not
time. Dr. Tony Kern's comments were excellent and I would like to use
as a basis for sharing some observations.
First, he is absolutely correct. This war is about will, resolve and
character. I want to touch on that later, but first I want to share some
comments about our "enemy."
Our enemy is not the people of Afghanistan. The country is devastated
what most of us can imagine. The vast majority of the people live
day-to-day, hand to mouth in abject conditions of poverty, misery and
deprivation. Less than 30% of the men are literate, the women even less.
country is exhausted, and desperately wants something like peace. They
know very little of the world at large, and have no access to
knowledge that would counter what they are being told by the Taliban.
have nothing left, nothing that is except for their pride.
Who is our enemy? Well, our enemy is a group of non-Afghans, often
to by the Afghans as "Arabs" and a fanatical group of religious leaders
their military cohort, the Taliban. The non-Afghan contingent came from
over the Islamic world to fight in the war against the Russians. Many
came using a covert network created with assistance by our own
OBL (as Osama bin Laden was referred to by us in the country at the
restored this network to bring in more fighters, this time to support
Taliban in their civil war against the former Mujehdeen. Over time this
military support along with financial support has allowed OBL and his
to co-opt significant government activities and leaders. OBL is the
"inspector general" of Taliban armed forces, his bodyguards protect
Talib leaders and he has built a system of deep bunkers for the Taliban,
which were designed to withstand cruise missile strikes (uhm, where did
learn to do that?). His forces basically rule the southern city of
This high-profile presence of OBL and his "Arabs" has, in the last 2
so, started to generate a great deal of resentment on the part of the
Afghans. At the same time the legitimacy of the Taliban regime has
to decrease as it has failed to end the war, as local humanitarian
have worsened and as "cultural" restrictions have become even harsher.
is my assessment that most Afghans no longer support the Taliban. Indeed
Taliban have recently had a very difficult time getting recruits for
forces and have had to rely more and more on non-Afghans, either from
Pushtun tribes in Pakistan or from OBL. OBL and the Taliban, absent any
action were probably on their way to sharing the same fate that all
outsiders and outside doctrines have experienced in Afghanistan-defeat
During the Afghan war with the Soviets much attention was paid to the
prowess of the Afghans. We were all at West Point at the time and most
us had high-minded idealistic thoughts about how we would all want to go
the brave "freedom fighters" in their struggle against the Soviets.
concepts were naive to the extreme. The Afghans, while never conquered
nation, are not invincible in battle. A "good" Afghan battle is one that
makes a lot of noise and light. Basic military skills are rudimentary
clouded by cultural constraints that no matter what, a warrior should
lose his honor. Indeed, firing from the prone is considered distasteful
still done). Traditionally, the Afghan order of battle is very feudal
in nature, with fighters owing allegiance to a "commander" and this
owing allegiance upwards and so on and so on. Often such allegiance is
secured by payment. And while the Taliban forces have changed this
many of the units in the Taliban army are there because they are
being paid to be there. All such groups have very strong loyalties along
ethnic and tribal lines. Again, the concept of having a place of "honor"
"respect" is of paramount importance and blood feuds between families
tribes can last for generations over a perceived or actual slight. That
one reason why there were 7 groups of Mujehdeen fighting the Russians.
is a very difficult task to form and keep united a large bunch of
into a military formation. The "real" stories that have come out of the
against the Soviets are very enlightening and a lot different from our
fantastic visions as cadets. When the first batch of Stingers came in
were given to one Mujehdeen group, another group-supposedly on the same
attached the first group and stole the Stingers, not so much because
wanted to use them, but because having them was a matter of prestige.
larger coordinated attacks that advisers tried to conduct failed when
various Afghan fighting groups would give up their assigned tasks (such
blocking or overwatch) and instead would join the assault group in order
seek glory. In comparison to Vietnam, the intensity of combat and the
of fatalities were lower for all involved.
As you can tell from above, it is my assessment that these guys are not
good in a purely military sense and the "Arabs" probably even less so
the Afghans. So why is it that they have never been conquered? It goes
to Dr. Kern's point about will. During their history the only events
that have managed to form any semblance of unity among the Afghans, is
desire to fight foreign invaders. And in doing this the Afghans have
fanatical. The Afghans' greatest military strength is the ability to
hardships that would, in all probability, kill most Americans and
the resolve of all but the most elite military units. The physical
difficulties of fighting in Afghanistan, the terrain, the weather and
harshness are all weapons that our enemies will use to their advantage
use well. (NOTE: For you military planner types and armchair
generals--around November 1st most road movement is impossible, in part
because all the roads used by the Russians have been destroyed and air
movement will be problematic at best).
Also, those fighting us are not afraid to fight. OBL and others do not
the US has the will or the stomach for a fight. Indeed after the
inane missile strikes of 1998, the overwhelming consensus was that we
cowards, who would not risk one life in face to face combat. Rather than
demonstrating our might and acting as a deterrent, that action and
the not so recent past, have reinforced the perception that the US does
have any "will" and that were are morally and spiritually corrupt.
Our challenge is to play to the weaknesses of our enemy, notably their
propensity for internal struggles, the distrust between the
and the majority of Afghans, their limited ability to fight coordinated
battles and their lack of external support. More importantly through is
we have to take steps not to play to their strengths, which would be to
unite the entire population against us by increasing their suffering or
killing innocents, to get bogged down trying to hold terrain, or to get
a battle of attrition chasing up and down mountain valleys.
I have been asked how I would fight the war. This is a big question and
beyond my pay grade or expertise. And while I do not want to second
current plans or start an academic debate I would share the following
from what I know about Afghanistan and the Afghans. First, I would give
Northern Alliance a big wad of cash so that they can buy off a chunk of
Taliban army before winter. Second, also with this cash I would pay some
guys to kill some of the Taliban leadership making it look like an
to spread distrust and build on existing discord. Third I would support
Northern alliance with military assets, but not take it over or adopt so
a profile as to undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of most Afghans.
would be to give massive amounts of humanitarian aid and assistance
the Afghans in Pakistan in order to demonstrate our goodwill and to give
these guys a reason to live rather than the choice between dying of
starvation or dying fighting the "infidel." Fifth, start a series of
works projects in areas of the country not under Taliban control (these
much more than the press reports) again to demonstrate goodwill and that
improvements come with peace. Sixth, I would consider vary carefully
any female service members into Afghanistan proper-sorry to the females
our class but within that culture a man who allows a women to fight for
has zero respect, and we will need respect to gain the cooperation of
allies. No Afghan will work with a man who fights with women. I would
off from doing anything to dramatic in the new term, keeping a low level
covert action and pressure up over the winter, allowing this pressure to
force open the fissions around the Taliban that were already developing.
expect that they will quickly turn on themselves and on OBL. We can pick
the pieces next summer, or the summer after. When we do "pick-up" the
I would make sure that we do so on the ground, "man to man." While
I would never want to advocate American causalities, it is essential
communicate to OBL and all others watching that we can and will "engage
destroy the enemy in close combat." As mentioned above, we should not
to gain or hold terrain, but Infantry operations against the enemy are
essential. There can be no excuses after the defeat or lingering doubts
the minds of our enemies regarding American resolve and nothing, nothing
will communicate this except for ground combat. And once this is all
unlike in 1989 the US must provide continued long-term economic
to rebuild the country.
While I have written too much already, I think it is also important to
a few things on the subject of brutality. Our opponents will not abide
the Geneva conventions. There will be no prisoners unless there is a
that they can be ransomed or made part of a local prisoner exchange.
the war with the Soviets, videotapes were made of communist prisoners
their throats slit. Indeed, there did exist a "trade" in prisoners so
souvenir videos could be made by outsiders to take home with them. This
practice has spread to the Philippines, Bosnia and Chechnya were similar
videos are being made today and can be found on the web for those so
inclined. We can expect our soldiers to be treated the same way.
during this war I expect that we will see videos of US prisoners having
their heads cut off. Our enemies will do this not only to demonstrate
"strength" to their followers, but also to cause us to overreact, to
wholesale revenge against civilian populations and to turn
this into the world wide religious war that they desperately want. This
be a test of our will and of our character. (For further collaboration
of this type of activity please read Kipling).
This will not be a pretty war; it will be a war of wills, of resolve and
somewhat conversely of compassion and of a character. Towards our
we must show a level of ruthlessness that has not been part of our
character for a long time. But to those who are not our enemies we must
a level of compassion probably unheard of during war. We should do this
for humanitarian reasons, even though there are many, but for shrewd
For anyone who is still reading this way to long note, thanks for your
patience. I will try to answer any questions that may arise in a more
Thanks, Richard Kidd
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