Afghanistan: It’s Just History Repeating … Again

Royal Horse Artillery fleeing from Afghan attack at the Battle of Maiwand

A recent story in The Wall Street Journal titled “Report Sees Danger in Local Allies,” highlights the perennial problem of trust among between local allies and our own forces in Afghanistan, and, for that matter, the other irregular wars we are engaged in around the world. The WSJ story concerns itself with a report about a disturbing increase since 2007 in the number of killings of coalition soldiers by Afghans who were supposedly allies. The report has circulated widely within the U.S. Army and other coalition forces. The WSJ says:

Based on interviews with some 600 Afghan troops, the report concludes that there is a dangerous “crisis of trust” between Afghan forces and American soldiers that is being ignored by top commanders.

Undoubtedly tragic and disturbing as this is, it is nothing new. In 1906 Sir Charles Callwell published his seminal book Small Wars: Their Principles & Practice. Callwell was Britain’s preeminent expert on irregular war – or as he called them, small wars – and once you wade through the racist nonsense so common of the period, there are many strategic gems that appear to be as applicable to Afghanistan today as it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, on local allies, Callwell notes:

One other difficulty which the regular army has sometimes to contend with in small wars is treachery on the part of ostensibly neutral bodies or tribes …

I’m certainly not suggesting that Callwell has all of the answers, or that his take on small wars should serve as our blueprint, but I am suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps, he has been unnecessarily ignored at the expense of more politically acceptable theorists, such as David Galula, by the irregular warfare cognoscenti.

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Filed under Afghanistan, David Galula, Irregular Warfare, Sir Charles Callwell, Small Wars

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