Kunduz and the Failure of Air Power

Video War – the destroyed target is a “bug splat”.

A few days ago American air power blasted a hospital in Kunduz after fourteen years of warfare in Afghanistan.  Fourteen years.

Turns out, as everyone knows by now, to be a hospital fun by the Nobel prize winning organization Doctors Without Borders.  At least 22 people were killed, including doctors, medical staff, patients including three children; dozens more were injured in the attack.

Now had the dead just been a bunch of Afghans no one in the west would give a shit.  However, Doctors Without Borders, known the world over by the French acronym MSF  for it’s charitable medical work was hit.  Had the dead been Afghans we would have simply said “we’re sorry – fog of war ya know” and offered the families affected perhaps $500 in “compensation”.

But the dead are not all Afghans.

After the events at Kunduz, the MSF  issued a series of blistering statements, demanding an investigation of the incident by an impartial international body “under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed.”

MSF’s director general Christopher Stokes, said that the group is “disgusted” by the statements of Afghan government officials who justified the attack by claiming that Taliban fighters were present.   He wasn’t buying what our stooges were trying to sell.

“Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S. air strike on Saturday morning,” said Stokes. “The hospital was full of MSF staff, patients and their caretakers.” And he slammed the United States for its ever-changing excuses about the bombing.

“Their description of the attack keeps changing—from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government.”

Finally we said we’re sorry for a “profound tragedy” – rather than a war crime.

We are not however, willing to have the attack investigated by an independent body.  We will trust our Defense Department.

The attack was particularly egregious because MSF had repeatedly supplied the United States with the precise GPS coordinates of its hospital complex in recent days and weeks.

Which brings into question the mismanagement of an ill-conceived war—more broadly the ruins of the Kunduz hospital are a symbol of America’s unfortunate reliance on air power, including drone strikes and bombers, to combat a host of insurgent groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere in Africa.

“If there’s such a thing as an “Obama doctrine” of US national security policy in place, it’s built around two pillars: first, using air power to counter “malign” actors such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State, rather than direct, on-the-ground involvement of US forces; and second, the arming and training of proxy forces and newly built national armies to carry out the battles on the ground.”

Yet both pillars are crumbling. Few if any experienced national security policymakers and military experts believe that air strikes can do more than harass or disrupt well-organized insurgencies.

It’s been fourteen years, tens of billions of dollars and there is little doubt, even among my paltry few readers, that without U.S. support, the long-lived Taliban could retake the country within a couple of months.

“Just this week, The New York Times reported extensively on the failure around the world of US efforts to support proxy forces and fledgling national armies, ranging from the $65 billion spent to build Afghanistan’s crumbling army, tens of billions spent in Iraq to rebuild the army that the United States dismantled in 2003, and the $500 million effort to organize a rebel force in Syria against the Islamic State that managed to put only “four or five” fighters in the field.”

The Iraqi “army” can’t fight it’s way out of a paper bag.  There is no Syrian army of moderates.

And the seizure of Kunduz by the Taliban is a glaring sign of failure.

Five days before the bombing of the MSF hospital,  the American-backed Saudi Arabian air force obliterated a wedding party in Yemen, killing at least 131 civilians, including 80 women huddled under a desert tent.

The war in Yemen, which pits a rebel force of Shia Houthis against remnants of the toppled, pro-Saudi regime that formerly ruled the country, is devolving into a proxy battle between Iran, which nominally backs the Houthis, and a US-Saudi coalition that is intent on using military force to restore Saudi dominance of the Arabian Peninsula. In the latest in a series of what appear to be indiscriminate air attacks that have killed many civilians, calls for an independent inquiry into the massacre by the UN were blocked by Saudi Arabia, with American support.

These developments are another indication of the growing civil war between the two main branches of Islam, while the Syrian war goes on between Salafist ISIS and the Saudi and Gulf states against Shia Assad, Iraq and Iran with America opposed to all sides.  We don’t want Assad, ISIS, Iran or Russia.  We want a “moderate insurgency” which doesn’t exist.  Meanwhile we launch air strikes which have accomplished nothing save encouraging more Syrians to flee the country.

America seems to have learned the lesson that deploying tens of thousands of boots on the ground cannot re-order the Middle-East to our liking.  We now need to learn that we cannot do it by remote control video either.

The White House should draw the conclusion from the Kunduz massacre that there isn’t going to be a military solution to Afghanistan’s civil war. For fourteen years, under relentless US military action and the presence of up to 100,000 US troops, the Taliban hasn’t gone away.  The Taliban lives.

Since 2001, the one inescapable conclusion has been that only a power-sharing arrangement among all of Afghanistan’s factions, including the Taliban, can provide even the hope of ending the war.

It is long past the time to talk.  If we can talk to Iran, we can talk to the Afghanis.

We went to war in Afghanistan to get Bin Laden.  He is dead.  It is time to quit the “nation building”.

Let’s get at least one war out of the way.  Even the Soviets left the place.





About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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4 Responses to Kunduz and the Failure of Air Power

  1. beetleypete says:

    Nobody has ever beaten the Afghan tribesmen. (Now known as Taliban) We should learn from history. Long before the Russians were ever involved, the British Army learned some harsh lessons at the hands of the Afghans, as long ago as 1839. They can drop as many bombs as they want, but the Afghan tribesmen will take back the country the day after we all leave. The MSF tragedy is just another sad event to add to a list that has run for over 175 years.
    best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toritto says:

      Hi Pete – I’ve read about the British – Afghan wars – you guys couldn’t wait to march back to India – we should get out of there too. One less war. Regards.


    • jfwknifton says:

      Yes, a lot of fine young. Englishmen have lost their lives in the past in exactly the same way as the Soviets and Americans have failed in recent times. Fighting a ruthless enemy who has no rules.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Meanwhile Zero Hedge is asking whether MSF’s highly vocal opposition to TPP is possibly linked to the bombing: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-10-06/did-obama-bomb-doctors-without-borders-opposing-tpp

    Liked by 1 person

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