Sunday, August 7, 2011

Turning Points

It is commonly recognised that in a conventional war, there are turning points which are, at least in the clarity of 20-20 hindsight, fairly obvious.

Midway was the turning point of WWII in the Pacific, as Stalingrad was the turning point of the War in the East. At such decisive battles in a conventional war, one side suffers losses of men and material that tip the balance decisively and irrevocably in favor of the other side. At Midway, the IJN lost four fleet carriers. At Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht lost the entire 6th army, some three-quarters of a million men.

Insurgencies are more nebulous. They have no formal beginning, and in many cases, never a true ending either. FARC have been fighting in Colombia for 40 years now. The obvious exception is a successful revolution, in which the insurgents become the new government.

And yet insurgencies also have their turning points, though they can be far more difficult to recognise.

The turning point for the French war in Indochina was either Dien Bien Phu, in April/May of 1954, or the Destruction of Mobile Group 100 in June of that year.

The turning point for the US involvement in Vietnam was the Tet Offensive of 1968. Note carefully that in the strictly military sense, this offensive was a victory for the US, and a disaster for the Communists. Yet in the political arena, that outcome was completely reversed. And an insurgency is not primarily a military struggle, it is a political struggle. It is the failure of US leadership to grasp this basic fact which has prevented the US from ever conducting a successful counter-insurgency.

The destruction of a CH-47 Chinook on Friday, 30-35 miles outside Kabul, which apparently resulted in the deaths of 22 Seals, a dozen others, and the helicopter crew, is being claimed by the Taliban. While claims mean little in a situation of this sort, unless it was a major mechanical failure, they probably did shoot it down.

Is this a turning point?

Militarily, no. Politically, perhaps.

Again, note that this happened just outside of the capital of Kabul, not off somewhere along the Pakistani border. That fact alone magnifies the political impact of the event.

And if the Taliban have finally managed to obtain at least semi-modern shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, then all bets are off, and the whole equation has changed.

(Open Salon readers can watch the video here)

Print story (and the same video) here

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