Soldiers at Elephant Pass memorial
War is fundamentally people killing each other and occupying land. Even suicide terrorism seems to be a response to occupation, perceived or otherwise. Winning wars is basically occupying land and holding it, mainly by killing. The Sri Lankan model has been to do whatever necessary and deny everything. This resulted in 10 to 20,000 civilian deaths (no idea) and a stable end to war. The US counter-insurgency model is now to minimize use of artillery and air strikes. But they’re still not winning. And their soldiers are dying. This is causing grumbles, as reported in the New York Times.
The rules have shifted risks from Afghan civilians to Western combatants. They have earned praise in many circles, hailed as a much needed corrective to looser practices that since 2001 killed or maimed many Afghan civilians and undermined support for the American-led war.
But the new rules have also come with costs, including a perception now frequently heard among troops that the effort to limit risks to civilians has swung too far, and endangers the lives of Afghan and Western soldiers caught in firefights with insurgents who need not observe any rules at all.
And America is not really winning the war in Afghanistan. However, it should be noted that the Soviets killed almost a million Afghans and didn’t work either. There are obviously different tactics for different wars, and I would argue that war itself is generally abhorrent and tends to continue and justify itself. But it seems that UN approved wars may not really end.
I do think that justice tends to play out in the end and ruthless powers tend to collapse under their own bloody weight, but ruthlessness does seem the surest route to winning wars. The American wars are largely wars of choice and one questions why they’re having them at all, but this isn’t the US that would incinerate entire cities as in World War II. That’s a good thing, but it may mean that they’ll never win so decisively again.