You Have Been in Afghanistan, I Perceive

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45 Responses to You Have Been in Afghanistan, I Perceive

  1. ASR says:

    For those unfamiliar with the original painting, it depicts the lone, half-dead, English survivor of the First Anglo-Afghan War finally reaching safety.
    George MacDonald Frasier has written an engrossing and historically accurate account in the first of his Flashman novels, “Flashman”. One of Frasier’s ancestors, Alexander Burns, tried to prevent the disaster and wound up deserted and butchered in Kabul for his pains.
    Greedy empires don’t do very well in Afghanistan but evidently that lesson has to be relearned every few generations.

  2. SteveB says:

    A Study in Scarlet!

  3. pyrrhus says:

    “Flashman” and “Flashman in the Great Game” are a great introduction to the region…as is Kipling..

    “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.”

    Rudyard Kipling

  4. Abies lasiocarpa says:

    Another gem, with a description of a campaign against the Pashtun, the people who make up the majority of today’s Taliban, is John Masters’ ” Bugles and a Tiger”, the autobiography of a young British officer with a Gurkha regiment in the late 1930’s.

    Masters was a junior officer with the 4th Prince of Wales Own Gurkha Rifles. He was a career officer in the British Indian, not British, Army. He later served in Burma, first with the Chindits and then with the 19th Infantry division. After the war he emigrated to the United States, becoming a successful novelist.

    • Wilbur Hassenfus says:

      “Bugles and a Tiger” is a great read. I’m not certain, but I may have found it on one of Greg’s book suggestion lists.

      Masters also wrote “The Road Past Mandalay”, about his experiences in the Burma campaign. Another great read.

    • AlanL says:

      Indeed. And in the second volume of Masters’ memoirs, when he is a brigadier with the Chindits in Burma, there’s a passage where he’s pinned down by superior numbers of Japanese. The Gurkha NCO he’s with reassures him “if these were Pashtun we’d be in real trouble now”

      • Abies lasiocarpa says:

        I came across “Bugles …” at a friend’s many years ago. Having read that I then proceeded to read everything else Masters’ had written, both the two additional autobiographies and the novels. This would on the order of 30 years ago now. The power
        of the reread may be overcoming me ….

  5. dearieme says:

    The response to the catastrophe of the lost army was interesting. A punitive expedition invaded Afghanistan, beat the place up, and then got out. Which was, I seem to remember, the claimed point of the original American/NATO invasion. The Second Anglo-Afghan War was also a beat-’em-up invasion. The third was a war to expel the Afghans who had invaded India.

    Mind you people seem to believe strange things about Afghanistan. “They beat Alexander the Great” I read. That’s not my memory of the history book I read. Alexander passed through Afghanistan successfully but got stuck when his troops refused to cross the Indus and press further into India.

    Anyway, nobody expects Americans to learn any lessons from history but it was inexcusable for Britain to join in the silly bloody enterprise. But then the PM was Toni Blair, a man proud of his ignorance of history, and vain, and dim, and greedy.

    • random observer says:

      Alexander had a tough time with the Sogdians, whose lands encompassed northern Afghanistan and whose descendants probably include the Tajiks and maybe some of the Pashtuns. But he still eventually defeated them despite his iron age Greek forces having mainly organizational rather than technological superiority and being at the far end of one of the longest logistical and communications lines of the pre-industrial world.

      The Mongols seemed to have no meaningful problem conquering the entire region and subjugating it thoroughly. Ditto the Timurids, who owned the place so completely they could make cities there the basis for various late Timurid successor states and launch a campaign of conquest against India from there.

      Not that I think for a second that these methods would be appropriate for the US/West- there’s not enough at stake for us to warrant all that.

    • epoch says:

      ” A punitive expedition invaded Afghanistan, beat the place up, and then got out”

      As the Romans did as response to Arminius’ victory over them. Although they claimed losses from bad weather forced them to retreat.

  6. James Thompson says:

    When half the population marry their first cousins things turn out differently from cafe society expectations

  7. Coagulopath says:

    “Afghanistan, we don’t read about anymore, because it’s succeeded. And by the way, there’s several reasons, including NATO participation and other reasons, why Afghanistan is doing as well as it is.” – John McCain, October 2005

    He should have stopped at the first six words.

  8. The thing to ask before invading mountainous regions is, “What is the GOAL of the invasion?” (Well really, that’s the thing to do before any action, but military actions especially, and difficult terrain regions even more so.)

    If all you want to do is HURT them, the invader has a reasonable chance of success. Just make sure your commander isn’t an Elphinstone.

    If what you want to do is RULE them, you have very little chance of success. Population is thin on the ground, there’s lots of routes for evasion and escape, and the locals know the area while the invaders don’t. To conquer, you have to cut down the mobility of the locals, and the number of troops to do this with is ridiculously high. Likely not worth it.

    If you want to exterminate or enslave ALL of them, though, you’ve got a shot. It will still be quite expensive, but if you kill, or enslave & remove everyone you get your hands on, burn down all the villages, devastate the ecology (especially the food supply), you just might leave them with the choice of submission or starvation. Worked for the U.S. Army against the western Injuns, seems to have worked for the Ottomans for some centuries.

    Naturally, the idiots in DC tried none of these options, thus dooming their effort.

  9. bob sykes says:

    Now that the opium business is shutdown, where will the CIA get money for its off-the-books black ops.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I’ve never seen any indication that actually happened.

      And neither have you.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        Well I have. Allegations of CIA drug trafficking

        It flat out happened in Nicaragua to fund the the Contras, the other reported cases are sketchy.

        • dave chamberlin says:

          Just an amazing piece of history that should not be forgotten. The CIA prioritizing the war on communism over the war on drugs in Latin America. It happened but it I seriously doubt this craziness was repeated in any other place or since the fall of Russian communism which happened in 1992. It’s hard enough to believe that a US government agency coordinated a “guns in, drugs out” operation at any time in our past much less all over the place. Too many ex CIA planes crashed loaded with drugs, too many people talking, too much hard evidence to deny it happened.

      • Mike1 says:

        The head of the DEA said, in public, that the CIA were trafficking drugs.

        There is an astonishing amount of publicly available information, including Hollywood movies, on this topic. It’s not much of a secret.

        How often it happens and where the money goes we don’t know.

      • Oldandtired says:

        Which means neither of you have been to Afghanistan? Me either.

  10. mtkennedy21 says:

    The Taliban were the cat’s paw of Pakistan. Having nignored that for 20 years, nothing should be a surprise.

  11. dearieme says:

    Mark Steyn: “As Horowitz and Greenfield come very close to saying, if the Pentagon were working for the enemy, what would they have done differently?”

    I dare say it’s an old sally. But why restrict it to the Pentagon?

  12. jb says:

    OK, I give up. Who’s head is that?

  13. Coagulopath says:

    By the way, here’s some kewl stuff about Afghanistan in the 00s (extracts from Surprise, Kill, Vanish, by Annie Jacobsen)

    Outstanding Afghan fighters were rare among those trained for joint indig-CIA operations. Most of them are high on opium a lot of the time, a fact reiterated by every Ground Branch operator interviewed for this book. Eight out of ten soldiers were illiterate. Many had trouble counting beyond thirty. When it came time to train indigenous bodyguards for President Karzai’s security detail (he objected to having CIA and Delta Force operators only, concerned it made him look bad), each applicant was required to fill out a questionnaire. According to the Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow, all but one of the Afghan recruits handed the paper back blank. Only one in the entire group of applicants could read. Karzai’s recruiter sought to hire the man, but the others in the group objected. “He’s our teacher in the village,” they told Karzai’s recruiter. “If we give him to you, we won’t have anyone to teach our children.”
    On occasion, during heavy snows, when some of the CIA’s more remote forward operating bases got snowed in, Shark tried teaching math to the indigenous fighters. “This was not math 101,” he says. “This was first-grade math.” Once, in an effort to explain conceptually how big numbers and long distances work, Shark took a group of soldiers outside to look at the full moon rising up over the Hindu Kush mountains. “I said to them, ‘So the moon is 250,000 miles away.’ And while I was on the subject, I said, ‘By the way, we landed there fifty years ago; the missions were called Apollo.’ One of the soldiers said, ‘That’s impossible.’ He pointed to the moon and said, ‘The moon’s too small to land people on.’”
    “A lot of them were so stoned so much of the time it looked like they’d been swimming in a heavily chlorinated pool,” says Spear.
    “A few hours before we’d go out on a mission, I’d personally go into their barracks and confiscate their pipes,” says Shark. “Make them turn over their drugs until we were done fighting.”
    “Fighting bad guys high on drugs is a really bad idea,” says Axe.
    “They do it,” says Hatchet. “We’re told to accept it. It’s how it is.”
    The other problem, says Shark, “was that they seemed to spend all their free time raping each other in their barracks,” a fact confirmed with ten Ground Branch operators interviewed. “We had a code. If I needed them, I’d knock loud on the door to indicate they needed to wrap it up and knock it off, but they ignored that.”
    “It’s disgusting,” says Hatchet. “They do it. We had to accept it. We’re told, ‘It’s how it is.’ Some of them rape underage boys.”
    Ken Stiles, who set up the CIA’s geographic information system for Hank Crumpton in the basement of Langley in the first weeks of the war, confirmed that rape was said to be a “cultural norm.” Stiles was sent to Kabul to set up an in-country electronic targeting system for the CIA. On occasion, he was flown to FOBs in the war zone. “I once asked an Afghan soldier why he joined special forces as opposed to the regular army,” recalls Stiles. “He said, ‘Because in special forces you get raped less.’”

    A perfect candidate for democracy if I ever saw one.

    The good news is that Afghanistan’s adult literacy rate is now a healthy 43 per cent (as per World Bank Data). That man’s village probably has at least three or four people who know how to read by now.

    • jb says:

      Just FYI, I thought Surprise, Kill, Vanish sounded interesting, so I did some research and found reviews in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Both called the book total rubbish.

      • Coagulopath says:

        Unlucky! Although I have seen certain things (like Afghanis not knowing how to count) repeated elsewhere.

        Years ago, a U.S. general told us that not only couldn’t many of the Afghan officers read or write, but they couldn’t count. He said the Americans at times would draw a large rectangle in the dirt, telling the officers they needed enough soldiers to fill that space.

        • dearieme says:

          I once came across the proposition that the seven Liberal Arts encompassed the skills that the general of an army in classical times would need.

          Grammar: to write his reports and instructions
          Logic: to determine his strategy
          Rhetoric: to persuade and encourage his troops
          Geometry: to plan the dispositions of his troops
          Arithmetic: for calculations involving troops, food, and logistics
          Astronomy: for navigation
          Music: for the use of signals using trumpets and whatnot.

  14. Lennart Edenpalm says:

    So, what are the Cochranian views of China on this matter?
    Are the Chinese capable of educating the muslims of Afghanistan and make them more civilised?

    Does our host agree with me “Islam is the biggest treat to Human Sapiens”.

  15. bomag says:

    Islam is the biggest treat…

    Threat, I presume.

    One can live under the radar with Islam. Modern Wokeness will have us monitored 24/7. I suppose the two will combine and have us in a North Korean prison copying the Koran over and over for eternity.

  16. Hollandish says:

    Unpopular opinions:

    Invading Afghanistan is easy. Alexander the Great did it without modern logistics. Obviously the Muslims did it too, and their culture stuck.

    The British won their wars with Afghanistan. They never had any plans to annex it. They eventually lost India for totally unrelated reasons.

    The Soviets and Americans lost for the same reason; from 10,000ft they’re the same type of country.

  17. JM says:

    Somewhat unrelated but I am not sure where else I can post that, and I’d really appreciate your opinion on this paper by the Coop lab apparently explaining the poor portability of PRS across populations

    To me it seems like only one of the potential explanations but I am not really that well versed in popgen to know

  18. dearieme says:

    Which city was described as having excellent relations between Moslems, Hindus, Christians, and Jews, with each walking in each other’s funeral processions and attending each other’s weddings; a colourful, prosperous place famously attractive to visitors? The year was 1833.

    Kabul. (I learnt that only today. I am still shaking my head at it.)

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