Terrorism: October 1, 2001


In The Shadow of General Crook- During the height of the Indian Wars in the American west, one of the most successful American commanders was general George Crook. He was an original thinker who used a combination of imaginative thinking and diplomacy to bring the wars to an end with a minimum of bloodshed. Crook's job was to pacify the tribes that still raided Indians and non-Indians alike (as a form of sport or retribution for slights real or imagined.) This also included moving tribes to reservations, or forcing them back there. But the main task of general Crook's troops was to keep the peace on a still turbulent frontier. Faced with the possibility of operating in Afghanistan, a rugged area populated by less well equipped, but more rugged and robust locals, it's a good idea to look back at how general Crook handled a similar situation. 

First, general Crook saw diplomacy as his primary weapon. The Indians knew he had a more powerful military force, but they also knew Crook could be trusted. Crook used this trust, and his negotiating skills, to carry out American policies that he often didn't agree with. But Crook was also eager to avoid a lot of violence. Partly because he was not a bloody minded soldier, and partly because he realized that a reputation for senseless violence would make many of the tribes resist more stoutly and refuse to negotiate. Crook would recognize a similar situation in Afghanistan today. There is more to lose and little to gain by using a lot of fire power. You have to convince the Afghans that you do have the firepower, and can use it, but will only do so when there really is no other choice. 

Using Indians to fight Indians was another technique Crook used a lot. First, he hired a lot of Indians as scouts. This made a lot of sense, as many of his troops were from back east and didn't know the local terrain, languages and customs all that well. Crook saw to it that the scouts were treated well, for the scouts were usually recruited from weaker tribes that had a beef with the stronger tribes. The smaller tribes were usually easier to negotiate deals with. The larger tribes would often fight and Crook needed the scouts, and Indian allies (who sometimes fought for him). Same situation in Afghanistan.

Many of the Afghan tribes and ethnic groups (Pushtuns versus everyone else) don't like each other very much. It doesn't take much diplomacy to go right in and pick up some useful allies. Indeed, providing the Northern Alliance with a pile of cash right now for bribes could result in many tribes changing their current pro-Taliban stance. The Taliban did not gain control of most of Afghanistan by fighting for every village and valley, but by showing up with superior force and making deals with many of the tribes and towns. Since the Taliban were offering law and order, it was an offer few tribal leaders could resist. But many chiefs cut special deals and there isn't a strong Taliban presence in every area "under Taliban control." The multimillion dollar reward for bin Laden keeps the Master Terrorist glancing over his shoulder for tribes looking to snag a jackpot. 

Crook also showed a lot of innovation on the battlefield. While "asymmetric" warfare is a hot item today, it was a common tool for general Crook. Asymmetric means using weapons and techniques that the enemy cannot easily deal with. For the Afghans, this means knowing the terrain better and being more capable of moving across the hills and mountains. Crook had the same problem, in that the tribes knew their backyard better and their grass fed ponies could move faster than his cavalry (which depended on supplies of grain to feed his larger horses.) But Crook also realized that in the Winter the Indians had to settle in to survive the bad weather, and their ponies were forced to survive as best they could (and many didn't, like the wild horses). Crook could march out with many horses carrying supplies. While Crook's force was small and tied to their supplies, the Indians could hardly move at all and usually succumbed to Crook's offer of bullets or bread. Protecting their families was always a top priority for the Indians and Crook would also, during Summer campaigns, strive to capture the women and children of a rebellious tribe. This improved his negotiating position immensely. 

One can only speculate what general Crook would do in Afghanistan today, but he would likely be using a lot of people from the State Department and CIA to cut deals with Afghans willing to deal. And there are always some Afghans willing to deal. Crook would look at the forces available to him and try to use his advantages (reconnaissance and air transport.) America already has small ground units operating out of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, using helicopters and locals to scout out the Taliban. Come Winter, American forces, like Crook in the 1880s, have a mobility advantage. 

To succeed in Afghanistan. think like Crook.


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