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The bogging down of Western armies: a 3/3 perspective

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The other issue is the question of staffing levels. The peculiarity of recent appointments is that they often start out undersized compared to what the situation would require. In Afghanistan, whatever the doctrines employed by the nations involved, the number of troops deployed is always too small to cover the population and the terrain.

Even seemingly large contingents such as the British in Helmand (up to 9,500 fighters) were not enough and led to a demand for more and more troops [21].

In Vietnam, as in Iraq and then in Afghanistan, we observe a trend increase in numbers, which confirms that the initial vision is probably too optimistic about the adversary. In the case of Afghanistan, when NATO begins to move out of Kabul to establish itself over the entire country through the regional commands, the most pessimistic predictions about the return of the threat are discarded [22]. [22] Thus, as soon as the situation hardens (in 2006-2007), the first response is a constant increase in personnel. Why did you not initially make this effort? The reasons are known: one is the financial cost of support. Logistical requirements in a landlocked country such as Afghanistan mean in practice that there is pressure on scarce resources. An American study reveals that the cost of deploying a soldier for one year to a foreign theatre (Iraq or Afghanistan) rises to almost US$1 million[23]. [23] Even before the global economic crisis in 2008, the financial equation was pushing these incompressible expenses into account and explaining generations of finely tuned forces. At the same time, a discourse is emerging that justifies these deployments in the truest sense, singing the praises of the "light footprint" that is essential to avoid being considered by the population as an occupying force[24].

FM 3-24, without saying so explicitly, justifies sending an additional contingent for a limited time. That one of the promoters and the COIN, and of the manual is also named the boss of the coalition forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus - author of a thesis on Vietnam, by the way - is not surprising. However, the surge that occurred in Iraq at the beginning of 2007 benefited from particular conditions that explain the partial success of the operation: the Iraqi government of Maliki authorised the Coalition forces to act against all destabilising forces, including the Shiite militias, which gave the Americans the role of arbitrator. At the same time, tribal leaders rally in exchange for material support, political guarantees and a place in the system. Above all, the nature of the insurgency - essentially urban - allows for the concentration of efforts in the city, with intense activity to erect concrete barriers, separate the belligerents, and then establish the multiple battle stations from which US and Iraqi forces operate together. Finally, after four years of war, the Americans draw on the experience, competence and means necessary to deploy on the ethnic and religious fault lines, interpose themselves between communities and protect the most fragile, controlling and sometimes sanctioning Iraqi forces [25].

The first results are encouraging and lead to a wide dissemination of the counter-insurgency model, either by imitation (Canada, for example), or by reuse of known doctrines but "put under political seal" in the French case. [26]. 26] Put to the test in Afghanistan, the counter-insurgency and the surge did not, however, produce the expected effects: certainly, ISAF achieved success in the south (Operation Moshtarak launched in February 2010) and managed to hold the "useful country" through the Highway One ring road. Tenenbaum adds: "The policy of systematic targeting to capture, return or eliminate insurgent political and military cadres has produced undeniable results, leading to significant attrition in the Taliban ranks. Nevertheless, the persistence of the Pakistani sanctuary, the negligence of the national government and the still too weak security forces still do not allow us to envisage a rapid improvement of the situation"[27].

27] The decision to accelerate the withdrawal on the pretext of the maturity of the national forces trained by ISAF does not make it possible to consider whether the new doctrines, combined with the human and material resources deployed and the work of a comprehensive approach put in place, will make it possible to achieve victory. On the other hand, they undeniably offer solutions to get out of a possible stalemate, provided that they agree to take part in long operations, properly supported and accompanied by political leaders.

Isbogging down less a reality than a perception?
The relationship between war and public opinion is complicated, especially in a democracy. As Nathalie Guibert points out, there is indeed a wave of patriotic fervour at the start of each operation that does not last, and which dies out more or less quickly. The wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan share the common feature of having become increasingly unpopular over time.

Here again, Vietnam represents a triple turning point: the first is the constant media exposure, the mobilization of public opinion and the domestic forms of demonstration that ultimately weigh on the armies. In 1960, 90% of American homes were equipped with a television set, and news of the conflict now passed through this prism. In 1968, the Tet offensive was literally unfolding before the eyes of America. Shocked, the Americans discovered that the war waged in their name in Asia was brutal, that it was killing and that it did not seem to be able to end [28]. CBS journalist Walter Cronkite, one of the most respected journalists, then wondered who had won the battle and concluded his speech by saying : "Who won ... I'm not sure. However, it is more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is a stalemate. To say that we are closer to victory today means believing, against all evidence, in the same optimists who have been wrong in the past". [29]. This constant exposure, coupled with unpopular political decisions - such as the return of conscription in 1965 - leads to radical forms of protest. Student demonstrations, the emergence of a popular culture defined by the rejection of war; the Woodstock festival in the summer of 1969 brought together more than 500,000 people to denounce the atrocities of the war in Vietnam. Forms of radicalization (attacks on recruitment offices, raids on selection centres, etc.) and forms of disobedience multiplied - it is estimated that between 40,000 and 120,000 young men escaped conscription by taking refuge in Canada [30]. 30] The slingshot extends beyond the conscripts to affect the entire institution, in what Morris Janowitz interprets as "a crisis of legitimacy.... due to Vietnam, racial tensions, corruption, drug use, loss of operational effectiveness, and the spread of anti-militarism"[31]. 31] This opposition to the war led to the emergence of the "GI movement", where soldiers signed anti-war petitions, demonstrated and testified, but this took more violent forms with cases of desertion, sabotage and even attacks on officers and non-commissioned officers. [32].
The "fatigue" in public opinion is measured as early as Vietnam by the instrument of opinion polls, which are becoming a means of measuring domestic support. In the more recent cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, the war became unpopular in mid-2004, particularly after the publication of the commission's report on 11 September 2001, which emphasised the lack of a relationship between the attacks, Al Qaeda and Iraq. The other reason, probably the main one, is the losses (dead and wounded). A study by the Gallup Institute on support for external interventions at the time of Korea and Vietnam, then in Iraq and Afghanistan, indeed shows that popular support is eroded as losses increase [33]. [33] It is thus a matter of giving a sign to public opinion: Nixon promises to withdraw 100,000 GI's a few months before the 1972 elections, while Barack Obama is elected on the opposition between the "bad war" in Iraq and the "good war" in Afghanistan.

The perception of stalemate is characterized by the way in which an ongoing conflict is reproduced, reported, explained. Here again, the time factor plays an essential role: the desire to see concrete results creates impatience, and thus a lower tolerance for losses. Talking about the bogging down of Western armies underlines the relationship between the political and diplomatic conduct of war, the strategic choices and scenarios that armies propose, and the way in which the whole is presented to a public opinion whose support is critical in a democracy. It is perhaps worth recalling what Montgomery proposed in December 1951, in a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the subject of Malaysia: "Malaysia. We must have a plan. Second, we must have a leader. Once we have a plan and a leader, we must succeed. Not otherwise" [35].

[21] Stephen Saideman, Adapting in the Dust. Lessons learned from Canada's War in Afghanistan. Toronto: Toronto University.
Press, 2016, p. 17.
22] Ibid.
23] Larry Shaughnessy, One soldier, one year: $850,000 and rising, CNN Security Blog, 28 February 2012, 850000-and-rising/
24] Stephen Saideman, quoted, p. 23.
25] Nathan Freier, Maren Leed and Richard "Ozzie" Nelson, Iraq versus Afghanistan: A Surge Is Not a Surge Is Not a Surge, CSIS,23 October 2009, surge-not-surge-not-surge
26] Elie Tenenbaum, "America at War: The Greatness and Decline of Counterinsurgency", Foreign Policy, 2011/3 (Autumn), p. 622.
27] Ibidem, p. 623.
28] Until 1966, the press was mostly favourable to the war. The changeover took place in the course of 1967 (see Adam J. Berinsky, Public Opinion during the Vietnam War, April 2001, presentation to the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political
Science Association, 2001)
29] Walter S. Cronkite, Vietnam commentary, special CBS News broadcast, February 27, 1968 (transcribed
[30] Cori, Draft dodging in the days of the Vietnam War (
31] Morris Janowitz, "Volunteer Armed Forces and Military Purpose," Foreign Affairs, April 1972, p. 428.
32] David Cortright, Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance during the Vietnam War (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 1975). Between 1966 and
1970, the desertion rate in the army ranks increases by 400%, reaching 17% of the workforce in 1971. The Corps
of Marines is not immune, with a very much lower level, but around 6.5%.
33] Eric Alterman, The Role of Public Opinion in Iraq and Vietnam,Center for American Progress, 17 May 2007,
34] Mark Landler, "The Afghan War and the Evolution of Obama", The New York Times, 1 January 2017,
35] Quoted in Edward J. Erickson, "Practicing Operational Artin Countering Insurgency," Military Review, March 2019.

Title : The bogging down of Western armies: a 3/3 perspective
Author (s) : le chef de bataillon Guillaume Lasconjarias, du pôle études et prospective du CDEC