Chinook down in Afghanistan; historians have deja vu

US helicopters and hundreds of troops are searching for soldiers who went missing in Afghanistan just before a helicopter coming to their aid was shot down in Kunar province June 28, killing the 16 on board, all Navy Seals and Army Special Forces. Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi boasted that insurgents killed seven US “spies” before the Chinook was downed, and that one survivor of the crash is being held. “He was trying to escape up the mountain when our mujahedeen caught him,” he said. The Pentagon says the chopper was being sent in to support a large operation codenamed “Redwing.” It was apparently hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, making the crash the biggest single combat blow to US forces since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the threat to the upcoming elections was underescored by a series of Taliban attacks in which nine village elders, four police and two other civilians died along with 13 guerrillas, officials said. In the bloodiest attack, nine elders were killed in Lander village in the central province of Uruzgan on June 30, a day after security forces killed seven guerillas in a skirmish there. The guerillas released a 9-year-old boy to bring news of the killings and to offer to exchange the bodies of the elders for fallen guerillas. (Reuters, July 1, via TruthOut)

In a June 30 commentary, TruthOut‘s Sterling Newberry examines a report prepared by Russian scholar Svetlana Savranskaya in October 2001, just as the US was invading Afghanistan, entitled “The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Russian Documents and Memoirs” (online at The National Security Archive). Among the documents analyzed by Savranskaya is a May 10, 1988 “closed lettter” (since declassified) from the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee to high-ranking party members looking back on the eight-and-a-half years of war, acknowledging several errors, and considering withdrawal. Among the acknowledged errors were a failure to win over the populace, one-sided reliance on a military solution, insufficient intelligence and lack of consideration of how small guerilla forces can use the terrain to their advantage against large conventional forces.

This gives Newberry a sense of deja vu, pointing to parallels with the contemporary US experience in both Afghanistan and Iraq:

With the crash of a Chinook troop transport helicopter, lost, in all probability, to hostile fire, the parallels between the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq should be held to closer parallel. Consider that, from the point of invasion to the 10 May letter, the Soviets had suffered, on average, 5 killed per day of involvement, and 13 wounded. The United States has suffered only 2.3 killed, but 16 wounded [in Iraq]. In other words, the intensity of American combat in Iraq differs from the Soviet presence in Afghanistan only in that better American evacuation and medical technology, plus better armor, saves 3 people every day who otherwise would have died.

In short, the United States is fighting its own version of the war that, according to the the foreign policy intellectual establishment, either brought down or hastened the fall of the USSR. We have engaged in the same mistakes: the Downing Street Memos of March 2002 show a determination to invade but an admission that there is poor intelligence… There is no mention made of non-conventional or guerrilla warfare, just as the planning documents of the Soviet invasion do not once mention the possibility of a resistence developing. There is a reliance on an outside trained elite that, it is admitted, has no credibility on the ground.

See our last post on Afghanistan.