Guerrilla Warfare Savvy

By Beichman, Arnold | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 21, 2001 | Go to article overview

Guerrilla Warfare Savvy


Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Arnold Beichman

The American-Northern Alliance advance in Afghanistan is a tremendously significant event in our politico-military history. It demonstrates that President Bush's 21st century war-makers have learned the lessons of the 20th century war in Vietnam: You can't fight guerrillas or terrorists with conventional forces or set-piece battles. The 1960s generation of war-makers should have learned that lesson from American history: A rag-tag band of Colonists defeated the more powerful British Redcoats and their mercenary allies back in 1783.

I was much heartened by a single sentence in President Bush's Oct. 1 speech: "[T]his is a different kind of war. It's hard to fight a guerrilla war with convention[al] forces. But our military is ready." And ready they were as we can see with the Taliban in retreat. Had Mr. Bush and his generals not understood the meaning of guerrilla warfare, Afghanistan would now be a quagmire not a first step to victory. It's a lesson which, tragically, Lyndon Johnson never learned after he became president in 1963 - nor did his generals.

Before Mr. Bush there was another commander in chief who understood the meaning of guerrilla terrorism. Addressing the corps of cadets at West Point in June 1962, President Kennedy said this form of warfare demanded "a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of military training." The outcome of the 10-year war in Vietnam might have been different had Kennedy lived.

The Taliban armies and other guerrilla forces before them have absorbed the grand strategy of Karl Marx who a century-and-a-half ago wrote that revolutionaries "ought not to adhere rigidly to the accepted methods of warfare . . . Mass uprisings, revolutionary methods, guerrilla bands everywhere; such are the only means by which a small nation can hope to maintain itself against an adversary superior in numbers and equipment." In 1937, Mao Tse-tung published a primer on guerrilla warfare. There were manuals on guerrilla terrorist warfare by Vo Nguyen Giap, Che Guevara and as far back as the Chinese Sun Tzu. But none of these texts did the Taliban terrorists any good because this time, unlike the bloody years of Vietnam, we did not underestimate the enemy. We understood both his strategy and his tactics. We were not told by American spokesmen in Pakistan as we had been in Saigon in 1964 by briefing officers that if the Viet Cong got too bold and nasty, "Why, we'll lean on them." It turned out that it was the Viet Cong that did the leaning.

It was not our air superiority over Afghanistan that won the battle. …

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