A year later he was in the White House and his new secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, was rapidly reshaping US forces to be even more light-touch and high-tech in taming the jungle. On 11 September that year the ‘they’ in that jungle showed exactly how they could bite back.
Afghanistan and Iraq started as high-tech wars (remember ‘shock and awe’?) but rapidly evolved into widespread insurgencies. In response, the US and its few allies committed hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground, leaving bitter legacies both in the newly occupied countries and in the West as well.
Not least because of this we have steadily returned in the last fifteen years to the original light-touch ideas plus the new technologies of eyes in the sky, armed drones and long-range strike, as well as special forces and privatised military corporations, AKA mercenaries. Alongside this has come the policy of training and arming local forces, whether official or private, while drones and special forces handle the tricky bits of counterinsurgency that the other methods of warfare can’t easily reach.
On occasions it even means supporting your enemy against a greater threat, such as this week’s extraordinary admission from the head of US Central Command, General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr, that his forces have offered “limited support” to the Taliban in its fight with ISIS.
This is where we come back to the incidents of the last two days, which provide yet more proof that the wars will go on and on. Even if a peace deal is agreed in Afghanistan and even if it sticks, the end result will be a major Taliban presence in the country’s governance, and the instability and violence in Iraq, Syria and the Sahel show no signs of ending. In short, this week’s Makhmur and Taji incidents are reminders that, close to nineteen years after 9/11, the US and its few allies are still no nearer to ending the wars. Trying to understand rather than tame “the jungle” might be a good first step.Print