Frustration, Apathy, and Futility

Are the real reasons that great powers quit Afghanistan.

This is an especially hard, but important lesson to learn. Like many lessons of military history, it is best learned vicariously.

The current US situation in Afghanistan sheds a bright light on the Soviet experience, and transforms a different narrative from implausible to obvious.

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The Exit Strategy Fantasy

In October of 2001, it was abundantly clear to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their NATO counterparts that the internationally-unrecognized Taliban rulers of Afghanistan would continue to collude with and protect their Al-Qaeda guests/enforcers, rather than comply with strongly worded requests to arrest and hand over Al-Qaeda’s leadership.  Invasion was widely acknowledged as the only option that would allow for the US and its allies to kill or capture Al-Qaeda’s leadership, destroy their training bases and cadre, and gather intelligence sufficient to allow them to shut down Al-Qaeda’s worldwide web of terrorists.  Everyone involved in planning and conducting these operations understood that the Taliban regime would be destroyed, and likely replaced with a coalition government centered on the Northern Alliance.  The plan was simple: go in, kill & capture, follow-on intelligence and stabilization operations as required, and exit. At the time, only a few foresaw that this approach was doomed from the outset, and would waste huge quantities of gold, blood, and national will over the next decade.

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Xenophon Roundtable: Clearchus Delenda Est!

Of all of the characters in the first section of the Anabasis, Clearchus is among the most important, and perhaps the most intriguing.

In Clearchus’s obituary, Xenophon describes a ruthless officer who is feared by all, respected by all, and liked by none(II,6).  Clearchus was also the only Greek general who knew from the outset what Cyrus intended to do with the army he was raising(III, 1 (10)). Two questions are very much worth contemplating:

For whom was Clearchus working? And: who is responsible for his death?

The simple answer to the first is that Clearchus was working for Cyrus, as the narrative recounts.  The narrative also allows the following interpretation: that Clearchus was using Cyrus to obtain sufficient treasure and military power to install himself as a King somewhere in the Hellenic world. There is a third possibility however: that Clearchus was in the employ of Artaxerxes, charged with tempting Cyrus to attempt a coup, and, if successful, delivering him to Persia and his death.  If you imagine that this was his mission, he succeeded in this as well.

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Xenophon Roundtable: Xenophon was a Professional

An army marches on its stomach – Napoleon Bonaparte

While we have no real idea how much insight Xenophon possessed when he joined the invasion of Persia, the Anabasis is written by a professional with a profound appreciation of the issues of logistics (as is the Agesilaus). From beginning to end, the Anabasis is replete with not just the story of the Persian expedition, but how the Greek forces managed to maintain themselves in supply, from the time of their entry into Persia, until their retreat is complete. Xenophon understands that other professionals will be interested in this as much as in anything else that he relates. It is likely that Alexander read these logistical details with great attention. For instance, if you re-read the Anabasis from the perspective of a logistician, you will find that it serves as a nearly complete narrative of the logistics of the Persian expedition. In most instances, you are far more certain of how the Greeks remained in supply than of what happened to them in battle. If you compare it to other histories you have read, you may well find that there is, well, no comparison.

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