Friday, June 8, 2012
Published February 6, 2010 at Associated Content
By James C. L'Angelle
There comes a time in every conflict where the line drawn between victory and defeat, between success and failure, and losing and winning, hinges on one particular battle. Time and again this has proven the case. For Napoleon, it was Waterloo in 1815. During the Crimean War. it was the Siege of Sevaastopol in 1854-55. In the American Civil War, it was Gettysburg in July of 1863.
In World War Two, the Normandy invasion might be considered the greatest of all battles, however the assault at Anzio in Italy was just as important to the outcome of the war. In the Pacific, Iwo Jima might be considered the turning point. The Korean War saw the Inchon landing. The French-Indochina War saw the defeat of the French at DienBienPhu in 1954, and later on, the turning point for American involvement in Vietnam came with the battle for Khe Sanh in 1968. However, the battle of Hue city was also a turning point in that war; both of those outcomes, if not in favor of the United States forces, certainly did nothing to assure the North Vietnamese a victory. The bottom line for Vietnam actually came at Khe Sanh, referred to as "The End of the Line" in a book about the siege, written by Robert Pisor, published in 1982.
Recently, the turning point in Iraq came at Fallujah in December, 2004, effectively sealing the fate of the last of the most violent insurgent groups. By no standards do the smaller fights in Vietnam and Iraq compare to the historical battles fought on the mainland of Europe that facilitated the fall of Napoleon and Hitler, but their importance should not be overlooked. The nature of battle has changed, armies no longer stand and fight although the Khe Sanh siege was indeed a standoff just as DienBienPhu.
This week, the coalition forces in Afghanistan announced it was in preparation for an offensive at Marjah, in Helmand province, one of the last Taliban strongholds. Back in December, 2009, US Marine Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of 10,000 Marines before the surge in the province, stated that Marjah, for the Taliban is "the end of the line". This week's open-ended announcement to the Taliban that its days are numbered is part of a strategy to keep casualties at a minimum in the hopes the insurgents will retire their weapons, as seen in recent Now Zad operations further to the north in the same province.
This brings up an interesting point in the history and so-called "theory" of warfare. In his book, "The Principles of War", Ferdinand Foch argues it may well be better to engage the enemy decisively, as Napoleon believed, as opposed to winning a war without fighting a battle, as Marshal de Saxe believed.
Either way sooner or later, the Taliban in Afghanistan will have to stand and fight, be it at Marjah, be it somewhere else. The outlaw organization no longer has the luxury of the option to choose where to fight the battle that will decide the outcome of the Afghan war. It does, however, have the option to choose to fight to the end, which seems to be what the Mullah Omar has decided to do. Whether his comrades-in-insurgent arms agree remains to be seen.