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Afghanistan and Beyond: Reflections on the Future of Warfare

Authored by Dr. Stephen J. Blank.

June 28, 1993

30 Pages

Brief Synopsis

This report provides an historical analysis of lessons from one of the most important wars of the 1980s, the war in Afghanistan. After reading this study, you will better understand the nature of operations "other than war" in multiethnic states. Many fear that these wars will set the paradigm for wars in the 1990s and will exert pressure on U.S. forces to conduct peacekeeping, peace-enforcement and humanitarian assistance operations in especially dangerous areas. Yugoslavia and Somalia, each in their own way, bear out the ubiquity of these wars and the pressures on the United States to act.

This report will, of course, contribute to the body of material dealing with the war in Afghanistan. More importantly, it increases understanding of future wars, particularly these types of wars, so that policymakers and analysts alike will better appreciate their military and political aspects. In turn, we may devise mechanisms either to forestall and avert them, or to bring them to the speediest possible conclusion. Alternatively, should those mechanisms fail and troops have to be committed, this and future analyses will enable commanders to have a better grasp of the nature of the war they will fight. In either case, understanding the war and the theater should facilitate a solution more in keeping with U.S. interests and values.

Executive Summary

Many military analysts believe or fear that the wars of the 1990s will be akin to the wars in the former Yugoslavia: smallscale but long-lasting and recurrent ethnic wars that also elude easy international resolution. There are consequently well-founded concerns about prospects for deployment of U.S. forces there in a unilateral or U.N. capacity. Some of the lessons of this kind of war were already apparent in the wars of the 1980s. They were known then as low-intensity conflicts and now as operations other than, or short of, war.

This report focuses mainly on lessons from one of the most crucial of these wars, i.e., in Afghanistan as a result of the Soviet invasion in 1979, and attempts to draw lessons that are relevant for current wars, like those in Yugoslavia or the ex- Soviet Union. The purpose is to stimulate analysis and reflection on the strategic and operational, if not also tactical nature of these wars by both analysts and policymakers so that all interested groups can more easily come to terms with a form of warfare that promises to be both deeply destructive and deeply rooted in longstanding political and social antagonisms that cannot be easily or quickly resolved.

Naturally some of the lessons drawn from Afghanistan and other wars may either only apply to Russian and Soviet forces or conversely may apply to war in general. But our primary intention is to make a contribution to the study of future wars particularly of the ethnic and small-scale type that promise to continue in many parts of the globe lest we devise better ways for averting and then resolving them.

Access Full Report [PDF]: Afghanistan and Beyond: Reflections on the Future of Warfare

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