That makes five US choppers downed since January 20. Since we don’t have nearly enough troops to secure the ground lanes even the brass travels by chopper, leaving us vulnerable to catastrophic losses.
The Soviets began losing Afghanistan when bin Laden’s group started downing their helicopters. Without access to safe air transport or air support the Soviet occupiers lost an edge that an army fighting a guerilla enemy on foreign ground couldn’t afford to lose. Political realities changed slowly in the USSR, guaranteeing that the Soviet army didn’t pull out until long after any reasonable observer would understand that there was no more good in staying. By pullout time the red army lacked the resources to even retreat safely. Some units were slaughtered in the process.
Bin Laden attacked America on 9/11 because he expected to beat us in Afghanistan like he did the Soviets. American occupation would inflame muslim sentiment, drive American interests out of the mideast and spark a global jihad that would keep us distracted and on the defensive while he pursued regime change in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Iraq.
By relying on a combination of local forces and high-precision air warfare we proved bin Laden completely, catastrophically wrong. Baiting America into Afghanistan might have gone down as one of the dumbest strategic moves in history, if we had finished the job, round up bin Laden and drove the Taliban into permanent exile. Deams of muslim outrage withered as the Afghans seemed more than happy to rebuild under our guidance.
Then a funny thing happened. Instead of wrapping up the Afghan war we gave bin Laden a second chance. More than that, we delivered so thoroughly that al Qaeda might as well have faxed us an itemized list. Check off the bloody, intractable occupation and a popular insurgency. Infidels violently occupying holy land, detainee abuse (that must have made al Qaeda especially happy), random death and violence that we as the dominant power don’t necessarily cause but take the blame anyway. Widespread muslim outrage? Yup. We even did the favor of knocking over one of the secular tyrants on bin Laden’s list.
I’m taking the time to flesh out this analogy because the link between us and the last army to lose Afghanistan becomes much tighter when we cannot keep our own helicopters safe. One lesson that I cannot emphasize enough is that military necessity did not force the pullout from Afghanistan. Political decisions did that. The army stayed even after it was broken, barely able to sustain itself, at which point it lacked the resources even to retreat safely. The losses were huge. If insurgents have learned to down our helicopters, and I understand that this may be more a statistical blip than a real trend, then the threshold point may already be here. It makes me physically nauseous to think that another political leadership will wreck an army, past the point of safe retreat, in a vain defense of its own ego.
Take time to read this post by Noah Shachtman at DefenseTech. It seems very likely that the Sunni insurgents have considerably stepped up their ability to target our helicopters.
As Josh Marshall points out here the primary supplier of the Sunni militias is Saudi Arabia and Saudi citizens, not Iran. The Iran-backed militias are supposedly on our side, or anyhow they’re fighting alongside us. Should we invade Saudi Arabia? The answer will help to illustrate the craven disregard for reality that underlies much of our Iran war talk.
Reports indicate that the downed helicopter was not a CH-47 Chinook but the smaller CH-46 Sea Knight used by the Marines.