As we prepare to ramp up Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as focus more intently on the Taliban’s Pakistani havens, it’s worth looking back at the British experience in the Graveyard of Empires. Of specific interest is the classic 1898 account The Risings on the North-West Frontier, a detailed account of several expeditions carried out in the so-called tribal areas. Then, as now, the military campaigns were meant to pacify a people who threatened Western security interests. And then, as now, the Westerners found it nearly impossible to achieve total victory, despite their technological superiority. A telling quote from the book’s conclusion:
Our enemies, wherever encountered, have been punished, and their losses are stated on unimpeachable evidence to have been extremely severe. The towers and walls of almost every fortified village in the country have been levelled to the ground, and the winter supply of grain, fodder and fuel of both tribes has been consumed by the force. The Orakzai have been completely subdued and have complied with the terms prescribed for them; but the Afridis still hold out, although I have strong hopes that they may before long submit and thus save their country from a fresh invasion in the spring.
In other words, mission incomplete. And the Orakzai? They’ve hardly stayed subdued, judging by their recent machinations.
The whole book is worth a read, as is this illustrated laymen’s summary.