The Road MoreTraveled By
A video captured from the Taliban in Afghanistan illustrates the power of electronic warfare. The enemy is using a cell phone to trigger an IED on American convoys. But the Americans have their own wizardry. Their vehicles are blanketed by an electronic jamming bubble. Watch as the Taliban try to blow up American vehicles traveling along the strategic Pech River road without success. Not even praying to Allah helps.
If you think the Taliban were trying to kill American soldiers, you would only be half-right. What they were really trying to do was block a road.
A road is a the pathway to civilization and the battle to upgrade and secure the Pech river road is one of the more interesting but unsung stories of the war. The Pech River road is now well along in its construction. The Taliban have lost to civilization -- for now. Road-building has been a strategic counterinsurgency weapon since ancient times. As David Kilcullen explains how he learned this lesson:
As a tactics instructor in the mid-1990s, teaching British platoon commanders at the School of Infantry, I spent many weeks on extended field exercises in the wilds of south Wales and on windswept Salisbury Plain. Both landscapes are studded with Roman military antiquities, relics of ancient counterinsurgency campaigns – mile-castles, military roads, legion encampments – as well as the Iron Age hill-forts of the Romans' insurgent adversaries. Teaching ambushing, I often found that ambush sites I chose from a map, even on the remotest hillsides, would turn out (once I dragged my weary, rucksack-carrying ass to the actual spot) to have Roman or Celtic ruins on them, and often a Roman military road nearby: call me lacking in self-assurance, but I often found this a comforting vote of confidence in my tactical judgment from the collective wisdom of the ancestors.
Like the Romans, counterinsurgents through history have engaged in road-building as a tool for projecting military force, extending governance and the rule of law, enhancing political communication and bringing economic development, health and education to the population. Clearly, roads that are patrolled by friendly forces or secured by local allies also have the tactical benefit of channeling and restricting insurgent movement and compartmenting terrain across which guerrillas could otherwise move freely. But the political impact of road-building is even more striking than its tactical effect.
Kilcullen argues that road-building "separates the enemy from the population ... builds connectivity with and confidence in government ... creates jobs and promotes business, facilitates agriculture, and allows farmers to get crops to market faster before they spoil". Ultimately fighting extremism in the 21st century is a race to see which side can use technology better. One side wants to use it to return the world to the 8th century and the other to reach the stars.
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