Saturday, August 08, 2009

Arithmetic on the Frontier

They call it asymmetric war: limited high-tech. versus abundant low-tech. Afghanistan was always the prime example. How can a militia of mostly illiterate peasants defeat a Western combat group heavily armed with the latest equipment?

It's easier than you might expect. Never confront the enemy: he wants to bring you to battle, where his advantage is overwhelming. Harass constantly, killing at every opportunity: casualty reports in the Western media are a powerful weapon. Hide among your own women and children, wear civilian clothes: civilian casualties spread shame and guilt, enrage your allies in the enemy country, and rich will be their reward from Allah.

Live in a mountainous country; he cannot match your local knowledge.

Persist, allow no conclusion, let his much greater costs wear him down, over as many years as may prove necessary.

The Brits. have forgotten Kipling's 'Arithmetic of the Frontier'. Let them learn again bitter lessons in the toughest of schools.

Here's one simple tactic for your Jihad, potentially very profitable in several ways.

Ammonium nitrate, NH4.NO3, is a common agricultural fertilizer, produced industrially in thousands of tons annually.

NH4 is nitrogen carrying hydrogen: NO3 is nitrogen carrying oxygen. Ammonium nitrate is set for intra-molecular combustion:

NH4.NO3 ---> N2 + 2H2O + O

The products are nitrogen gas, water and atomic oxygen. Nitrogen and water are stable, low energy compounds: this reaction is exothermic, releasing the energy used in manufacture. It also converts solid ammonium nitrate to nitrogen and water gases: a huge volume expansion. 1 kilogram of solid has the potential to deliver more than 768 litres of hot gas in a fraction of a second.

But there is also oxygen, in an activated form. Mix in something combustible and finely divided to react and remove the oxygen - flour, say - and you will release a lot more energy - and carbon dioxide gas.

If possible, contain the mix in a metal drum, to hold the mass together long enough for the reaction to near completion. It's not high explosive, but there's still a lot of bang for your Afghani buck.

Add a simple detonator, maybe a small quantity of high explosive, and you have a cheap, crude but effective bomb. You can make up in weight what you lack in punch.

Bury a 50-100 Kg bomb in a dirt road; pack it round with stones to carry the blast; sweep sand over it. Run the detonator wires to a concealed view-point, and you have an ambush.

Total cost is a few ounces of crude opium.

The Taliban know this. They also know the human, political, and monetary value of their targets.

Consider their latest successful ambush, the cost to us, the profit to them.

Three of our finest soldiers killed, a fourth gravely injured, probably mutilated and disabled for life. Families devastated, widows and orphans to be supported.

Our media publicise our losses, stressing the suffering, questioning why are we there, degrading public morale and will to continue the campaign. The politicians have to respond.

Each soldier represents an investment of many thousands of pounds in training and deployment. Each injured and disabled soldier will cost millions in evacuation, treatment, rehabilitation, and support.

Deploying the Jackal patrol vehicle and associated kit will leave little change from half a million. It carries weapons, notably a heavy machine gun. Capture that, and your next target is a Chinook helicopter. There is more valuable loot in the wreck - guns, grenades, and radios; not to mention 'prestige' loot - helmets, uniforms, boots, classy sunglasses, ipods.

To what purpose are these losses? To make a safe world for the Karzai clan? To create a free, democratic Afghanistan, prospering by honest toil, not by heroin? To secure full human rights for women, homosexuals, and other victim groups?

Get real.

The odds are still on the cheaper man.

Our Prime Minister says there is a chain of terror from Afghanistan to the streets of Britain. So would we be squandering lives, wealth and honour in Afghanistan if there were no mosques, mullahs, muftis and muslims here?

That question is now 'crime-think'. NewLabourSpeak forbids such talk. I had better shut up.


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Anonymous said...

It is good to see that some still draw a lesson from Kipling's writing. Would that nations did!