For the Alliance, things were completely different. Western forces have had access to a wide range of world-class technologies, from space surveillance to remotely operated systems such as robots and drones. But for them, the war in Afghanistan was not a war of survival. It was a war of choice. Because of this, it was a lot of technology Designed to reduce the risk of injury Rather than achieving an outright victory. Western forces have invested heavily in weapons that can put soldiers out of harm’s way — air power and drones — or technology that can speed up the delivery of immediate medical treatment. Things that keep the enemy at arm’s length or protect soldiers from harm, like warplanes, flak shields, and spotting roadside bombs, have been the focus of the West.
The West’s overall military priority was elsewhere: in the battle between the great powers. Technologically, that means investing in hypersonic missiles to match those in China or Russia, for example, or in military artificial intelligence to try to outpace them.
The Afghan government, caught between these two worlds, ended up having more in common with the Taliban than with the coalition. This was not a war of choice but an essential threat. However, the government could not advance in the same way that the Taliban did. Its development was hampered by the fact that foreign armies presented the main technologically advanced powers. While the Afghan army and police have certainly provided bodies for combat (with many lives lost in the process), they were not in a position to create or even operate advanced systems on their own. Western countries were reluctant to provide the Afghans with the latest weapons, fearing they would not keep them or they might end up in the hands of the Taliban.
Take, for example, the Afghan Air Force. It was supplied and trained on less than twenty helicopters. This allowed a modicum of close air support, but it was far from advanced. Working with the United States meant Afghanistan was not free to look elsewhere for technology transfer; She was, in fact, stuck in a stunted stage.
So what does this tell us? She says technology is neither an engine of conflict nor a guarantor of victory. Rather, it is an enabler. Even primitive weapons can be held today in the hands of eager and impatient humans who are willing – and able – to make whatever progress is needed.
It also tells us that tomorrow’s battlefields may look a lot like Afghanistan: We’ll see fewer purely technological struggles in which the military wins the most firepower, and more old and new technologies side by side. It does indeed appear to be the case in conflicts such as the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, and the pattern is one that we may witness more over time. Technology may not win wars anymore, but innovation can win — especially if one side is fighting an existential battle.
Christopher Ankersen Clinical Assistant Professor of Global Affairs at New York University. He served at the United Nations throughout Europe and Asia from 2005 to 2017 and with the Canadian Armed Forces from 1988 to 2000. Author and editor of several books, including Military-Civil Cooperation Policy whatThe future of global affairsHe holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Mike Martin A Pashto-speaking former British Army officer, he served several tours in Afghanistan as a political officer, advising British generals on their approach to the war. He is now a Visiting War Studies Fellow at King’s College London and author intimate war, who has been drawing the war in southern Afghanistan since 1978. He holds a PhD from King’s College London.