Summer has been cruel to British soldiers in Afghanistan. In July, 22 servicemen died and more than 94 were injured. Many of those casualties were caused by IEDs as the Taliban strategy has switched from ambushes to planting roadside bombs.
The British are especially vulnerable to IEDs because their troops are forced to move by foot and vehicle. The Brits are hoofing it because unlike the Americans, they don’t have a lot of helicopters to ferry them (only 25 for the 9,000 troops in Helmand province, while the U.S. has hundreds in-theater). The situation has blown into a scandal that makes the Pentagon and its $800 toilet seats look efficient. American-made Chinook helicopters are idle because of a software screw-up, there aren’t enough pilots to man the Apache attack helicopters they do have, and the latest is that Britain can’t deploy more helicopters to Afghanistan because the Americans have grabbed all the parking spaces!
As anyone who has read Kipling knows, Her Majesty’s government has always been stingy with money for the troops (so has the U.S. government, at least until the Cold War began). But taking on the burden of trying to fight a high-tech, American-style war without an American-style budget is a mistake, and the poor, bloody Tommies are paying the price of war on the cheap.
Which brings me to my real concern. The U.S. war machine has always been fueled by money, whether to buy expensive weapons, build lavish bases or bribe fickle warlords. Thanks to long-term recession, a financial meltdown and a swelling budget deficit, cash is bound to get tighter. Paul Kennedy, in his excellent “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers,” argues that strong nations have strong economies, and military overcommitment is a prelude to declining power.
I can’t imagine U.S. troops ever being killed by roadside IEDs because they lacked enough helicopters. But nor can I imagine a future where we have the money to send 200,000 men overseas to fight in two expensive regional wars simultaneously, while still maintaining our standard of living.