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Mountain warfare

Mountain warfare is that kind of war that takes place in a mountainous region or in what could be referred to as rough terrain. It is also referred to as Alpine Warfare a name borrowed from Alps Mountain. This kind of war is perhaps the most extreme kind of confrontation because the soldiers apart from fighting the enemy must also survive the harsh weather conditions and the unfamiliar dangers of the terrain such as steep valleys and wild animals that pose a great danger to both enemies and the soldiers.

In US there is a training center for mountain warfare that was formed in 1951 also known as the Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC). Initially, this school was known as the Cold War Battalion and was in response to the Korea War. In 1950s the training was focused on producing soldiers who would be deployed to the NATO but of late training is for the soldiers in Afghanistan as the war on terrorism heightens. The search paper is going to dig deeper into the issue of the mountain warfare considering the United States case in the Vietnam War operation and its involvement in the ToraBora battle.

The paper will discuss the experiences and effects of this mountain warfare on the United States’ forces. Initially, the MWTC or the Mountain Warfare Training Center was known as the cold weather battalion and its prime goal was to provide the US with replacement personnel for the Korean conflict during the cold war period. Due to the increase in the responsibilities for these soldiers plus the experiences of the mountain warfare on the United States soldiers, there arose a need for establishing a training school specifically for the mountain warfare.

The reason behind this was to keep the country in a state of readiness incase there emerges such a war. (Pike J. 2000) The idea was to establish this school and to be ready for an emergency of such a conflict proved to be hardly when in 1973 there broke a war between US soldiers and the Korean forces in war conflict that came to be known as the Vietnam War. The war was an attempt to slow down the rate at which communism was spreading in South East Asia. It was the first war to be fought by US and the loss and it is believed that lack of terrain knowledge contributed greatly to the loss.

It is said that the soldiers lured the US troops to move into the mountainous region where they were not familiar by using guerilla tactics of keeping to the ground. “The US forces, thrown unprepared into the beach, at first failed to appreciate the significance of the terrain; the moved in the valleys which invited ambush and defeat” (Margiotta, 442) The US soldiers due to lack of the knowledge of the Korean terrain suffered from the bitter cold for they had no proper clothing. Koreans taking advantage of their familiarness with the terrain fought at night when the weather was extremely bad.

Koreans guerrilla moved along the ridge ways and waited to attack the American troops while they were at the bottom of the valleys. The war was a total challenge to these soldiers and learning from their mistakes, with time they adapted to the situation. They never gave up the war but fighting desperately they with time got familiar with the terrain and the harsh weather conditions. “The early stages of the Korean war illustrate the consequences of lack of attention to military geography. Things that should have been known were not, and lives and battles were lost as a consequence” (Margiotta, 442).

Just like in the case of the Korean War, the same was the case on the Vietnam war, the unfamiliar terrain of South East Asia in combination with unfavorable weather conditions greatly influenced the war outcome. They heavily impacted on the US troops’ operations. The vastness of this region also affected the strategies for the war. US operations in the region were also hampered by the heavy rainfall and steep mountains in the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands respectively. Thick vegetation cover disguised the Vietnamese soldiers thus complicating bombs damage assessment.

It is for this reason that they decided to remove this vegetation cover that used to protect the North Vietnamese by using chemical defoliant, Agent Orange although this proved futile. (Margiotta 443) Though the U. S. and the South Vietnamese even cut the trees to uncover the ground, the northern Vietnamese would not be lured to fight in the open grounds. The US and the South Vietnamese responded to the challenge by using modern technology like aircrafts. Although defeated at first, the northern Vietnamese would not give up.

They kept utilizing and taking advantage of the terrain and eventually they made it. Despite the fact that U. S and South Vietnamese soldiers won many battles, they lost the war to the northern Vietnamese soldiers. In the initial stages of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, the United States soldiers met strong resistance from the Taliban who used the ToraBora Mountains and well concealed caves as their safe havens. US experiences on this war could not be compared with past experiences in other wars, though there was heavy resistance from Taliban soldiers, the US forces were able to break this resistance.

They had unmatched weapons that proved to be vital tools for fighting cave wars. As usual when the United States declared war on Afghanistan, the Taliban soldiers went to hide in the mountainous region of ToraBora and specifically in caves where they would attack the US and allied forces. The fight in the ToraBora Mountains was between the Taliban and the special Operations Forces (SOF). The Taliban were not able to resort to guerilla warfare because the attacks were swift and that the US used superior weapons against them.

In fact they went to the mountainous region and in caves for defensive reasons. (Norman Friedman. 2003) Although the September 11th attacks are what provoked a serious military action against the Taliban, this was not the first time that US had attacked Afghanistan. Just like in the past, the terrain was a bit challenge to the US army. It was very hard to send ground convectional troops to kill terrorists because of the harsh environmental conditions in the region such as hot weather, vastness of the desert, lack of proper communication lines not mentioning unfamiliarity of the region.

Again winter season was another stumbling block for the US soldiers. Roads at this period were virtually impassable and particularly in the mountainous regions. Even air operations were not possible as there were stormy winds plus heavy clouds that could not allow any aircraft to pass thus making the Operation Enduring Freedom a bit difficulty. “Afghanistan is the size of Texas and has hundreds of square miles of virtually impenetrable mountains and valleys connected by unmapped paths and trails” (Golden 2003; 29)

After the ToraBora operations, the US led forces begun looking for enemy concentration points under what was known as Operation Anaconda. Again the terrain was of prime concern while carrying out the operation. The era had sharp peaks, steep valley making the region formidable. The Al Qaeda network was well established in the region. They were well armed with rocket propelled grenades and attacked US and allied forces as they alighted from their aircrafts.

The Al Qaeda troops carried their operations on the mountainous caves and along the ridges. During the first four days of the operation, about 40 soldiers were wounded and eight were dead. One thing that made the war to be hard was the fact that the Al Qaeda could hear the aircrafts and hid in their caves. (Norman Friedman. 2003) When the history of mountain welfare is looked closely, for example that of the Vietnam War, Korean War and the Afghanistan war, there is something that is common in all those wars.

The US troops in these wars found themselves in an environment that was different from theirs. The unfamiliar terrain and harsh conditions were one of the greatest challenges that they had to face. For example in the Vietnam War the terrain favored the locals who used the thickly covered mountains as their hide outs. The new terrain also affected these soldiers in that the region was hilly and had steep valleys and for this reason, the war materials had to be transported on peoples’ backs for long distances in the forest.

References: Daalder, I. H. and Lindsay, 2003. James M. America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Brookings Institution Press. Margiotta. F. D. Brassey’s Encyclopedia of Land Forces and Warfare Brassey’s, 1996. Mark Moyar. Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965. Cambridge University Press, 2006 Norman Friedman. 2003. Terrorism, Afghanistan, and America’s New Way of War. Naval Institute Press. Pike J. 2000. Operation Anaconda. Retrieved from http://www. globalsecurity. org/military/ops/oef-anaconda. htm

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