Passing It On: Fighting the Pushtun on Afghanistan's Frontier




Today, United States and NATO Coalition forces are engaged in a conflict in Afghanistan and along the border of the Pakistan tribal area that poses the same challenges encountered by the British in the 19th and first three decades of the 20th century, and again by the Soviet Union during its nearly decade-long conflict in Afghanistan (1979-1989). As in previous conflicts, modern weapons provide a tactical edge, but it is still the individual soldier engaging in combat on the ground that wins battles and consolidates victory. Afghanistan and the tribal area of Pakistan pose unique problems for the United States and their NATO allies. While modern forces prevail in flat open planes or desert terrain, in the hills and mountains of Afghanistan, and the frontier territory of Pakistan the guerrilla tactics utilized by Pathan (Pushtun) tribesman against the British Indian Army, the Soviets, and now the NATO coalition forces have changed little. In 1932, General Sir Andrew Skeen, who first served on the North-West Frontier of India in 1897 and 1898, in the Third Afghan War of 1919, and the subsequent Waziristan Campaign, published a handbook for young officers titled, 'Passing It On: Short Talks on Tribal Fighting on the North-West Frontier of India.' Skeen's book was first published in Britain in 1932, and went through several editions. The Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has republished 'Passing It On,' believing that Skeen still offers valuable insight into unconventional war fought on mountainous terrain. This republication has three sections: a short biography of General Sir Andrew Skeen and a brief description of the conflicts that pitted the British Indian Army against the Pathan tribesmen of Afghanistan in the frontier region of India; Skeen's book 'Passing It On'; and 'lessons learned' that offer tactical tips extracted from Skeen's book that remain applicable to fighting in Afghanistan and the tribal area of Pakistan.



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