The Algerians Prove that Less is More in the Desert

I return again to Robert D. Kaplan’s superb book that I’ve almost finished reading. As discussed previously, his aim here is to shed light on the lives and thoughts of the grunts, the men and women who are the heart of America’s military. He goes to Algeria with the Green Berets and he sets the stage with some of the history of this rarely-seen North African country. Rarely because most Americans can’t get a visa to travel there, because the army runs the country and there have been serious battles between Islamists and authorities.

But the US military goes to Algeria, training forces made up of Green Berets and other specialists help teach the Algerians how to wage war against Al-Quaeda. At one point he relates a story of being inside a tent and the Americans spread out their weapons and equipment to compare them with those of the Algerians.

The arsenal and packs of each Green Beret include M-4 assault rifles with hologram sites that can call in air support, ballistic eyewear for night vision, Kevlar body armor, pistols, Camelbak water systems, fancy radios, shotguns, a vast array of medical equipment…in all it was fifty pounds of weapons and a pack that might weigh 90 pounds.

The Americans were struck by how little their Algerian counterparts needed, and how much more nimble they were in this 110 degree desert. They managed by with an AK-47, some water, and a sack of dates. Without cumbersome body armor, 120 pound Algerians ‘could run up and down hills in the middle of the day, turn somersaults with their guns in the sand, jump through burning tires, throw knives expertly, and most importantly, didn’t need to drink nearly as much water in the desert as the Americans.’

Kaplan explains that when the Americans took a break to play beach volleyball with their Algerian friends, they deliberately mixed everyone up so that it didn’t end up us against them. Likewise, being invited to train here by the North Africans ‘represented the ultimate triumph of America’s liberal vision over the totalitarianism of the former Soviet Union and its allies in the developing world.”