The latest incident in Afghanistan has broken the
back of American strategy in this forlorn nation, while leading American
politicians, including President Obama, lamely assert nothing has changed. They
stubbornly continue to adhere to their ludicrous goals for this country,
assuming that if they say it often enough the foolish American people will start to
Unfortunately for our politicians, the "foolish" American people are not exactly fools, and they are not buying it. They have heard this spurious litany for years while following events on the ground that says something entirely different. The American people are now asking our leaders to lead instead of issuing a cacophony of empty phrases that stretch credulity to the breaking point.
Our soldiers in Afghanistan are asking, "Do we get to win this time?" Only there is no winning in this mountainous region dominated by the Taliban who know the terrain well and approach, strike, and disappear like ghosts. Soldiers are tasked with eliminating the enemy. Who is the enemy in Afghanistan? The Taliban or the entire Afghan civilization? It hardly matters. Our soldiers are not tasked with defeating an enemy. They are tasked with winning the hearts and minds of Afghanis and train Afghan security forces to kill and imprison Afghanis who misbehave.
Put a different way our troops have been given an impossible mission. It can be argued there isn't even a military mission or objective. All they have are vague statements by politicians as to what the hell they are supposed to accomplish.
Against this backdrop a married 38-year old American soldier with two children committed an atrocity. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bates lost his mind, or what was left of it after multiple tours in Iraq, solemnly walked off his base in Kandahar and entered a village, attacked three homes, and killed 16 civilians, most of them women and children. He then set some of the bodies on fire. Bates returned to his base and gave himself up to military authorities. The army has acknowledged that he suffered a "traumatic brain injury" in a vehicle accident in Iraq. He also lost part of his foot in Iraq. According to his lawyer, Sergeant Bates was not enthralled with being redeployed to Afghanistan. The Pentagon is saying he may get the death penalty.
Soon after the Sunday massacre the Taliban broke off talks with Americans, talks that were crucial to a U.S. strategy of a gradual withdrawal, which would be completed by the end of 2014. The Taliban are not stupid. They can see the handwriting on the wall as well as Americans who ignore all the meaningless rhetoric. So, why should the Taliban talk to Americans?
At the beginning of this article it was suggested that this was "the last straw," that this incident broke the back of American foreign policy in Afghanistan. I am the last person on this planet who would suggest American foreign be altered by the actions of one man. That said, serious questions must be asked concerning what we are asking of our soldiers in Afghanistan. Are they being asked to defeat the enemy, a mission they are given from the very first days of boot camp? No, they are being asked to become diplomats and train Afghanis to do what they clearly do not want to do. Are they asked to win a war, end it, and come home? No, they are asked to perform some ethereal objectives by civilian leaders who never spent a day in the military. In addition they are abandoned by their generals, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who buy into the poor civilian leadership for fear of losing their jobs. I strongly endorse civilian leadership of our military, but that puts the onus on our Commander-in-Chief to lead, not give our troops political epitaphs and muddy, meaningless missions.
The tragedy on that Sunday was preceded by other odious events. On the Friday before the sergeant's rampage four Afghans were killed and three wounded when NATO helicopters hunting Taliban insurgents fired instead on villagers in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan. Last month the burning of Korans in a garbage pit near an American base touched off nationwide rioting that killed over 30, including six Americans. That includes an incident in which an assassin calmly walked into the nation's Interior Ministry headquarters and killed two high-ranking American military officers. The assassin got away, no shock there.
In January American officials had to contend with a video that went viral showing four Marines urinating on the corpses of three Taliban members. In 2010 a rogue group of American soldiers entered a village and killed three Afghan civilians for sport. The ringleader was convicted of three counts of murder in November. This is in addition to the numerous nighttime raids and drone attacks that infuriate the Afghan populace as well as the Afghan government.
In the meantime Afghan security forces continue to kill their NATO trainers. It is no secret except to our civilian leaders and generals that these forces have been heavily infiltrated by the Taliban and Afghanis sympathetic to the Taliban. What is the reaction of our civilian leadership to this? The target size of Afghan security forces upon our withdrawal is 350,000. That is more than surreal under the circumstances, which includes Afghanistan's pathetic GDP of $17.24B. It is an Alice in Wonderland approach to foreign policy.
In other words the tragedy of this American sergeant's actions does not stand alone and must be viewed in the context of events that preceded it and the shaping of American foreign policy as it relates to Afghanistan.
So what has been the reaction of our civilian and military leaders to the Sunday massacre? Well, Obama has this to say. "It's important for us to make sure that we get out in a responsible way, so that we don't end up having to go back in." What a dreadful thought, and one meant to inspire fear rather than inspiration.
Perhaps, Gen. John R. Allen can do better. After all he is the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan. Well, he states, "The campaign is sound. It is solid. It does not contemplate, at this time, any form of an accelerated drawdown." A pep talk, that is what our troops need, a pep talk in lieu of realistic objectives. They are being told to persevere although no reasons are given for perseverance " to them or the American public that is paying for this fiasco.
Our political leaders, including Obama, are also saying that a precipitate withdrawal would endanger what we have accomplished in Afghanistan. You know, they keep saying that over and over again, but they don't bother telling us exactly what we have accomplished in Afghanistan. Americans are dying to know (pardon the pun).
We now come to the crux of the matter and this writer is somewhat confused. It seems that everything I have ever known about war and military strategy has gone out the window when it comes to Afghanistan " Iraq, too, but that is another story. From a strategic point of view nothing seems to make much sense any more as I listen to our political and military leaders.
Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt reported in the N.Y. Times, "The Obama administration is discussing whether to reduce American forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns." Additionally, they reported that the U.S. currently has 90,000 troops in Afghanistan and that 22,000 of them are slated to come home in September. That is 42,000 troops.
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