Rick Reyes is a former marine corporal who served in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan, 2001) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003). Since coming home in 2004, he has become increasingly disenchanted with our foreign policy. He contacted filmmaker Robert Greenwald through Facebook to thank him for his Rethink Afghanistan documentary campaign. Now, Greenwald and Reyes have joined forces.
Welcome to OpEdNews, Rick. You’ve been pretty busy on Capitol Hill lately. Tell us about it.
A few weeks ago, I testified before Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I sat where a young Kerry was once seated as he woke the country up to the grim realities of the war in Vietnam. I explained to the Committee that I always desired to serve my country, fight for justice and the American way. This had been my dream since childhood, a way to honor my Mexican immigrant parents, who worked tirelessly to give my family a better life, a way out of an East Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by gang violence. But what I witnessed in Afghanistan and Iraq has forever shattered this once noble ambition.
Last week, as Congress moved to pass nearly $100 billion in war funding through a supplemental bill, ten other veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq joined me in Washington to visit members of Congress and staff, to encourage them to vote against the funding. I do not know which was harder, seeing the impossibility of success in Afghanistan or seeing Congress’s inability to voice dissent [about this policy]. As a corporal in the US Marines – who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and who remains willing to give my life for this country – let me say from experience that our current strategy will not bring security to Afghanistan or to America.
What pained me in Afghanistan was witnessing too many civilian casualties, too many children without food and women without husbands, too many innocent Afghans who became anti-American because of our actions. But what pains me now is witnessing too many members of Congress, too many Administration officials, and too many think-tank experts who support this military approach. I heard numerous reasons why Congress needed to support the President’s agenda, and not one was convincing. The one I was most appalled by, as thousands of lives remain in question, is “we don’t want to oppose the administration during its honeymoon stage.”
I asked one question that no one in Congress was able to answer: "How do you measure success?" After running military operations for the last eight years, you would think someone could answer that question. Truth is, they can't, because we haven’t had any success.
What in your experience demonstrated that our military strategy in Afghanistan is not working?
As an infantry rifleman in the Marines Corps, I saw so much of these wars through nightly patrols. We worked with translators whose sole interest in supplying us intelligence was to earn money and other forms of aid. We gathered information that often proved faulty. During a raid, we would ransack homes, breaking windows, doors, families, lives, chairs and tables, detaining and arresting anyone who seemed suspicious. In one case, we detained, beat, and nearly killed a man, only to realize he was merely trying to deliver milk to his children.
These patrols were all the same, whether I was in the desolate desert terrain near Camp Rhino, the US-led coalition's first strategic foothold in Afghanistan, or stationed outside Basra in Iraq. The terrain was different, but what remained the same was the manner in which we carried out missions, the unconscionable acts of violence and collateral damage that followed, and the ever-present paranoia that every Muslim could be a terrorist.
All of these raids even ended the same way. We would compensate the family whose home we had just invaded, offering to fix or pay for broken furniture before moving onto the next village where kids threw rocks at us and gave us the finger. To my knowledge, I never detained or arrested anyone guilty of a crime.
The lesson I learned [over there] was that the U.S. flexed way too much muscle. We have ships, planes, helicopters, tanks, hovercrafts, trucks, humvees—everything imaginable. But how effective is this military might against extremists who blend in with innocent civilians and fight guerilla warfare?
I witnessed firsthand the ineffectiveness of U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are actually fueling the motive for these "terrorist" groups to obtain successful recruitment. We are alienating these innocent people in their own country. We need to do less military and more diplomacy.
At what point did you come to this conclusion?
I didn’t fully grasp the extent of these failed foreign policies and our government’s deception until I returned home from war. Realizing there never were weapons of mass destruction, and that we would have difficulty tracking terrorists with very little accurate intelligence, I felt as though my patriotism had been exploited for political gain. A select few were profiting from this war, while the majority of Americans would shoulder the enormous tax burden.
How do you turn our foreign policy around?
Members in congress only have data and statistics to justify their actions. We bring the reality of their failed policies. We know, from on-the-ground experience as infantry marines, that it doesn't work and the mission isn't accomplished. The policies that we enforce are seriously flawed and counterproductive to the mission objective of securing Afghanistan.
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