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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/28/08

Can We Surge in Afghanistan?

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The dialog between McCain and Obama in the presidential debate was mind blowing. Both are in full agreement on the need to increase our troop presence in Afghanistan. However, neither of them offer any firm plan to cut troop levels in Iraq -- something necessary to surge in Afghanistan. Regardless of policy positions being crafted by their staff and advisers, this issue is defining itself with the increasing strain on our military that continues to suffer the pain of continued deployments. McCain and Obama must understand that if they want a military escalation in Afghanistan it is absolutely necessary that we dramatically increase the size of our military, and decrease our world wide operational commitments before our military is forced into years of regeneration. This isn't post-Vietnam when we had the luxury of the Army and Marines out of action. Our adversaries in the world won't wait a couple years for our military to regroup and go on offense again. Obama's performance in the debate was good. He definitely could have been more informatively stern when going after McCain. The "maverick" can tout his "surge" in Iraq all he wants, but at the end of the day it's nothing short of a temporary derailment of an inevitable train wreck. The end result will be the same unless we make an eternal commitment for boots on the ground in Iraq, but it's just not reality -- financially or militarily. On that point alone, Obama had a strong advantage over McCain that he didn't adequately utilize. Obama has my vote but I get perturbed when he joins McCain in talking about our troops as if they are superhuman, as if they can do anything. Here is a news flash gentleman: they're human beings who have physical and psychological limitations -- not robots. Take a look at the current retention and recruitment rates. There are many NCOs with 15 or more years of military service that are not waiting to hit their 20 year mark for retirement. These are troops who decided a long time ago that a military career was their destiny. Now, they're moving into the civilian world as quickly as possible where employment opportunities are very meager. Due to the severe shortage of Captains in the Army, there are actual cases where Lieutenants have assumed company commands. Captains who do stay in are taking on the responsibilities of battalion operations officers -- a Major's billet. Colonels are turning down battalion and brigade commands leaving them to be filled by third stringers. Are we going to go back to Audie Murphy and the days of battlefield commissions? Seven out of ten people who show up at recruiting stations to enlist are unfit for military service -- mentally or physically. This leaves us with three out of ten being able to enlist. When it is all said and done the military gets one out of ten successfully with relaxed standards. We're just running them through basic training cycles for cannon fodder purposes. We've activated over a 1/3 of our IRR component as if it is a full operational active duty force. They're not stateside, they're overseas. How much of the backdoor draft is contributing to the war effort? Just some FYI stuff if you're thinking about enlisting. Because nowadays if you sign that dotted line it could mean a lifelong commitment. The people who send you off to die look at it one way -- Volenti non fit injuria. Alcohol abuse, and domestic violence are prevalent in military households due to PTSD and psychological trauma from repeated deployments. Thousands of troops are diagnosed with this mental epidemic and still retained because of troop shortages. They are heavily medicated with anti-depressant/anxiety pills then shipped back to the war zone. If and when they come home, will they ever mentally recover? Not likely. This is going flood VA hospitals with veterans in desperate need of mental and physical care for decades. Surging in Afghanistan sounds great in theory, but I wonder if it ever occurred to the presidential candidates that we missed our opportunity 7 years ago? Let's face it; George W. Bush completely blew it. His military strategy in Afghanistan (or lack there of) gave Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda ample time to relocate their operations in a place where our allies, the Pakistanis, shoot at our helicopters flying reconnaissance missions looking for those who attacked us on 9/11. In addition, the population center is not aggregated in Afghanistan as it is in Iraq and the terrain is completely different. The surge strategy implemented clear and hold tactics to pacify large urban areas such as neighborhoods in Baghdad. Are we now going to clear and hold caves? Most of our military divisions are mechanized. How are tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles going to move up mountains in the remote areas of Afghanistan? Do we leave our armor at home and move out on foot? If all your military training was conducted in armored mechanized vehicles how do you make an instant adjustment to mountain warfare? Or do we rely solely on light infantry units? Most alarming is that Democrats and Republicans seem to be headed in the exact same direction when it comes to upping the ante in Afghanistan. However, they're ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room -- the lack of manpower. I don't have the answers either. What I'm sure of is the current strategy (that McCain will surely continue) guarantees failure on both fronts. For years now many have predicted the Iraq conflict would break the military. We're past that point and the majority Americans turned against the war. And the minority of Americans left who advocate for war and a so-called victory are usually not those doing the fighting. So the next time you hear a politician say "never underestimate the will of the American people," just remember that will is very easy to have when you're not mandated to put any action behind it. So for the time being, lets simmer down the heated chants for another military escalation.


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John Bruhns is an Iraq war veteran. He writes on politics and Mideast conflict.
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