I’m acquainted with a number of military people serving in various branches, including several now serving in the Afghan combat zone. I received a letter from one of them worth sharing, but because this soldier is pursuing a military career, the lieutenant’s name will not be disclosed. The letter, which is paraphrased and quoted below, has no disclosures of confidential military information. This soldier, a veteran of Gulf War II, received a commendation for a series of reports containing suggestions on how to improve operations in Afghani villages were implemented and proven to work. His sobering words about the war belie those of the generals and the presidents who order soldiers into harm’s way.
“We’ve been playing the Great game in Afghanistan for nine years now. I’m certain we will be nowhere close to pulling out on July 2011. At best, we probably have another five years here. The main reason is … our military is a superior killing force, and that is not what is called for here.”
Negotiating with the Afghan government, tribal and village leaders “is necessary in my opinion, but far outside the purview of a military” soldier. Military commanders are asking soldiers “honed to close with and destroy the enemy … to do verbal judo with Afghani leaders.”
Looking at the Big Picture: $20 billion spent on “quick impact projects,” wells, schools, 2,000 kilometers of paved roads, etc. since 2001; In return, the deadliest two months of the nine-year war “more deaths, more IEDs, and more attacks than we’ve ever had in the war up to this point..”
Afghanistan is a country where “respect and honor are the primary currency” Afghani villagers are “interested in long-term survival,” but the million-dollar “American Giveaway” projects “make us appear shallow, materialistic” … “like we are trying to replace honor with money. Money can rent an Afghani all day long, but it can never buy one.”
Unfortunately those projects make for better reports sent up the ranks than the ones about regular sit downs with village elders and polite inquiries about how the grandchildren are doing in school. In reality the soldier writes, those meetings “get us more allies. It gets us more reporting, and reduces attacks.”
The lieutenant writes about the frustration of watching as some units learn this lesson while others never do. And every year the units change and troops “see this play itself out again and again … and the new guys start the dance all over again. We haven’t fought a nine-year war. We’ve fought nine one-year wars. If we could buy our way out of this conflict, it would have happened by now.”
Parts of this soldier’s letter could have been written 45 years ago during the Vietnam War when a demoralized military, lacking support from their own civilian commanders and the public back home, won nearly every battle despite perplexing rules of engagement, but ultimately lost the war.
“There’s a decent chance that we will lose here. It won’t be because the enemy was better than us. It will be because we failed to adapt, we over thought, and we remained a military where followers of poorly thought out orders will be promoted over those that attempted to creatively implement their own.”
Under the present Afghan war strategy, we are exporting a “welfare mentality,” one that fosters a segment of America’s growing nanny-state dependants and distrust of American government. It hasn’t worked here at home and it won’t work in Afghanistan.
With great consternation it is often asked, “Where will we find them when we need ‘The Greatest Generation’ again?” I submit that because we need them now, we have already found them. After months of dodging mortar and rocket attacks living in combat conditions in the midst of the most unconventional wars America has ever engaged in, a soldier yearns for the end of military service. The members of the next Greatest Generation accept a longer view of their duty instead of walking away. There is no quit in America’s finest warriors.
“Lately, I’ve had bass fishing, and women and wine on the brain. I need a rest, and there’s a good chance I’ll be back here in 18 months watching a rerun of everything.”
I highly recommend reading this two-part column by Jed Babbin titled The Bonfire of the Neocons, Part I and Part II on The American Spectator website. Jed is an Air Force veteran, a deputy undersecretary of defense under George Bush, attorney and editor/writer. I had the privilege of working for him in Washington, D.C. You may disagree with his political views, but not on the methods required for a victorious outcome from the war on terrorism.
The soldier’s letter from the Afghan battlefront echoes the sentiment that a failed strategy is, and has, prevented a clear victory after “nine one-year wars,” and little hope of achieving one unless the leaders change the way this war is run.
The enemy this country and the coalition forces face in the war on terrorism has been identified and war declared. A choice must now be made to either fight to win, or withdraw from the battle–and huddle at home awaiting the attack that will certainly come. Either alternative is horrible to contemplate, but the choice must be made.