Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Defeating Ourselves in Afghanistan

By Alan Caruba

It is a familiar question; why eight years after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, haven’t we found Osama bin Laden? And now the greater question before the President and the nation is why are we still in Afghanistan?

You are not likely to hear an answer from either the White House or the Pentagon. You can, however, find part of the answer in a recently published book, Hunting al Qaeda, whose author chose to remain anonymous. ($17.95, Zenith Press, softcover) Bob Mayer, a West Point graduate and Special Forces veteran, the author of more than seventeen books, participated in the writing of the book, based on the experiences of a Special Forces unit.

It is the story of Beast 85, Green Berets drawn from the National Guard special services that, following 9/11, were sent to Afghanistan to find, capture or kill al Qaeda and the Taliban. It is a story of disillusionment.

The foreword by Col. Gerald Schumacher, U.S. Army Special Forces (ret) says much about why the U.S. has not experienced anything resembling “victory” and is not likely to do so in any military engagement we undertake.

This is the real story of war as fought by men who can only be called patriots. They left families, jobs and a comfortable civilian life to go to the hell hole that is Afghanistan, a nation that has been defeating occupying armies since the days of Alexander the Great.

Calling “Hunting al Qaeda” a disturbing book, Col. Schumacher says “it blows apart the myth that everything that can be done to find terrorists is being done. It illuminates the fact that even Special Forces are infected with micromanagement diseases, petty infighting, and the fear of making mistakes.”

The biggest challenge facing Beast 85, a tight-knit unit of ten highly trained men, was not finding al Qaeda. It is a military mentality that defines victory “as not having any accidents, incidents, or injuries. This culture of ‘playing it safe’ permeates much of the military, and it begins with many politicians,” says Col. Schumacher.

Whether you agree with him or not, he states that “Since the end of World War II, the political commitment to fight and win wars has evaporated.”
To whatever extent, this may explain why the conflict in Iraq lasted so long after the initial lightning invasion that put troops in Baghdad and then found itself without sufficient manpower to exert any control over the chaos that followed. Only the “surge” involving a large influx of troops saved the Iraq war from defeat.

Afghanistan is not, however, Iraq. The terrain, the people, its so-called government, and its seventh century mentality all militate against victory.

In Afghanistan, the slow and ineffectual war waged there has resulted in the return of the Taliban, when “the Taliban became wise to the debilitating elephantitis of U.S. military operations.”

The anonymous author of the book notes in its preface that “Afghanistan has been a special forces conflict more than any other conflict in U.S. military history.” Then, from his perspective, he reports that “during their time in Afghanistan they encountered commanders who were less interested in taking the war to the enemy than they were with keeping up appearances.”

At one point, Beast 85 captured Mullah Akhtar Osmani, the Taliban’s military commander, only to have “higher authorities” order his release!

The events related occurred in 2001-2002, but the lessons learned include the harsh fact that “The army has created a huge command structure that destroys any ability to act quickly or decisively.”

Many recall Special Forces troops on horses from that period, abandoning the armored vehicles we have come to associate with modern warfare. Despite having “conquered the entire country back in late 2001” the war slipped into a status that actually saw a three-star general directing forces as small as two battalions as command overhead “became so huge that it diminished our ability to accomplish our mission.”

The mission, to drive out the Taliban, locate and destroy al Qaeda, has ground to a point where the Taliban recently boldly attacked an isolated unit, inflicting death and injury at the precise time the general in charge was calling for more troops. The propaganda value, knowing that Americans have grown weary of the war, is incalculable.

President Obama now faces the question of how many troops, if any, to send to Afghanistan. It does not help that he the first president in a very long time to have never worn the uniform of his nation. He is caught between his own campaign rhetoric that called Afghanistan the new front line of the war on terrorism, a war "of necessity, not choice", and the growing belief among Americans that it is the wrong war in the wrong place.

His generals are telling him more troops are needed. This was Lyndon Johnson’s dilemma and the cost was more than 50,000 casualties during the long Vietnam conflict that lasted into the two terms of Richard Nixon.

Afghanistan is Vietnam Redux. It is a replay of the same factors in which America begins as a liberator and ends as an unwanted and/or distrusted occupier.

At issue is to what extent our national security and the security of the Middle East are at risk from al Qaeda if we continue to fight an increasingly unpopular and indecisive war.

The issue is whether continuing to fight the war there, given a bloated command hierarchy in which decisions are often made far from the battlefield, offers any hope of victory.

The issue is whether putting brave men and women in harm’s way and then encumbering them with rules of engagement that forbid active and effective combat is justifiable. The men of Special Forces Beast 85 wanted to win. They were not permitted to. That is our current “strategy” in Afghanistan. It is a bad one.

The issue, in part, is whether America will lose credibility among its allies and throughout the Middle East if it elects to withdraw.

Lacking any military insight, I fail to see any “strategic” reason for being in Afghanistan when the greater cause for concern is Pakistan, a place where bin Laden began his career as al Qaeda’s founder and where, presumably, he remains safe from attack to this day.

The ultimate and immediate cause for concern is Iran, rapidly making its way toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them via missiles.

Finally, what should we expect of President Obama who, in his book The Audacity of Hope, wrote “I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction”?


Necromancer said...

Winning is not everything. It's the "ONLY" thing. All else is bullshit.Our politicians and I mean all are absolutely worthless.Our founding fathers must be turning over in their graves. What a disgrace.
"Semper Fi"

This BS was pulled in Nam and Alan I know you remember.

Eddy said...

The situation in the US is reminding me more and more of the situation described in Starship Troopers by Heinlein...

Carolyn said...

Hi Mr. Caruba. This made me incredibly sad. It is more than I know about. I want so desperately to see our guys have a chance to win this fight- but not at the expense of themselves. I can't stand the bureaucratic crap that always has to get in the way of everything. If the man who is in the White House and all those other elected people don't want to listen to the people who are actually there, why bother? If there are more chiefs than indians who are impeding our brave troops' efforts to actually do their job- why bother?
I hate war- and I hate that they brought America and the rest of the world into it because they hate infedels. I hate that they are stuck in a century they prefer the rest of the world to be brought back to, and I hate that our good men and women are fighting and dying because of the cowards who hide behind women and children,and I hate that our government has lost their cajones! I hate war, but I hate the alternative scenario more. God Bless you and God Bless our troops.