Eleven Years in Afghanistan

The recent attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan is a striking illustration of the ineffectiveness of our efforts in that country. Two United States Marines were killed and eight aircraft were destroyed or severely damaged. Several refeuling stations and hangars were also destroyed. The monetary cost is estimated at $200 million.

Camp Bastion is one of the most heavily fortified NATO bases in Afghanistan. This attack and the prevalence of violence committed by our Afghan “allies” against NATO forces demonstrate a grave lack of success in our war in Afghanistan.

By way of contrast, I have two friends who served in Vietnam around 1970. One of them was an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army in the Mekong Delta. There were no large American units left in this region of Vietnam when he served there. My friend was able to drive around the province unarmed in perfect safety after five years of sustained American involvement. (America committed large units to ground combat roles in Vietnam beginning in 1965.) The area had been very dangerous in the recent past. David Hackworth’s Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts chronicles the dangers and the effective response he led in this region.

My other friend served with the 101st Airborne Division near the DMZ for part of his tour; the other part he spent as an awards clerk at MACV headquarters in Saigon. The North Vietnamese Army made one fairly large attack on his base in the north. It was smashed to pieces before getting close. In Saigon he was absolutely safe from NVA or VC attack. (Only two years before he was there, Saigon came under massive attack in the Tet Offensive.) His main challenge in Saigon was with weight–the food was so splendid he put on 80 pounds in a few months.

By way of contrast, after eleven years in Afghanistan we are unable to secure our major bases effectively. It goes without saying that we have not pacified the regions outside these heavily fortified zones.

A student of mine who has returned from a recent tour of duty in Afghanistan told me officers  were sent on patrol with bags of money. They were to distribute the money before they returned to base. The idea was to gain the affection or at least diminish the anger of the local population.

Strategists such as General Allen advise  our men and women serving in that country to be aware that Afghans become especially irritable when they are fasting or the weather is hot. The good general also makes sure to apologize to the Afghans for perceived slights. Sensitivity training for our troops is another brilliant tactic employed by our hard-headed strategic geniuses.

I know of no historical experience that would vindicate the idea that handing out money, apologizing, sensitivity training, or trying to be sympathetic to the views of insurgents is a way to win a war. Perhaps General Allen should read Machiavelli’s Prince, especially chapters 3, 18, and 19. We are basically ignoring all of the eminently sensible advice offered by the great Florentine–with ruinous results.

“COIN,” at least as it is understood by our current leadership, is not working.

Where do we go from here? Shall we try another “surge?” It seems to me that would merely reinforce failure.

Does anybody have any ideas that do not involve apologizing profusely or advising Afghans to read early Enlightenment classics as a means of winning the war in Afghanistan? What is the meaning of victory in this situation, and how do we obtain it?

  1. Fred Cole
    John Grant: 

     What is the meaning of victory in this situation, and how do we obtain it? · · 9 minutes ago

    And an addendum to that question:

    Are we, as a nation, willing to expend the blood and treasure to obtain victory?  And is it worth it?

  2. Nick Stuart

    We should have gone in and out as a punitive expedition, leaving the message to any tribal leaders still above ground that the next time we come back it will be with B1s & B52s, and screw the civilian casualties.

    Having not done that, we’ve stepped into a steaming mess of our own making that for the life of me I can’t figure out how we can get out other than as quickly and in as good order as possible, with minimizing any additional casualties being the principal objective.

    I have two children who are active duty Army, and deployable. Anybody who thinks we can accomplish anything worthwhile in Afghanistan should send their children to do it, not mine.

  3. Caute

    I happen to know a marine who is now in Afghanistan and who brought a copy of The Prince with him. We’ll see if that can turn things around.

  4. jetstream

    Go Roman or Go Home!

  5. JoePrunior

    Michael Yon posted on this attack  today. His summary argument is that, even on a moonless night, “The enemy fooled all of our high-tech gadgetry with training, observation, intelligence, terrain, planning, rehearsal, and audacity, using basic military tactics that were perfected long before anyone reading this was born.”

    Article here: <http://www.michaelyon-online.com/afghanistan-when-the-moon-sets-watch-out.htm&gt;

  6. liberal jim

    History’s one lesson about wars in Afghanistan is that only Afghans win them.  It is costly when two Presidents ignore it.  I believe OBL stated that one of the hope for results of 9/11 was to get the US to send troops.  Looks like he new more about Afghan wars than our generals.   

  7. ctlaw

    Senator McCain asserted this to be the largest one-day loss of aircraft to combat since Viet Nam.

    Imagine if it had occurred on Bush’s watch!

  8. Aaron Miller

    Our original goals were to kill Bin Laden and to hurt Al Qaeda. Mission accomplished. Our soldiers should have come home a long time ago.

  9. Umbra Fractus

    After all this time, I’m convinced that there is no such nation as Afghanistan; there is a region somewhere between Pakistan and Iran filled with dysfunctional basket cases who are incapable of being controlled, even by their own people. I remain an unapologetic neo-con, but even I’ve come to the conclusion that those people are just plain nuts. We need to destroy the Taliban beyond hope of recovery, and then say, “To hell with you people.”

  10. jetstream

    John, without listing all of the defects of strategy and tactics in how the Vietnam War was prosecuted, at the point of contact between the U.S. military and the NVA, the combat was unrestrained and was probably not much different from combat in the Pacific during WW II.  I think this was true for both air and ground operations.

    A strike force headed to North Vietnam could have 24 F-105′s each armed with 8 x 75o pound bombs … almost 200  x 750lb bombs and no concern about collateral damage.

    If the U.S. military fought the Vietnam War with our best hand tied behind our back, then it looks like our Military, in Afghanistan, has more restraints than Houdini – a straight jacket with handcuffs, leg shackles and hung inverted in a vat of water.

    The war against Islamo-fascism is mostly in stasis because the MSM-DNC-Media-Leftist-Complex has been successful in forcing the U.S. to unilaterally stand down.  It will probably take the death of thousands or even tens of thousands more Americans before this war is fought with no restraints and absolute prejudice.  A war we have to win.

  11. WI Con

    Though it was never discussed as policy by the Bush Admin., I wonder if they came to that conclusion in Afganistan while the Iraq surge was going on, winding things down slowly – not announcing a whithdrawal date but not getting in any deeper.

    This current mess is Obama’s. He was gonnna copy the Irag surge, decrease ocean levels and get out out. I think Obama always recognized that Iraq & Afganistan would recede back into barbarism but he’s shocked that they didn’t wait until after the withdrawals – they weren’t supposed to make him look bad.

  12. Giantkiller

    The surge concept only works when the increased troop levels are used to apply extreme violence, ruthlessly.  COIN is and always has been a losing strategy.  Given the political context of the current “war” in Afghanistan, the only reasonable thing to do is withdraw our troops as quickly as can be managed; further American and NATO (mostly British) deaths cannot be justified.  The goal of denying the country to the terrorists (remember that one?) cannot be met by democratizing a tribal wasteland.  It can be met in the future through global strike assets.  We should not try to “own” Afghanistan, but be ready to remind, in a very rapid and unmistakeable manner, those who do what we are unwilling to tolerate.

  13. Free Radical

    If the goal was to prevent Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a training & operation base, then mission accomplished.  Now Al Qaeda derived groups are in North Africa, Horn of Africa, Pakistan, and Yemen.  Perhaps it is time to remove the big military from Afghanistan and continue the AFPAK drone strikes to decapitate leaders when their heads pop up above ground.

  14. Cal Lawton

    Surge isn’t the solution — Rummey said just that on the radio with Brian Kilmeade this morning.

  15. John Grant
    C

    In response to the comments–I wish our foreign policy was being managed by those commenting. You all manifest a lot more sense than those who are and have been managing our foreign policy!

  16. CoolHand

    Nuke ‘em from orbit.

    It’s the only way to be sure.

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