This letter from Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton illustrates the lack of thought about the purpose of the war in Afghanistan and the connection between that purpose and the actual prosecution of the war on the part of our politicians and senior military leadership. The situation described by Sergeant Sitton is one in which soldiers are told to carry out missions with no connection to any meaningful understanding of victory.
A major part of the problem is that victory has not been defined with any kind of clarity by either President Bush or President Obama. At best, we have been told that the sacrifices of blood and treasure in the last eleven years have been aimed at preventing terrorists from using Afghanistan as a sanctuary. At worst, we are told that we are trying to build democracy in Afghanistan.
I say that the best case argument is keeping Afghanistan free of terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda because that objective has some tie to the security of American rights. Unfortunately, our leadership has never been clear on what a terrorist is. It is not possible to defeat common nouns with military force. The Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, has been magically transformed from a terrorist organization to a moderate democratic group through the power of wishful thinking alone.
The distinction between the Taliban and non-Taliban elements in Afghanistan has also not been drawn with any clarity. I have yet to see an explanation of how the Taliban may be distinguished from ordinary Pashtun tribal groupings.
I say that the worst case scenario is nation-building because experience has demonstrated that there is nothing we can do to transform Afghanistan into a modern liberal democracy where equality and human rights are respected. We have, after all, been trying since 1946 with no visible signs of success.
We don't have a clear definition of the end or victory; it is no surprise that we also lack a clear conception of the proper means. Lacking a clear plan, our leadership instead employs tactics with no rational purpose. Sergeant Sitton and his fellow soldiers were told to go on two patrols a day. No one in his chain of command could tell him how walking through the same minefields again and again brought victory closer. It was simply what the brigade commander decreed.
When a flood soaked the forward operating base of Sergeant Sitton's platoon, including the latrine, he and his comrades were left to soak in their own waste. No matter--two patrols a day, bathed in your own filth, for no apparent reason, was still the order of the day.
Sergeant Sitton will no longer be conducting meaningless walks through fields full of explosives. He was killed on August 2nd, 2012, in a walk through a minefield that was mandated by someone issuing edicts from echelons above reality. He was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.
I can't see that either presidential candidate has given any serious thought about what is to be done in Afghanistan. Our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen deserve better; they deserve a political leadership that will not send them into harm's way without making a rational connection between ends and means. They also deserve a senior military leadership that does not agonize about how to best conduct sensitivity training while allowing our soldiers to soak in their own waste in between dangerous and purposeless walks through fields filled with explosives.