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?