Last night President Obama committed 30,000 more troops to the war in Afghanistan, with the plan to bolster and accelerate the training of Afghan National Army soldiers and police forces. His intent is to hand over security to Afghan troops. The “exit-strategy” for July 2011 is an incentive to train the troops in time for the effective pull out date.
Let’s talk the war in Afghanistan. I deployed there in 2005 with 2nd Bn 3rd Marines. We deployed to Kunar province, on the border with Pakistan. Asadabad, to be exact. While there, we took part in Operation Red Wings, to find a local insurgent leader Ahmad Shah. A Navy SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team consisting of four men were inserted to track Shah. They were ambushed, and the militants shot down an MH47 Chinook that came in for support, killing all 16 on board. It was the greatest loss of life in one incident in special forces history.
My battalion struck back, with Fox Company, and my platoon, at the tip of the spear. We battled hundreds of militants for six days, resulting in an amazing victory that cleared the way for the first Afghan parliamentary elections since 1966. This battle is recounted in the book Victory Point by Ed Darack. It also gives a great history of the land of Afghanistan, the Pashtun people, and the command and control situation on the ground.
Let’s fast forward to 2009. On the Boston.com website, there is a photo blog. On it, just recently, there are pictures of soldiers in battle in Afghanistan. Specifically, the very first photo, is in the Pech River valley of Kunar province. This is a mere 7 miles from where the Navy SEALs were shot down, and perhaps a mere 10 miles form where we routed Ahmad Shah’s force of nearly 300 men. I’ve been to this very same valley. In fact, I’ve taken cover behind some of the same berms seen in this very photograph, in a Taliban ambush four years ago. December, 2005, actually. Almost exactly four years ago. Pictures 21 and 22 are also of the same area. I’d recognize it in any picture. It is the area right before the mouth of the Korengal valley.
A few miles into the valley are distant villages, terraced farming, and Taliban. Lots and lots of Taliban. We fought up there four years ago, and here are some more pictures. All were taken recently.
My intent here is not to present war porn. It’s to make a point. We haven’t gained any ground in Afghanistan. We’re fighting on the same land that we’ve been on for years. The war had already started when I joined the Marine Corps. I took my bite of history, maybe a little more than I could chew, and the war is still going on almost two years after I got out. My unit has lost 45 men over the course of its deployments. Best friends, husbands, sons, leaders, mentors. A battalion commander with four children. A company commander. Lieutenants, sergeants, privates.
I have no problem with waging war. In fact, we were really good at it. But I feel that it is now at a standstill. How long will we fight insurgent forces on the same ground? Osama bin Laden isn’t in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders aren’t in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda leaders aren’t in Afghanistan. They’ll fight us there however long we stay in Afghanistan. This much I know.
Now let’s talk the physical toll of waging war in the Hindu Kush. American forces must carry their own water, food, body armor, ammunition, and supplies everwhere they go. In many cases, our packs weighed close to 120-140 pounds. Each. Personally, I carried 20 bottles of water, 14 M16 magazines, a 200-round can of 7.62mm machine gun ammo, a PRC-119 radio with 4 extra batteries, a PAS-13 medium thermal weapons sight, night vision goggles, extra batteries, and five MREs. Body armor weighs about 35 pounds on average. That’s a lot of weight.
Let’s examine what the Taliban carry. Not a lot. Weapons and some canteens. They can drink the river water. We can’t. They can eat the local food. We can, but a lot of times we get dysentery. Dysentery is not nice. You vomit and diarrhea profusely, have hot sweats and cold chills. On top of that, you can even hallucinate you get so sick. Believe me. I’ve had it. Drinking the local water makes you combat ineffective, unless you take it with lots of iodine. Iodine takes about 30 minutes to sterilize water, so if you’re overheating, that’s too long.
The Taliban outmaneuver us. They can move a lot faster, pick the time and place of battle, and generally keep the upper hand until air support arrives. Then we waste them. hundreds of them. Yet the next time you climb back up into that valley, there’s the ever-present Taliban, still outmaneuvering, still ambushing, still fighting.
I strongly believe that this war is a just war. We were attacked on our own land and innocent people died because they were American. I fought in Afghanistan, I fought in Iraq. Yet, there seems to be this idea that we have to kill everyone, or get them to surrender, for the war to be over. We as a society are polarized on the subject.
Here’s my take:
I agree with President Obama’s plan. We need a final push to get the Afghan military and police forces to critical mass, and then we need to redeploy back to the States. We cannot maintain a troop force in Afghanistan indefinitely. Extremism cannot be defeated. It is cross-cultural, it doesn’t recognize borders, and it doesn’t play by the rules. They will be out there as long as there are differing ideologies and religions. History tells us this. A war against terrorism is like the war against drugs. Eradication cannot be achieved. There will always be fresh recruits on both sides to fuel the conflict. It is immoral to continue funding a war with our resources and the blood of our young men that cannot see a peaceful resolution.
Its been a long, hard road, and it’s time to end it. One last push, America. One last push.