For those that have been paying attention, it is obvious that the War in Afghanistan is going poorly in 2012, that it is far worse now than in 2008. National Security should be on the campaign stump, and how the candidates would win the war should be part of the discussion, but its not.
Rarely do we hear in what little discussion there is, why we went there to begin with. That's an important detail because before we can pronounce the "war has been ended," or that the mission is complete, we must remember what the mission was and what was so important that we were unified as a Nation to go to the other side of the world, to a country landlocked and surrounded by less than friendly Nations, to fight a war in the 14th Century.
The desired end state is also missing from the discussion. That hasn't always been missing. It was quite clear in 2001 and slightly fuzzy but stated from 2003 to 2008.
Since we don't remember where this war came from, nor have a plan on where we want to take it, it is not surprising that we are confused as to how to get there. Instead, politicians have gotten mired in tangential side issues. The big issues pushed by the current political leadership have been: repeal of DADT, putting women in combat units, establishing no-fire zones around structures, and pushing talks with an enemy that has no desire to compromise.
Former Marine Paul Szoldra, in Business Insider writes:
"And yet all the blood, destruction—all the efforts of our military—cannot change the unfortunate and highly probable outcome that our 2014 exit from Afghanistan will be marked as a failure."
"I don’t want to believe it, but we are losing this war." (Paul highlights the post here)
In 2008, Obama campaigned that Afghanistan would be his "top priority." It was not and is not and never was. In March of 2009, he announced that "his new" strategy had been written and was being implemented, but when his new architect of the war told him he needed more Troops, he took 3 months in one hour a week meetings to hear what his political advisors thought of the General's request and strategy.
In December of 2009, Obama finally made a decision. He announced that General McChrystal would be authorized 75% of the minimum number of Troops he needed to win, and less than half of what he wanted to do so quickly. But more importantly, he announced that the US would be begin retreating from the war in 2011, at the same time he announced "the Surge." This, Obama said, was finally his strategy. He said that his time based retreat would be conducted based on conditions on the ground, and the recommendations of Generals, but he has ignored both. Things are worse now than they were in 2009, and the Generals have asked for more, not fewer Troops.
There has been a lot of criticism about the "Rules of Engagement" in Afghanistan. There have been times when it was reported that Troops were not authorized to have magazines in their weapons. There have been times when air assets could not fire within 250 meters (or some other distance) from a manmade structure. Artillery support has been denied Our Troops when they were going into the heart of enemy territory. The Administration mandated that all night operations be approved by an Afghan court. There have been times when US Troops were told to disarm so their disarmed Afghan colleagues would not feel slighted while in the presence of Leon Panetta.
Troops were re-tasked with sitting through DADT repeal powerpoints instead of patrolling. They were sat down for Suicide briefings. They were diverted to PTSD briefs. And the latest round of military appointees by the POTUS have stated that the characteristics developed in winning in Iraq and fighting in Afghanistan must take a backseat to Garrison policies of haircuts and schools and parades.
Most recently, the senior General in the Military, selected and appointed by Obama, has entered the election campaign, aboard a Department of Defense airplane, to tell Veterans, like myself but more specifically Special Operations Veterans, to stop utilizing their 1st Amendment Rights about his boss. General Dempsey has the authority to tell Active Duty Troops that they cannot support partisan politics (as he was doing in that use of government equipment and fuel for a media interview) while in uniform, but he has no authority over those of us who have completed Our Service.
He may not like what we have to say, but not only were we lucky enough to be born to the Right, but we risked Our Lives, and Sacrificed our comforts and time with Family, to ensure Our Citizens, Our Families, and Ourselves maintained that Right. Those Special Operations Veterans, to a greater extent than others, have earned the Right they have exercised. It is their moral duty to speak on behalf of the lives put at risk, who cannot complain about the infractions of the politicians.
So, how did we get here, where do we want to go, and how do we get there?
Most Troops today were not in the Military on 9/11/2001. They don't remember the frustration of decades of terrorist attacks where we turned the other cheek. They don't remember the elation of finally being unleashed. They don't remember the concern that the politicians would put the leash back on before the war was finished. There are now Lieutenant Colonels that are retiring who were brand new Lieutenants, when the first battles against Al-Qaeda in Mogadishu were developing. They were 1st Lieutenants when Al-Qaeda bombed the basement garage of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Battle of Mogadishu was fought against an enemy we didn't know was Al-Qaeda.
We went to War in Afghanistan, because the Taliban government of Afghanistan was a staunch ally and protector of Al-Qaeda, which attacked us on 9/11/2001. In the 1980's, Libya had been a primary training ground for terrorists, while Lebanon was the primary area of operations. By the end of the 20th Century, Afghanistan had become the training ground, and US Citizens, Diplomats, and Troops the target. We went to Afghanistan to put an end to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban tyranny of a government.
Regardless of what politicians say now, the Taliban has ALWAYS and continues to be the enemy. The chief politician was saying the same thing in 2008. Unfortunately, his politics have created policies that undermine that fact. In 2009, he created a revolving door policy of Taliban fighters. He mandated a 30 day hearing after their capture, and released them to fight again. And it has only been political pressure and enemy stubborness that has prevented him from releasing the top Taliban commanders from GITMO.
Our Troops, primarily about 200 Soldiers from 5th Special Forces Group, defeated the Taliban government in about 2 months in October and November of 2001. They won quicker than anyone expected. Al-Qaeda had lost considerable ground and retreated into the lawless border regions just outside Afghanistan, along with the Taliban. Al-Qaeda may have expected a Clinton era response of million dollar cruise missiles blowing up thousand dollar mud huts, but its strategy was to outlast the American Will to Fight.
For some time, Al-Qaeda thought the path to victory lay in Iraq. It appeared to them that they could play on the discontent in American politics there. One of the key components of the Sustained Successes of the Petraeus Plan was convincing Iraqis that we were committed to Victory, that we would stand by Our Friends, this time. When the Iraqis were convinced that we would not abandon them, they fought alongside us against Our Enemy.
What should be our desired endstate? A stable democratic government that respects human rights, an ally, in Afghanistan. That doesn't mean that their President has to like ours, but it does mean that ours should respect that theirs was elected by the Afghans, and that our chief politician doesn't have a vote. The desired endstate must recognize that if the same Taliban government returns to power, we have given away Our Victories.
We have to know where we were, where we are, and where we want to go, before we can figure out the path of how to get there. We have to recognize what it takes to win a war, before we can set a path to Victory. And defeating the enemy boils down to one primary factor: destroying the enemy's will to fight. There are many ways to do that, but none of those include telling the enemy that you are going home. And we can't reasonably expect to destroy the enemy's will to fight when we won't even admit who the enemy is. Ignoring Al-Qaeda's declarations of war in 1996 and 1998 did not prevent 9/11 and ignoring the Taliban's plan to retake Afghanistan won't win there.
In October 2001, the odds were stacked far higher in the enemy's favor. Then they had an Army, with tanks and artillery, on terrain they controlled and knew, against a few hundred dedicated Special Forces Soldiers. In October 2012, they have a few thousand terrorists, many of which have been released by Coalition EPW facilities, and often dress in burkhas out of fear. They rarely have more than medium machine guns and explosives, but no tanks. The one thing they have plenty of is hope and a date of departure of their enemy.
We have to put Victory back into the discussion. The only "end" to war without Victory, is defeat.
"Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser." General George S Patton
Just as we defeated the Taliban when George W Bush unleashed Our Troops in 2001, we can defeat them again if the POTUS will unleash Our Troops now. Just as we defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq, when the Iraqis realized Our Commitment to Victory in 2007-08, we can defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, again, if the Afghans believe we are committed to Our Friends in 2013-2014.
And Paul, good job. That's a well written article.