Had to keep it short to to a limitation on the number of characters:
I am a Staff Sergeant in the 1st Brigade, 2-22 Battalion, 10th Mountain Division of the US Army. I am an intelligence analyst by trade and was deployed to Afghanistan 2010-2011. It is my job to keep up with events and to make assessments based on facts and data. Sir, the last decade proves a fact better than the hundreds of pie charts and link diagrams you’ve likely been briefed on during your time in the White House: We are not accomplishing our desired goals in Afghanistan. We have not degraded the Taliban insurgency significantly enough to allow an ANSF takeover in 2014. There are several reasons for this. First, our generals have massively underestimated the difficulty in building a democracy in a society that holds few democratic ideals. Secondly, the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Afghanistan fails to meet the military’s own doctrinal standards of 1 security force member to 50 civilians. Actually, our numbers aren’t even close to the required personnel. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the cross-border safe haven in the Pakistani FATA presents an insurmountable stronghold for insurgent training, rest and recruitment. There are other factors, such as the probability that the Taliban holds the moral high ground over the government in Kabul, even by Western standards.
The insurgency has employed every gambit of Sun Tzu, while we have sought to fight a war Galahad would be proud of. Our troops patrol with vague or unknown directives, because current counterinsurgency doctrine says this will connect them with the people. Little consideration is given to the enemy, who is also trying in every manner to influence the people. They are doing a much better job at it then are we. Our Soldiers are targets for snipers and bomb makers who do not fear retribution because retribution rarely comes.
Now, because of insider threats, the meager relationship we’d forged with the ANSF is gone. We are trapped in our bases. The enemy is now free to move about and mass for attack. And why is the Taliban able to penetrate the ANSF with such frequency? Because the Taliban’s creed is almost indistinguishable from the average Pashtun male’s. Xenophobic, jealous, quick to anger, Pashtuns love a good fight. And unlike our Soldiers in Afghanistan, they can go back to their houses and families every night after they kill our service members.
Please consider an early withdrawal. We are the hunted, not the hunters.
SSG Douglas Moore
Here’s a link to one of my articles that the Marine Corps Gazette published. It’s now available online. It’s about cultural relativism and counterinsurgency.
America no longer has the will to fight and win wars. If our enemies are able to weather our airstrikes, we are wholly unprepared at nearly every level to place sufficient pressure on fanatical guerrillas whom find war a preferable state to peace. Never in history has an army enjoyed such a monopoly on firepower and mobility as does America, and yet been so unwilling to use it.
We are blessed by the geographical bulwarks of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and cursed with partisan demagogues in Washington who know little of military history or the culture of war. Perfectly willing to start a war, the politicians don’t want to hear what it takes to win it. No matter how much data multi-million dollar computer networks feed those in the Pentagon and Congress, few of the recipients of that data can feel our wars; the data crunchers and politicos can know the wars, but the visceral sensations of ground commanders and grunts will always be beyond them, as thus we can assume that almost all of their decisions will prove inadequate. When war does not fit into comfort zones or proffered theories, many believe we just need to try harder to make the theories work. Few would question the theories themselves lest horrible answers become truths.
Washington’s elites are safe when we lose. The 25 year old squad leader in Afghanistan is not.
The quaint mythologies of counterinsurgency theorems have us following a Yellow Brick Road paved by Non-Governmental Agencies and State Department aid money. We hoped that Oz was a place where suicidal zealots laid down their rifles and stopped making bombs in exchange for a school house and a new pair of shoes. When the curtain was thrown aside to reveal the Wizard, we saw his bloody hand raised skyward, grasping the severed head of the school teacher. And even when the sheer brutality and power of the Taliban terrorist revealed itself, we refused to believe what we saw. We prefer to think that all men want peace, that brutality doesn’t work, and that killing cannot be the answer. Convenient dreams for those in Washington whose greatest daily danger is a Tweeted revelation of sexual misconduct. We question ourselves whereas the men of old, seeing the world more clearly than do we, quickly identified the problem and dealt with it. Swimming is oceans of information, we find it more difficult to choose proper paths, but the ancient warriors of yore, though lacking technological aids—perhaps because he lacked those aids—instinctively discerned human psychology.
Enter Alexander The Great. Imagine for a moment that future technologies could spring the Macedonian king back to life and the modern social and political delusions that prevent decisive victories in war have vanished by the wayside. Now place Alexander in command of history’s most powerful military and charge him with defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan. First, we’ll have to listen to Alexander give us a history lesson. Contrary to revisionists whom extol the invincibility of Afghans fighters, Alexander was never defeated by the people inhabiting the land we now call Afghanistan. And then he would tell us that his tutor, Aristotle, wasn’t about giving peace a chance; the father of Western philosophy implored young Alexander to force Hellenistic ethnic supremacy upon the world of the barbarians.
To the Neo-Alexander, defeating the Taliban begins with an offer to meet insurgent leadership at the bargaining table. And here’s the offer: Submit or die. This language resonates with the Taliban at a far deeper level than does the current Coalition Force offers of reintegration and power sharing. A reasonable man, Alexander offers the Taliban their religion and way of life in exchange for their weapons. The sovereign lines of the Pakistani border mean nothing. They are semi-porous membranes that hold back American power and allow insurgents to move freely to and from their safe havens in Pakistan. In response to each suicide bomber making his way from Western Pakistan, Alexander orders biometric identification through DNA testing, and using covert CIA intelligence cells seeded throughout Pakistan, identifies the village from which the suicide bomber originated. The Macedonian orders B-2 bomber and Reaper drone strikes on all known Madrassas in the village. No apologies are offered for civilian casualties. The retributive strikes are timely and painful. The suicide bombers quickly transform from heroes to sources of great pain in the villages. Soon, being a suicide bomber is disgraceful, not honorable.
The terrorists resort to using their greatest weapon: The media. In response, all media embeds are ordered to leave Afghanistan. Journalists stream into North and South Waziristan, hoping to document American atrocities. Members of the Haqqani Network set up ad hoc repeater stations, hoping to broadcast propaganda from small, handheld Motorola VHF radios. America counters by dropping electromagnetic pulse bombs at random intervals into the tribal areas. These weapons destroy any modern electronic equipment, leaving journalists to their pens and notebooks and Haqqani insurgents to courier communications.
As for terrorist infiltration along the Pakistan border, Alexander knows that not every infiltrator can be stopped. However, it is possible to make crossing into Afghanistan too painful a gamble. Areas along the border are declared free-fire zones. Approximately 5 kilometers on each side of the border are free-fire; that is, since the areas are assumed cleared, anyone in those areas can be fired on. The 5 kilometer range allows for ranges of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and Haqqani Network rocket fire, such as which killed two American Soldiers at FOB Salerno in May of 2011 (with no punitive action taken by the US military out of respect to our Pakistani “friends”).
Entire villages will be held accountable for the actions of individuals that live within them. Villagers in Afghanistan always know what goes on within the village. Villages where US forces are attacked will be subject to curfews and those found to be involved in insurgent activity shall be given a field trial by US military officers and if found guilty, executed. Special Operations night raids and air assaults will be constant in areas infested with Taliban, al-Qaeda and Haqqani fighters. Protests by villagers about the night raids will be ignored, as most of these protests are spawned by agitated insurgents. The cooperation of local villagers is the goal, but America under Alexander will place the safety of her troops and the destruction of the insurgency above the safety of villagers. Civilian casualties will be avoided when possible, but local Afghans will need to provide intelligence and information to American forces in order to ensure that America kills the right people. Otherwise, the insurgents will merely use civilains as living shields. Cooperation will help both the Afghans and America. The “sanctity” of the people will no longer be assumed; entire populations can be just as evil as individuals. The terrorists will be held to the same standards that the US military is held. All war crimes will be prosecuted in the field if possible.
The shrines of dead al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters will be closely monitored by payed CIA informants. Sympathizers who come to venerate terrorist grave sites will be followed, and at a convenient time, interviewed and their biometric data entered into a huge data base known as BATS–Biometrically Automated Toolset. These people will be placed on watch lists, denied entry to US bases, and denied the possibility of serving within Afghan government security forces for 5 years. Individuals assessed to be of a higher threat level shall be denied access and government work on a permanent basis.
Alexander will reward the friends of America. India, the largest democracy on Earth, will be provided special trade rights. She has earned it. A full embargo of Pakistan will commence. We have treated our enemies better than our friends in hopes that our goodwill would bring them to our side. But they mistook our goodwill for weakness. Those who fought bravely beside us, such as Britain, did not get 4 billion dollar rewards, such as did Pakistan.
Every chance will be given to those in the Federally Administered tribal Region of Pakistan to formally surrender Siraj and Jallaludin Haqqani, the familial leaders of the Haqqani Network. America will make war for a better peace denied her by maniacs. Letters will dropped in each village in North and South Waziristan, telling the inhabitants to give up their weapons and submit to searches of their residences. Aggressive actions taken by Pak military units will result in 5,000 lb GBU-28 Penetrator Bombs being dropped on all Pakistani nuclear missile sites, which have been carefully tracked by the National Ground Intelligence Center and the National Geospatial Agency for years. Alexander–a genius at war–knows that this war will escalate. All wars escalate. But no one can out-escalate the United States Military.
Villages not wishing to submit to search will be given 24 hours notice to evacuate. Then the village will be razed by Fire Support Teams (FIST) utilizing 155 mm Howitzer fire and B-52 Arc Light strikes and tactical airstrikes under the guidance of Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) teams. Not only will there be no apologies for these actions, Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) units will broadcast images of the destruction to other villages, warning them of the implications of resistance.
Anything less than the above guarantees an American defeat in Afghanistan. If our leaders cannot do what Alexander would do, they should save the blood of our Soldiers and Marines and bring them home. And they should never again begin or escalate a war for political gain if they don’t intend to win it.
I’ll be writing several entries on my blog about my experiences in Afghanistan. Look for it soon. It’ll include photos and several vignettes. Not everyone will like what they read; we screwed the pooch on this one.
My friend and co-worker, Dr. Scott Catino, wrote this article about his observations here in Afghanistan. He and I work together at the Consolidated Stability Operations Center.
Recently, concerns have arisen about retaliatory attacks by al-Qaeda stemming from the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
This concern stems from the current small-wars counterinsurgency (COIN) meme; that by killing one enemy, you create 20 more. However, this idea should by no means be considered a maxim. Essentially, recent COIN methodology hoped for war without escalation, something that Clausewitz found to be absurd. Clausewitz states that almost all wars must escalate:
“War is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force. Each side, therefore, compels its opponent to follow suit; a reciprocal action is started which must lead, in theory, to extremes…To introduce the theory of moderation into the theory of war itself would always lead to logical absurdity.”
But we know there is a limit to that escalation, otherwise history would have known only one war and it would have consumed all of humanity. The question is always: What is the enemy’s breaking point?
To illustrate the necessity of escalation in war, let’s picture two men arm wrestling. As the match begins, one man—let’s call him Joe–thinks he is much stronger than the other (Steve) and doesn’t wish to humiliate or hurt his opponent, but does want to win, so Joe exerts only a percentage of his maximal possible force. But suddenly Joe realizes that Steve is stronger than Joe expected, that his opponent actually seems to be giving it his all and doesn’t seem at all to care if Joe loses face in the masculine battle. Joe cranks up the force, feeling a bit stupid at underestimating his opponent. Steve senses Joe’s increased intensity, and he, too, leans into the match, his face turning a darkening red. Now Joe again applies more pressure, and for once he sees Steve’s arm begin to move toward the table. Steve is still giving it his all—his will is not yet broken—but he simply doesn’t have the power necessary to bring Joe’s arm down. Finally, Joe senses victory and gives it everything he’s got. As Steve’s wrist moves to within an inch of the table, Steve sees that defeat is inevitable and that further resistance will only bring pain. Steve’s arm goes limp and Joe wins.
Consider the above analogy with no escalation. Both men would sit at the table forever. The parallels to war are obvious. Some may say that it is desirable that neither side escalate. This is only the case if the war is not a shooting war, otherwise the killing would continue albeit at a slower rate, but for a much longer time. At some point, one side’s will is sure to waiver. It is highly unlikely that neither man in the arm wrestling match would choose not to escalate his use of power. If neither man wanted to win an arm wrestling match, why did they take part in the first place?
The fallacy is that a war can be won without escalation. If there is no escalation, it is not a war; it’s an intellectual debate.
Yes, killing one man may indeed create 20 enemies. This doesn’t mean the one man should not be killed. Killing him would only be a mistake if analysis showed the enemy capable of out-escalating the killer. There are a number of factors that dictate the level to which an enemy can escalate and many of them are not directly related to military strength. In any case, no nation or enemy can escalate ad infinitum. To worry that al-Qaeda can escalate forever and always grossly overestimates their power and the constant media messaging hinting as al-Qaeda’s plots for revenge provide the terror group with moral courage. It’s been said that America can’t kill an idea. That’s true, but also moot. America needs only make the actual practice of harmful ideas more painful than mere thoughts. The COIN argument that killing one enemy makes 20 also shows itself to be overblown when we think about the effect of al-Qaeda and the Taliban killing one of our service people; do 20 more American soldiers magically sprout on the battlefield? After enough deaths in a fight, do some Americans not begin to ask: Is it worth fighting on? Losing soldiers has a real effect on our will and combat effectiveness. It is the same with our enemies.
Of course, escalation need not take place at all costs. There comes a time when the negative results of escalation outweigh anything that can be gained from it. That, too, is the same for our enemies. Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) learned the cost of its Total Terror campaign and it also underestimated the ability and will of America to escalate. AQI poisoned the sea in which it swam by killing too many Iraqi civilians and then America destroyed the insurgency by killing a lot of terrorists. The violence in Iraq dropped dramatically.
Will al-Qaeda plan revenge attacks for bin Laden’s death? Probably. Would al-Qaeda have attacked the United States or other Western nations if bin Laden remained alive? Absolutely. But in the end, al-Qaeda, like Japan at Pearl Harbor, banked on a knockout blow that it simply didn’t have the power to deliver. Both escalated without giving thought to America’s ability to match and surpass her enemies’ violence. To fret reprisal and hold back America’s power just as al-Qaeda strands ready for collapse will only empower terrorists and allow those almost dead to regenerate, to mock their betters in a war they know they can’t win without our help.
 Clausewitz, On War, Pg. 76.
I read an article written by David Killcullen, one of the world’s top counter-insurgency men. He stated that the populace in a counter-insurgency want to know the rules that have been set in place for them. They want to know their boundaries, what will bring punishment and what will bring reward.
I believe that one of the biggest failures of the last 8 years in the war in Afghanistan is the lack of effort in reporting the real reasons and intentions for America being in the country in the first place. Since General Petraeus took over, there’s been a concerted effort to rectify this, but there’s a long way to go.
As Washington Post writer, David Ignatius points out, according to recent polls, Afghan haven’t a clue as to why Americans are in their backyard.
“America’s first problem in Afghanistan is that the Afghan people in the key battleground don’t understand why we’re there: When pollsters read a simple summary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack and its aftermath to a sample of 1,000 young men in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, only 8 percent said they knew about this event.“
Nature abhors a vacuum. And so it is with information and propaganda. Whenever Coalition Forces fail to fill information gaps, we can be sure the enemy will oblige. Add to this the propensity of people in the region to believe the wildest of mythology–a neck-tie is a secret symbol of Christianity, Osama Bin Laden is a CIA operative–and you have a formula for unending war. Many Afghans, since they may not have even heard of 9-11, can only assume that America is in-country to do what every other invader has tried to do: Become a colonial power. And since America is primarily a Christian power, we must want to destroy Islam, too. No Afghan tribe that believes these things will ever fully support our efforts. And we need full support if the people are to be the eyes that find insurgents, not just a level of support that takes our money and goes about enabling the Taliban. The Taliban aggressively speads its message and rules through Shabnamah or Night Letters as well as face to face contact. The message and rules? Cooperate with the Coalition and you die. The Taliban has won the information war in to this point in Afghanistan. After researching the subject for an intelligence paper I wrote, I believe it is the number one reason that this war has lasted so long.
In a land rife with illiteracy, getting the word out is a huge task. But it is doable. When I visited a refugee camp in Afghanistan, I saw 25,000 inhabitants whom were ripe for Taliban picking. I made sure when I spoke with the camps leader to ask him why he thought America was in Afghanistan. I also told him that he needs to tell all of his people that America is here to fight al-Qaeda and trans-national terrorists, that American soldiers don’t want to spend years in his country; they want to go back to their family and friends. But we needed his help.
Every leader that interfaces with various tribes in Afghanistan should have a list of things that they tell the people. On that list should be an explanation for American presence and the rules that the people are expected to follow: Do this and we help you. Do this and we kill you or arrest you. The messaging should also include a laundry list of all the horrible things that the Taliban does, and a negation of the myth (propagated as much by Western media as the Taliban) that Americans kill more civilians than the insurgents do. All of this should be SOP with every engagement.
After having spent four months in Afghanistan and seeing much of the war from the inside, some may wonder if my opinions of the efficacy of fighting there have changed. In short, they haven’t changed much.
While I do see the benefit of having some foot print in the country, I also see that the country’s leaders and outside influencers in Pakistan are playing both sides in hopes that when the US leaves, the Taliban won’t have any grudges. Their actions form a self-fulfilling prophecy and enable the Taliban to continue maintaining some legitimacy.
I want to dismiss the myth that Afghan fighters are incredible guerrilla warriors, able to defeat our troops because of their years’ experience in this kind of fighting. In fact, the Taliban and Haqqani fighters get severely smashed every time they confront US troops. Obliterated. I’m talking 40 bad guys dead, and 0 US dead on several occasions since I’ve been in the country. The way they kill our troops is by paying some dupe with no job to plant a bomb on a road and then detonating it as we ride by.
So why can’t we win? I have several opinions on this. First, we must define what winning is. I think in some ways, we have won. Al-Qaeda is almost non-existent in Afghanistan. The Taliban in many areas is reduced to a loose crime syndicate. And America is still a great place to live. If we read the memo that directed then-General Stanley McChrystal on the objectives of this war, the goal was to “degrade” the Taliban. We’ve done that.
But the one conclusion that I’ve come to that means the most to me is this: Democracy is a reward. Democracy is not a cause, it is the result of doing the right things. The people of Afghanistan have not earned Democracy because they refuse to change the way they do business. And they must suffer the consequences. The people of Iraq have earned the right to reap the benefits of Democracy (much to the chagrin of the Left) , as they demonstrated in the Anbar Awakening. To ask that Democracy be the cause that brings success to Afghanistan is like buying a teenager a new BMW in hopes it brings him a sense of responsibility.
I must point out that General Patraeus has made it clear we only need to make Afghanistan “good enough”. We don’t need to make it Switzerland, as he quipped. He is absolutely correct, and I do think that a good enough Afghanistan is in reach. But until the problems in Pakistan are dealt with, good enough is not possible. Our military leaders know this.
This is not a military failure. The military has defeated the Taliban on every battle front, though I don’t think we’ve been nearly aggressive enough. There’s also the problem of defining the enemy himself. Any guy can pick up a Kalashnikov and call himself Taliban, just as any person could now call himself a Nazi. So when do we know the Taliban has been defeated? The problem at this point, does not have a military solution. It is a Rule of Law problem and the result of cultural failure. The military part of the problem had been solved. The puzzle that remains is the endemic collapse of stabilizing social structures within Afghanistan. Chaos begets chaos. Corruption fathers corruption.
The War on Terror has not been a failure. Al-Qaeda suffered a massive strategic defeat. It’s plans are consistently disrupted, its fighters arrested or eliminated, many of it’s leaders killed or facing trial. The Taliban barely has a corporeal existence in Afghanistan, but its ghost remains in the form of criminal gangs and warlords. There are very real and positive results that’ve been gained from ignoring the defeatists. And we should continue to fight Islamic extremist. It is a fight that will continue in some form for the rest of our lives. That does not mean it’s not worth fighting. And the whining of the Left over this fight will also continue. We should throw them a couple of bones, like allowing gays in the military or legalizing pot. And then we should ignore them.
Our lesson should be that nation building while under fire is a bad idea. You don’t fix social structures while the enemy shoots at you. You smash the enemy, grab as much power as you can, than build. In most places you have to let everything burn out before you move in, and that can take generations.
The fact is, we’ve reduced the threat to America by fighting in Afghanistan. We just shouldn’t be giving the teenager a new car.