Two days ago, a Soldier from my unit, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan. SSG Michael Ollis, 24 years old, was killed when Taliban insurgents attacked FOB Ghazni with a vehicle-borne IED, indirect mortar fire, and small arms fire. The insurgents penetrated the wall of the base, and remained inside, fighting for 6 hours.
FOB Ghazni is controlled by Polish forces. Soldiers from 2-22IN moved through FOB Ghazni on their way north while leaving Ghazni, only a couple of weeks from returning home. SSG Ollis made it 8 months. This was his third deployment to a combat zone.
I ask that you say a prayer for his mother and father, the two surviving members of his family.
“Deeds Not Words”
The United States is planning to withdraw all its fighting capability from Afghanistan in 2014. Beginning in 2013, American forces with transition to an advisory role. That is, it will no longer conduct joint patrols or take major offensive action against the insurgency, but instead “suggest” courses of action to Afghan military personnel.
Many wonder if the Afghan Nation Security Forces (ANSF) will be able to defend the country from the Taliban after America leaves. It is my opinion that the ANSF will crumble rather quickly in the face of the insurgents. Here are the reasons why:
1) The ANSF are comprised mostly of illiterate, underpaid Pashtun males. They are unable to maintain logistics systems taught to them by Americans, and as a course of habit, will hoard bullets and fuel instead of dispensing it to the appointed units and locations. The ANSF have no means to maintain American military equipment, except perhaps some small arms. Infrastructure will deteriorate quickly.
2) Afghan culture is not conducive to discipline, order, timeliness, self-sacrifice for the group, or control of negative emotions, particularly in areas far from Kabul. Drug use, desertion, lateness, fighting and homicide are not uncommon among ANSF by Western standards. The attention to detail needed to fight an industrial strength insurgency is not present.
3) The Taliban insurgency is more disciplined than the ANSF. The ideology of Jihad creates strong bonds and stimulates initiative as well as promoting self-sacrifice for the group, even to the point of suicide attack. Though there are divisions within the insurgency, they are no greater than in most Western organizations. The Taliban uses a fairly complex logistical and governance system and each local shadow governor is held responsible for his actions by senior Taliban leadership in Quetta, Pakistan.
4) Many in the ANSF do not want to fight the Taliban. While in Afghanistan, I saw instances of fully manned police stations abandoned without a shot fired when threatened by Taliban of similar numbers. In other areas, when asked where the Taliban were located, ANSF commanders readily gave an answer. But when asked when the ANSF would attack enemy positions, the commanders only provided a laugh and a telling smile. Still more, in areas where the insurgency is strongest, Afghan border police are stationed some 10 kilometers away from the Pakistani border, allowing insurgents to easily cross into Afghanistan unmolested. At checkpoints located directly on the border, police do not bother the Taliban crossing at official checkpoints.
5) Foreign powers such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Syria and China have a strong interest in an insurgent takeover in Afghanistan because this will de-ligitimize American efforts in the country, sow political chaos within the American system, create doubt in the American public’s mind as to the effectiveness of military intervention, as well as provide training areas for global terrorists, especially Iranian/ Syrian Hezbollah proxy fighters. As such, these countries provide training, safe haven, and equipment to insurgents.
6) The ANSF lacks the technical intelligence capabilities of America, specifically drone and professional scout teams. Thus, insurgents will be able to mass much easier than they now do.
7) The ANSF lacks firepower. They have little artillery and almost no aircraft. Even with its incredible air supremacy, America has struggled in this war. It will be even worse for the ANSF.
As in Vietnam, Afghanistan is made up of essentially one culture, the Pashtuns. And also as in Vietnam, it is possible for one part of the culture to want to fight and the other half to have almost no will to resist. It is unfortunate for the Afghans living in Kabul, virtually a different planet from the rest of Afghanistan. Those people are ready to cast off the old ways and move into this century. But the rest of Afghanistan is not. And it will likely be less than two years after the bulk of America’s military troops leave, that Kabul falls once again to the Taliban.
In a recent interview, retired General Stanley McChrystal stated that he believes America should re-institute a military draft, ensuring that all citizens share the burden of war.
I agree with McChrystal and so did Thomas Jefferson: “Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”
In today’s America the idea of a draft is politically untenable. Many citizens feel the system is supposed to give something to them, but they are not required to give anything to it. People who think this way call it “freedom.” One could riff off Tacitus and say, “They made a democracy and called it freedom.”
The sense of community in America is dying, and I can attest that the sense of belonging in the military is a troubling phenomena. The military is very separated from everyday America, and this is not a good thing. It is a difficult experience to explain to someone who has never served in the military, but many many people feel very cut off from regular American life. I can testify to this feeling. When I first came in the Army and moved to Germany, I cannot imagine a more alienating experience.
The primary difference between today’s wars and the major wars of the past is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fought by a much smaller percentage of Americans. In fact, less than 1% of Americans serve in the military, whereas in WWII, 9% served. When you consider that women did not serve in WWII except as civilians, you can see that a very high number of men were in the military.
A difficult fact to ignore is that America has failed to defeat decisively any foe since the draft was abandoned in 1973. Some can argue that Desert Storm was a decisive victory, but we had to go back and clean up the mess we left. Americans no longer have a visceral feel for what it takes to win wars. This fact drove me crazy in Afghanistan, where I saw a plethora of well-intentioned projects accomplish little. As my friend, Dr. Scott Catino once said: “We’re throwing million of dollars at the insurgency and hoping it will go away.” Solar panels on the roofs of villagers which were stolen by insurgents and used to power bombs. Million-dollar “justice complexes” abandoned. Yet the suspicious stares from the Pashtuns continues. Does anyone believe a member of the military came up with the idea of solar panels as part of the war effort? I think not. It was a Non-government agency (NGO) who thought that was a good idea, because their job is to come up with solutions that don’t involve killing people.
The increasing separation of people in the military is causing increasingly recurrent visits from what military people call “The Good Idea Fairy”. The Good Idea Fairy is a font of well-intentioned ideas which are to be carried out by those of lesser rank. These ideas usually involve taking a rather simple exercise of some sort and transforming it into a confusing, over complicated mess.
The Good Idea Fairy can flourish in places where the negative aspects of bad decisions are not visited upon the person who made the decision in the first place. And since we have so few people who have served in the military and the number of elected officials who have served before beginning their political careers is growing smaller every election cycle, it seems trouble was inevitable
So now politicians can make decisions about a military in which they and perhaps their father never served. Political and social ideologues push ideas and plans for the military having little real knowledge about how it will effect our ability to fight. Women in the infantry is one idea that I’m sure The Good Idea Fairy would be proud of. While there are women that serve honorably in the military, the Army and Marines prohibit women from serving in the infantry for what every military in the last 10,000 years has thought obvious reasons. Not the least of which is a wanting physical prowess when it comes to fighting a war. Watch the movie Restrepo and imagine a woman being in that environment for 15 months.
But winning wars isn’t what’s important to some about the military. What’s important is the opportunity to push an agenda, to change society by infiltrating its most hallowed halls. Thus, in 2013 we have women being admitted to the Army’s toughest school–Ranger School. And every female failure at the school will need to be justified to high level rank.
This honest female Marine Corps Captain writes about her opinion concerning women in the infantry. She says that even though she was an outstanding athlete in college, and is not in the infantry, her deployment to Afghanistan left her with permanent injuries. She lost 17 pounds and her body stopped producing estrogen. And she wasn’t doing half the physical work that a Marine infantryman does.
All of this leads to a growing sense within the military that the troops don’t matter. Every decision is imposed without asking the people in the military what they think, or if they are asked, it doesn’t matter what they say. This is what happened with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Surveys were passed around but the SECDEF made it clear before a single chad was punched: This is getting repealed.
Suicide rates in the Army doubled after 2004. At that point some Army units were doing back-to-back 15 month tours. And this wasn’t in areas of the world as sophisticated as WWII Europe. It was culture shock with IEDs. With so few Americans serving during this operational tempo, you’d think the Army could have done without the multi-million dollar studies that tried to explain the reason for skyrocketing suicide numbers. But no. The studies were again ordered by people who have never been there and barely even care to read about it.
It used to be that the very best served. In WWII men had no choice, they went. The entire will of a nation was brought to bear against the country’s enemy’s. Now, our uber-professional Army can’t decisively beat a herd of toothless goat herders who know more about using fertilizer to make a bomb than using it to grow crops. America simply hasn’t enough troops to make it work.
The burning of the Korans at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and the subsequent riots and murder of 5 NATO soldiers put all questions to rest about our future in the country. There is nothing more the US can gain in this war. Amid our apologies and groveling, our warped attempts to prove we are not imperialists, the Taliban and crime lords thrive, resting peacefully in Pakistan. And we still pace the floor like Hamlet churning the possibilities through Washington’s mushy head.
The cultural differences between the US and many Afghans are so great, they simply cannot be overcome in a manner that benefits in any meaningful way the US. The country is still largely run by thieves and criminals, and outside Kabul there is little true support for the US effort. Our national prestige is being drained away by the ridiculous “sensitivity” of Pashtun Muslims, whom seize upon any sleight as a reason to engage in mayhem.
Why are we still there? It’s time to leave, and let Afghanistan face the reality it created for itself. A future of crime, chaos, fundamentalism and misery. To the Afghan government and the Taliban: Keep your evil inside your own borders this time.To Washington: Stop embarrasing your nation and its troops with your equivocating and hand wringing. Bring back the pop-up targets you’ve provided for blood drenched, hateful Islamists.
Bring our boys home.