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.
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.