Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Flaw in Our Afghanistan Strategy

US Soldiers Stuck in the Sand, Southern Afghanistan, 2004

Being a man of war, and of military concerns, is draining. It's hard for me to sit here and see others make dreadful mistakes.

STRATFOR tells us what is going on in Afghanistan:

The Afghan counterinsurgency campaign also suffers from a weakness in its strategic rationale. What makes Afghanistan critical to the United States is al Qaeda, the core group of jihadists that demonstrated the ability to launch transcontinental attacks against the West from Afghanistan. The argument has been that without U.S. troops in the country and a pro-American government in Kabul, al Qaeda might return, rebuild and strike again. That makes Afghanistan a strategic interest for the United States

But there is a strategic divergence between the war against al Qaeda and the war against the Taliban. Some will argue that al Qaeda remains operational, and that therefore the United States must make the long-term military investment in Afghanistan to deprive the enemy of sanctuary.

But while some al Qaeda members remain to issue threatening messages from the region, the group’s ability to meet covertly, recruit talent, funnel money and execute operations from the region has been hampered considerably. The overall threat value of al Qaeda, in our view, has declined. If this is a war that pivots on intelligence, the mission to block al Qaeda eventually may once again be left to the covert capabilities of U.S. intelligence and Special Operations Command, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere.

Widening the war’s objectives to defeating the Taliban insurgency through a resource-intensive hearts-and-minds campaign requires time and patience, both of which lie with the insurgent. If the United States were to draw the conclusion that al Qaeda was no longer functional, and that follow-on organizations may be as likely to organize attacks from Somalia or Pakistan as much as from Afghanistan, then the significance of Afghanistan declines.

That creates the asymmetry that made the Vietnam War unsustainable. The Taliban have nowhere else to go. They have fought as an organization since the 1990s, and longer than that as individuals. Their interests in the future of Afghanistan towers over the American interest if it is determined that the al Qaeda-Afghanistan nexus is no longer decisive. If that were to happen, then the willingness of the United States to absorb casualties would decline dramatically.

It does make you want to reconsider our strategy. If you believe, as I do, that al Qaeda is still a significant threat that should be dealt with accordingly, and by that I mean, dealt with as if it were a small, pathetic organization with very little to show for itself, then you cannot be happy that the Democrat Party has decided to politicize intelligence and national security by permanently attacking the Bush Administrationwhile ignoring the fact that the Obama Administration is simply carrying out the same policies, but with a fresher, happier attitude towards our many friends and allies.

I would urge you to digest every bit of "What Really Happened at Wanat," by Thomas Ricks:

Just before dawn last July 13, Taliban fighters attacked an outpost in eastern Afghanistan being established by U.S. Army soldiers and fought a short, sharp battle that left many American dead -- and many questions. But the U.S. military establishment, I've found after reviewing the Army investigation, dozens of statements given by soldiers to investigators, and interviews with knowledgeable sources, simply has not wanted to confront some bad mistakes on this obscure Afghan battlefield -- especially tragic because, as the interviews make clear, some of the doomed soldiers knew they were headed for potential disaster.

First, here's my account of what happened that day, drawn from the official investigation and other sources:

The 45 Americans, mainly from 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, had begun building a patrol base in the Waygul River valley village of Wanat on July 8. There also were three Marines present, who were training Afghans, and 24 soldiers from the Afghan army. (The initial Army report said two Marines, but subsequent documents corrected this.) The platoon's leader was there the whole time, but the company commander was busy elsewhere and only arrived the day before the attack. None of their superiors visited the outpost during that time. Significantly, there was no overhead surveillance by unmanned aerial vehicles because of bad weather, according to Army documents.

At 4:20 a.m., just before sunrise, volleys of rocket-propelled grenades began to hit the base. There were approximately 200 attackers, according to the Army investigation. They began by concentrating on the American's heavy weapons -- a 120 millimeter mortar, a TOW missile system, and a .50 caliber machine gun. It felt like "about a thousand RPGs at once," Spec. Tyler Hanson later told an Army interviewer. With the first two heavy weapons knocked out, the Taliban moved in to fight just feet away from the Americans, making it difficult to call in air strikes against them. Enemy fighters threw rocks into their Americans' fighting holes, apparently hoping they soldiers would mistake them for grenades and jump out, exposing themselves to fire. Enemy fire was coming from every direction. "The whole time we were thinking we were going to die," said Spec. Chris McKaig.

Many did. When most of the fighting was over, about an hour later, nine American soldiers were dead and another 27 were wounded. Between 21 and 52 of the attackers were killed. The Americans held the outpost, which is impressive, considering their 75 percent casualty rate.

Lessons are not being learned. This shall lead us to ruin.

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