Thursday, April 22, 2010

A soldier's view of the Afghanistan war as it really is

U.S. generals in Afghanistan are sure that the only way to "win" that campaign is to stop killing so many Afghan civilians.

(What does "win" mean again? -- somehow our political leaders never answer that.) (At least the media usually has largely dropped the modifier "innocent" that used to invariably accompany "civilian" in accounts of these "mistakes." Maybe we can't imagine what "innocent" means among a population so utterly incomprehensible to us?)

Recently the Christian Science Monitor ran a story by a reporter who had embedded with soldiers from the 82nd Airborne’s B Company as they carried out night raids on compounds where they suspected Taliban fighters were making bombs. The soldiers are frustrated by the restrictions the brass has handed down to try to reduce civilian killings.

"They make it really hard to fight because they're very restrictive," says Sgt. Christopher Gerhart of the 82nd Airborne, referring to the new rules.

Jake Diliberto served with the Marines in both Afghanistan and Iraq and since returning has earned an MDiv. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. Though he is always sympathetic to the guys who have to go fight, he thought this Christian Science Monitor article missed a lot of points.

1.) SOCOM [Special Operations Command] training indoctrinates these guys far more than a general's orders. A simple order cannot reshape the way prisoners are handled, or the way Special Forces operators conduct direct action operations.

2.) This is symptomatic of the disconnect between senior military officers and the actual operations on the ground. Most of us performing raids are so jacked up on adrenaline we can not simply "play nice" when we kick in a door and face locals.

3.) It does not matter what we do, Afghans respond to what they feel. If we raid at night to go and find bad guys, we make them scared just because we raided their homes. This should be lesson 101 from Iraq. They only way to make Afghans feel safe is to have Afghans policing Afghans.

4.) Assumptions being made about Special Forces guys being disciplined and following orders are a fantasy. History has shown, Special Forces guys will abuse power no different than the folks at Abu Ghraib. That is the nature of warfare, it is unpredictable, evil, and corrupt.

The most disturbing thing about this story, is General McChyrstal seems to be making more of the same mistakes from Iraq.That is, he refuses to acknowledge the "war" is not something he has the means or wisdom to figure out. Simply stated, behavior of troops, behavior of Afghans, and the insurgency, are not predictable or controllable.

5.) How long are we going to ignore the Taliban Peace Commission? They have said repeatedly that in six months we can bring peace if the US does not perform night raids, and kill innocent civilians. My own sense indicates, imperial hubris is the largest cause of massive levels of ineptitude, or just plain ignorance.

6.) The COIN [current military counter-insurgency strategy] manual is utter bullshit! Page after page is full of unpredictable outcomes. It sounds smart, but in reality, it's mindless.

Essentially, the US soldier is the glue holding together a five million pound falling giant, until the giant only collapses a little bit.

My emphasis. Let's get U.S. troops out of this crazy, purposeless war.

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