In the small newspapers and TV stations around the country, in what are known as "local interest" stories, the national scandal of Afghanistan is being documented, article by article, segment by segment. These are the stories of our returning heroes, our returning wounded, whose fight with and for life, maybe with one limb, maybe without any limbs, is just beginning. What these stories, taken together, demonstrate is one particularly egregious aspect of the flagrant abuse the nation's leaders are subjecting the military to in pursuit of the Bush-Obama Afghanistan "nation-building" fantasy -- something Congress, irresponsibly, doesn't even seem interested in debating.
But here's a possible point of Congressional departure: The Marines 3rd Battalion/3rd Regiment, known as the Dark Horse Battalion, shipped out to Sangin in September 2010 and returned home last month having suffered 25 killed and some 150-200 wounded (reports vary), including more than a dozen amputees. Could this high rate of casualties have something to do with fundamental flaws in the war strategy?
Sgt. James Finney, 23, described what his tour was like in the Auburn (Calif.) Journal this week.
“For the first couple of months, there were firefights every day but then it got colder and they didn’t want to fight so they started putting down IEDs,” he said.
A sergeant responsible for a squad of 11, Finney said that he was on foot patrol for most of the seven months he spent in the Sangin District.
“Mentally, the guys held up fine but it’s physically demanding,” he said. “We were in the city of Sangin in an area known as Death Valley with everyone carrying between 60 and 180 pounds on their backs.”
“The biggest challenge was probably keeping guys in the game,” Finney said. “We were pulling out 15 IEDs a day. When I got blown up I was lucky. Most who have that happen are amputees or are killed.”
On August 1, 2010, about a month after sailing through his confirmation hearings to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal (Tweedledum & Dee regarding COIN strategy) as Afghanistan commander, and about a month before Sgt. Finney and his fellow Marines shipped out to Sangin, Gen. David Petraeus issued his Counterinsurgency Guidance. (See it here.) "The decisive terrain is the human terrain," it says, repeating the COIN mantra of population protection over force protection. "Only by providing them [Afghans] security and earning their trust" can the strategy prevail. (Emphasis added.) It wasn't that Pestraeus' guidance set new policy; the point was it revalidated what was already in place.
I've commented endlessly on the gross, see-no-Islam fallacy of the whole US strategy, which is based on the futile task of "earning their trust" (i.e., winning hearts & minds). In a nutshell, the problem is that the COIN strategy assumes that an Islamic population will climb aboard a Western train of logic ("security" leads to "trust") and adopt all manner of what are at base Western behaviors -- law and order, checks and balances, transparency, not to mention the individual rights and guarantees of legal equality to which the laws of Islam are implacably hostile.
Here, however, I want to focus now on the how it is that Gen. Petraeus has directed troops to accomplish this dangerously absurd trust-earning strategy.
Of course, the August 1, 2010 directive is filled with big and crazy talk of nation-building -- "Help them develop checks and balances to prevent abuses ...Help our Afghan partners create good governance..." -- which sounds more like as SOS to Benjamin Franklin in the sky than achievable orders to troops on the ground. But what is key here is how the Petraeus guidance calls for this nation-building and trust-building to be achieved. It's not just that Petraeus calls on the military to "be a good guest" and "build relationships" (and, literally, to "drink lots of tea"). There's something else, something that must be examined in light of the grievous injuries sustained by our forces. Petraeus specifically calls for foot patrols "whenever possible":
Walk. Stop by, don't drive by. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population. Take off your sunglasses. Situational awareness can be gained only by interacting face to face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.
Patrol on foot whenever possible, the general ordered on August 1, 2010.
Finney said that he was on foot patrol for most of the seven months he spent in the Sangin District beginnning in September 2010.
In a story on catastrophic war injuries this week, the LA Times notes cause and effect:
The most grievous wounds are traceable to the Taliban's continued use of improvised explosive devices. U.S. counter-insurgency strategy calls for soldiers and Marines, whenever possible, to go on walking patrols rather than ride in armored vehicles — increasing their vulnerability to buried roadside bombs.
The connection to make here is between COIN, the strategy of the nation-building fantasists, and the losses suffered by those ordered to execute it. For starters, Congress should ask Gen. Petraeus, Adm. Mike Mullen, SecDef Robert Gates and others about these foot patrols: Is the tactic working? Is the strategy working? Is it worth the cost? Let's talk about COIN's other tactics -- restrictive ROEs, a dhimmi's reverence for the Koran and payola, all of which are (mis)calculated to win Afghan hearts & minds. Are they working? Is "earning Afghan trust" still a viable strategy for a decade-long war effort that costs at least $350 million every day just to suit up? Is nation-building in the corrupt and tribalistic umma still what passes for a good idea?
It's way past high time to pose these urgent questions, to debate this whole trust-earning, nation-building disaster at the national level. What we are talking about here is of far more than "local interest," and continued silence about it is a national disgrace.