A Letter From Afghanistan

I don’t think I’ve ever reposted anything BG has written me while he’s been overseas. But he sent this yesterday, and it seems like the kind of thing that ought to be shared. Here are some thoughts from a front-line soldier in Afghanistan:

saw somewhere the government is looking at cutting 1billion in aid to iraq. i also read somewhere that south vietnam didnt really fall until congress stopped sending them money and materiel. what is the point of all this fighting if no one is willing to give support to the countries we tried so hard to build?

In the next week, all of the commentariat will be transfixed by the soap-opera of McCrystal and the Administration and who said and did what to whom. Meanwhile, my son carries a machine gun and his friends get shot and blown up. If we’re not going to act like these countries matter – why should he?

11 thoughts on “A Letter From Afghanistan”

  1. Is it better to send a never-ending stream of resources too small to be successful and pretend we’re doing enough (a la the Bush years)?

    At this point, we’ve thrown a lot of money at the problem, and had almost no success in 6 years. This is largely due to the resource-drain from Iraq.

    Now, I would prefer to see a “surge” greater than in Iraq, to stabilize what’s left. That seemed to be what Obama wanted. Post-election, however, it looks like the WH no longer sees political stabilization as plausible. If that’s true, it doesn’t matter what the military does, the end is inevitable.

    In my opinion, the same was true in Vietnam… even if the Communists were destroyed, the government was so corrupt that it would struggle to survive on it’s own, or be any more democratic than it’s communist rivals.

    Now, I’m not saying the WH is right, or trying to criticize you or your son. That is incredibly difficult situation to be in, both as a father and as a soldier. Just as I understand McChrystal’s frustrations.

    The WH (in my opinion) has been trying to decide if they have the stability and the political capital to succeed in Afghanistan. It looks like a decision has been made.

  2. I don’t even know you, but my first, instinctual, thought upon hearing that McCrystal had pulled a MacArthur was that it’s time to bring them home, and I was thinking of your son.

    McCrystal will be cashiered, and rightly so. Obama, having hired McCrystal because he thought that “counterinsurgency” sounded cool and McCrystal was the highest recommended COIN guy available, won’t make a similar mistake again. He’ll hire a bobblehead who will do what he’s told and not request more troops, ask for meetings longer than 20 minutes, or make waves in any way. We’ll begin the drawdown on schedule, regardless of the facts on the ground.

    Force protection should be the primary objective of the field grade officers from here on out.

  3. To be honest, right now I’m furious at the WH. It’s Obama’s team that’s acting like twelve-year-olds, and it’s his damn job to put together and run good teams of senior leaders.

    And yes, Phil, I think that force protection and ‘drive-by COIN’ is the likely outcome of this mess.


  4. alchemist, I’m not sure a super-surge was ever an option in Afghanistan for logistical reasons: Afghanistan has no sea port, and transporting across Pakistani roads and through the Khyber Pass and other choke points can only get you so much in terms of a sustainable presence.

    The problem with Afghanistan IMHO was the same one we faced in Vietnam: allowing the enemy safe havens from which they could rest, recover, and return. Laos and North Vietnam in one case, the Pakistani tribal regions in the other. Without the will to cross the border and put boots in the tribal region ourselves – the Pak military has historically had little stomach for it – Afghanistan has never been “winnable.”

    We accomplished our primary mission long ago of toppling the Taliban and kicking al Qaeda out of their Afghan safe havens. Unfortunately, we’ve never been good at recognizing when we’ve won and calling it a day, with mission creep leading us to try nation-building in what has never been little more than a collection of tribal entities and warlords.

    I’ve always preferred victory above other alternatives, but I’m not even sure what that would look like at this point.

  5. I think your son is asking a question that not only deserves an answer, but demands it. Especially since it has not been answered realistically in all the time we have been in Afghanistan.
    I doubt that there will ever be any real backing for this War. There was some enthusiasm when the motivation was to get Al-Quaeda and Bin-Laden, but at this point, I doubt that 10% of the American People could fashion a coherent idea of why we are there.

    By that I mean something more than slogan, like the “War on Terror”.

    I am quite disgusted with the American People, because of the way they have let this mission go on and on and on, with no clear direction or purpose.

    Your son’s words made me very angry.

    Angry that we, the American people, have put him and his comrades in harm’s way without our support, and by that I don’t mean what some poll says.

    It seems pretty simple to me, if we as a people cannot give our military a clear, believable idea of why they are in combat in a particular place, an idea that they will put their lives on the line for, then we should not deploy them.

    Send you son my love. Tell him to keep thinking. Tell him I found his words to be penetrating. Tell him he will never be far from my thoughts.

  6. By the way, here’s Walt for “Foreign Policy”:http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/

    bq. There is also no reason to believe Petraeus will achieve significantly different results because the problem in Afghanistan is not the quality of our generals. Bad leadership can hamper a war effort, of course, but it is a fallacy to think that all we need to do is get the right leader in place at the top and then all will be well.

    bq. The real problem is that our campaign in Afghanistan is like trying to nail jelly to the wall. The Karzai government is a liability, not an asset, and we have no way of making it perform better. Similarly, we have no way of forcing the Taliban to sit still and fight us out in the open… Although troop morale seems to be good, our forces have been fighting a long time and burnout is beginning to set in. Our NATO allies are leaving the field, and Americans are beginning to realize that the costs of continuing this fight exceed either the benefits of victory or the risks of withdrawal. “Victory” in Afghanistan — whatever that might mean — wouldn’t make al Qaeda a lot weaker; and “failure” wouldn’t make them much stronger either. Putting a new general in charge doesn’t change that calculus at all.

  7. As I recall, the last time we left Afghanistan got what? Ultimately the Taliban and their friend Osama. And that road led to a rather unpleasant September in New York.

    We already have the Taliban.

    For sure this is going to work out well.

    Worse than Jimmy Carter? Why? Because we already know better.

  8. Was this written for a contest? One of those “Write a modern history of American Involvement in Afghanistan since 1970″ in 53 words or less, and win a 2 week vacation in Philadelphia?

  9. Jarc,
    My comment #8 was in reply to M. Simon’s Comment #7, not to your post

    My comment #5 is in reply to you post.

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