End the Afghanistan WarNovember 11, 2017
On January 22, 2007, my Iraqi combat advisor team and I were diverted from our mission to locate a downed Blackwater MD 350F Little Bird in a dangerous Baghdad neighborhood on the eastern shore of the Tigris River. We never reached the wreckage, learned if gunfire, low hanging electrical wires, or a failed landing attempt brought them down, or if the five American private security contractors were systematically executed as some news outlets reported. For Veterans Day, I am using our experience as American soldiers risking our lives to rescue the much better paid, extremely well-armed, and often overzealous private security contractors to highlight how America's current war strategies have removed the number of deployed military personnel from the American conscious. This phenomenon is epitomized by President Donald Trump's strategy redux to continue the sixteen-year old War in Afghanistan that the Obama Administration pursued without acknowledging upfront that our military relied upon 23,500 contractors and misled the American public by claiming that only 8,500 American service members were fighting, a figure that did not include the 2,500 Special Operations Forces and other constantly rotating units.
The Earth has few species of nutritious wild plants suitable for agriculture, even fewer animals that can be domesticated for livestock, and far less locations possessing both to allow for food surpluses, denser populations, and the need for centralized governments. Invading armies always struggle assimilating Afghanistan's vastly different cultures that resulted from the almost uninhabitable geography having only twelve percent arable land creating both population centers requiring governance and remote valley villages whose social norms, hierarchy, and judicial systems rely solely on immediate family, extended family, and tribes of common ancestors. For most of the 1970's, the quant hippie destination remained largely peaceful, until the communist central government tried indoctrinating the villages, civil war erupted, and the Soviets Union invaded in 1979. While the Soviets built roads, schools, and housing for the population centers, their heavily armored Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships transported troops to shoot every villager in villages without military aged males present to encourage submission. A quagmire set when American, Pakistani, and Saudi Arabian backed jihadist Mujahedeen fighters began destroying the low flying aircraft with our surface to air missiles. Meanwhile, the semi-literate clerics comprising the Taliban that solely settled disputes with religious law between our anti-Soviet fighters, returned to the countryside after the Soviet Union's 1989 withdrawal, and swept nearly ninety percent of Afghanistan under draconian purity in 1994 to end the raging civil war between competing warlords. The September 11th attacks by mostly Saudi hijackers was blowback from arming Al Qaeda's predecessors, but the hubris of President George W. Bush's “with us or against us” mentality, the Taliban's Supreme Council's Mullah Omar's willingness to only send his Osama Bin Laden nuisance to a neutral third country ruled by Islamic law, and our military's initial lack of understanding of Afghanistan's tribal culture turned what should have been a prosecution into an endless war.
Similar to how pragmatism for survival led Afghans to sympathize with communists, warlords, and the Taliban, the Afghan government defected en masse during the two month American bombing cornucopia and a fragile countrywide stability held while American military operations shifted towards Afghanistan's eastern border to prevent Al Qaeda from decamping to Pakistan. Excitement for American assistance, opportunity, and prosperity dissipated when it became clear that instead of pursuing truth and reconciliation, the American backed central government of President Hamid Karzai began a patronage system where access brokers became political elites that awarded services, employment, and government contracts solely to their tribes. Worse, tribes began satisfying America's desired high value targeting and effects based operations by falsely accusing rival elders of being Al Qaeda, resulting in public outrage over mostly innocent Afghans being captured in Special Forces raids, some detainees being transported from field outposts to humiliating open air cages at detention facilities at the repurposed Bagram and Kandahar Soviet airfield's, and other victims joining the two hundred Afghans sent to Guantanamo Bay Cuba. However, most damaging was American foreign policy's signature in conflict zones since September 11th changing from pilots continents away looking through our prized forty-eight foot wing spanned MQ-1 Predators' straw sized apertures went from firing its two air to surface Hellfire missiles at identified targets to killing nameless targets based on identifiable predetermined hostile patterns like praying, squatting to go to the bathroom, or washing their hands and face. The War on Terror in Afghanistan became its own self-fulfilling prophecy with villages throughout the hinterland turning against the American supported central government, the Taliban trading their plow shears back for weapons to lead an insurgency against Afghanistan's inept security forces, and successors to the insurgents killed being younger, more disciplined, and far more barbaric in order to make names for themselves.
The Afghan War's trajectory will not be changed by President Trump's modest increase of an additional 3,000 to 5,000 American service members to primarily assist combat advisors enable Afghan forces, Special Forces perform high value targeting, and Predator pilots take-off and land onsite. President Trump reversing to stay the course may be due to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's reminder that America has already spent half a billion dollars since 2009 for the central government to allow Western companies to exploit Afghanistan's estimated $1 to $3 trillion worth of untapped precious gems, gold, and rare earth metals like lithium for our mobile phones' batteries, although the poor infrastructure, corruption, and growing violence would likely only interest China. One unwelcome strategy departure was the dissolution of the State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, given not only did Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at best shelter the Afghan Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, but the blowback from American operated Predators firing upon Pakistani Taliban targeted by ISI operatives in Pakistan's ungovernable northwest tribal regions could lead discontent slums to overrun any of Pakistan's new Chinese nuclear power facilities and acquire far more dirty bomb ingredients than the Islamic State may have acquired from overrunning the Mosul college campus in 2014, where highly radioactive cobalt-60 was contained within radiotherapy machines. Far more menacing to America's future though, is the strategy's continued failure to address Afghanistan producing eighty-five percent of the world's opium crop, the record poppy harvests constituting sixteen percent of the Afghan Gross Domestic Product, and the Taliban having little incentive to negotiate peace given opium sales make up at least sixty percent of their income, their recent successes aggressively seizing poppy producing regions, and their new found talent of refining heroin itself to be more easily smuggled to the west.
After sixteen years of military operations, 2,216 American service members killed, and 20,050 wounded, the number of armaments released by coalition forces is at the highest level in seven years, the number of civilian deaths is at the highest level ever, and the Taliban are using their most effective, brutal, and deadliest tactics yet. One logical conclusion to the trajectory of our military operations is the full privatization of the War in Afghanistan. President Trump considered such a proposal by Erik Prince, the former owner of the now defunct Blackwater, which could have simultaneously allowed for possible Soviet style tactics to attempt submission, removed the endless war from the American psyche all together, and fulfilled politicians' desires to appear tough to their electorates. I support an alternative logical conclusion to the trajectory of the War in Afghanistan. It is time for our elected officials to admit to themselves that Afghanistan's tribal culture will not change, be truthful with the American public on the actual impact our counterproductive military operations are having, and bring our service members home.