As a journalist (and combat veteran) currently embedded with US forces in Afghanistan, I have found that roughly 95% of the troops on the ground in no way believe in their mission, have no confidence that their efforts will bring about lasting change to Afghan security, stability, governance, or a decreased influence of radicalism. In truth, they fight simply to stay alive and want nothing more than to go home. A recent quote:
“I joined to defend and fight for the United States, but now I feel like I’ve been tasked out to fight for Afghanistan. Yet the people don’t even care, and make no effort whatsoever to help us help them. They don’t WANT help.”
The nature of freedom is that those who are unwilling to fight for it personally will never realize it. As it stands, nothing is more important to Afghans than survival, even at the expense of all self-dignity, nationalism, tribalism, and whatever ideals may at one time surpassed the will to simply “get by.”
I have also discovered that if I publicize these findings (that literally 95% of troops don’t believe in their own mission), the Soldiers who I cite will be charged, potentially relieved of command, and I will be asked to disembed from these units.
As a recent example, I filmed approximately 75 minutes of combat footage, knowingly exposed myself to concentrated enemy fire, and learned two days ago that if I post this footage, the Soldiers on film will be charged and/or relieved for uniform violations, improper wear of personal protective equipment (ballistic glasses, fire-retardant gloves, etc), and that low-level commanders have already begun this process. In an attempt to preserve the careers of the Soldiers I am trying to advocate, I am unable to tell (or show) the US public what they’re experiencing and what they think of it. The military only wants good news to flow from embedded journalists – not facts.
The reality is this: the current tactical directive leaves US troops on the ground increasingly vulnerable, often unsupported by air assets or indirect fire, and as a consequence their personal mission is to keep each other alive and come home. Under this current “soft war” policy, the war cannot be won. After all, Pashtun Islamic culture sees any sort of kindness and mercy as a weakness – and immediately exploit it. The Taliban, knowing the restrictive nature of the current ROE/Tactical directive, use it against US forces regularly.
US troops feel abandoned by their chains of command, bilked by military recruiters, and participants in a conflict that history will not treat kindly. They will return to the US and to civilian life full of disappointment, bitterness at their commanders, and unwilling to serve again. And military commanders here are doing their very best to ensure that this never reaches the public. In their pursuit of mission accomplishment, they have altogether neglected their second purpose: troop welfare. The former, however, will never be realized without an equally dedicated concentration on the latter.When I served in Jimmy Carter's Navy, the same sentiment abounded: we felt abandoned by the chain of command, where the upper echelons were just trying to survive and the rest of us were on our own. The military was so badly neglected that coffee became the currency of the pier and was used to trade parts among the ships in port.
Over at our sister site, Red State Rumblings, I wrote about the Afghan strategy at length a couple of months ago - siting the profound differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, I called for a different strategy:
The strategy I would propose is to draw down the force structure now. Why wait eighteen months for failure? We've already told them we are going to leave. Let's cut our losses and our expenses now. The U.S. Military has never been good at "nation building," let's get back to doing what we are extremely good at, killing people and breaking things. I would leave sufficient forces in theater to train and work with the local militias to protect the major population centers in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar e Sharif along with an extremely lethal special forces group that would go to trouble spots and kill bad guys. Leave a strike presence in the Arabian Sea and bolster the missions of drones. Let the word go out, like the famous kill cards in Vietnam, that if you mess with us, the consequences will be severe. Keep this level of forces around for several years until the Afghans get mad enough at the Taliban that they solve it on their own.I know the war wizards in Obama's cabinet aren't going to listen to me...but they need to start listening to the boots on the ground. Too many are going to come back empty if they don't.