Guys like me find it very difficult to keep a straight face while political animals such as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rail about sanctuaries in Pakistan for bad guys the US is trying to kill (rather than capture), blaming those sanctuaries for the fact that the enemy keeps popping up all over Afghanistan to kill like diseased rodents in a garbage dump. Any Vietnam Vet knows that the inevitability of repeating Vietnam was always built right into Afghanistan from the very beginning, even more so given its land-locked location, no matter how much the Beltway policy wonks tried to change the labels used in this “new” kind of war – a war being fought with only one-fifth the number of ground soldiers, and none of the expertise, needed to accomplish the stated, “evolved”, mission. Furthermore, it was very clear after our first year in Afghanistan that the Europeans were NEVER going to pick up the slack for the required non-combat “nation-building”, but everyone instead focused on the Air Force and CIA trying to prove the effectiveness of their whiz bang toys (from a very safe distance, of course), while the US military tried valiantly to employ conventional forces in an unconventional environment they were never supposed to see again – for the second time in a decade.
When the mission in Afghanistan evolved into something for “NATO” to do, the idea was to use European military forces (mainly equipped, trained and configured for static defensive missions), plus State, USAID and their many commercial contractors, to do the “nation-building” stuff. “Nation-building” is an extremely critical aspect of unconventional warfare. But these elements all wanted first to have a secure environment in which to work their magic. Unfortunately, you do “nation-building” in order to GET a secure environment, so the whole concept fell apart by “thinking” that placed the cart before the horse. Most of these players rarely ventured outside their “Little America” reinforced bunkers to see how their “nation-building” efforts were coming along. (They weren’t.)
We had even used the Pakistanis for a decade during the 1980s as a proxy conduit of small arms to the mujahidin in a successful low-cost effort to force the Soviet Russian Red Army – which even shared a common border with the country – out of Afghanistan. This was a classic case of assisting smaller and weaker Afghan forces to use unconventional warfare methods to eventually eject a far superior and stronger Russian conventional enemy, similar to what communist forces had accomplished in Vietnam. The Russians just executed the American mistake in reverse; they started out with overwhelming conventional power and began shifting to smaller unconventional forces far too late.
What made anyone think it would be any harder to do the same with the Americans, who had to come halfway around the world? Earlier, Americans going into Vietnam knew full well that the tenacious Vietnamese had already ejected the French army from their country, but were convinced that the same fate would never befall them. The Americans started out in Vietnam correctly with small unconventional forces, but then became impatient and introduced really huge conventional forces. Just like in Vietnam, just like the Russians, ten years on in Afghanistan, and we are no further along than we were after the first year – which, of course, was always entirely predictable. No one ever “dropped the ball” in Afghanistan; Afghanistan wasn’t worth even playing with the ball. It’s just stupid trying to apply conventional thinking in an entirely unconventional environment.
It’s especially tragic knowing that this war is being run by the same Baby Boomers so completely opposed to their own involvement in Vietnam 45 years ago. Hardly a day passes now without some pontificating Baby Boomer “official” making statements that are 100% transposable to 1969, word for word. These jerks are actually reciting the exact same dogma used by those they hated so vehemently when the possibility of war faced them up close and personal with the Draft. On 8 June 2012, I watched Secretary Panetta talk to the camera for five minutes on the tarmac at Kabul with precisely the same words spoken by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut long ago. Only the geographic locations were different, i.e., Cambodia = Pakistan, etc.. It’s that good ‘ol “déjà vu all over again”, a really stupid movie playing on auto re-wind.
Never did I, one who actually did help “write the book” – during the 1970s – ever imagine that such colossal mistakes could ever possibly be repeated in my own lifetime. Whatever happened to us? How did we ever acquire Baby Boomer “leaders” who so arrogantly throw around rhetoric and power designed specifically to engender even greater anti-American hatred of the biggest bully on the block, while giving away to the world the most sensitive national security secrets at home just to show how “macho” they are and win domestic political “points”? Are they all completely nuts?! Even I could easily end up hating us. Is this the last impotent roar of a dying empire, destroyed by itself?
In Afghanistan only the nifty toys have changed from Vietnam. And, despite the nifty toys, still the very most important improvement on the battlefield is that really terrific body armor that is keeping US Army and Marine deaths far below past levels. Naturally, once the effectiveness of that body armor was realized (in 2002), any moron HAD to know that far fewer guys would be coming back home in cheap body bags and tin cans, and far more would be coming home with important and extremely expensive body pieces missing. (Just wait until the complaints about THAT price of war begin, a huge price that will continue for a generation, long after those paying the bills forget all about why all those soldiers came home maimed. Americans today care more about millionaire football players getting injured on the carpeted sports field than they do about average American soldiers being blown to pieces on the dusty battlefield.)
This, plus the fact that we have been forced, thanks to the great “Cold” War “Peace Dividend”, to make far greater use of citizen soldiers in the National Guard and Reserves. Ironically, as Secretary Panetta knows, this very tactic was seen, in 1990, as actual “insurance” that the US military would not be committed to stupid open-ended wars of no consequence to our national security. (Panetta was an elected member of the House from 1977 to 1993, the last four very critical years of which he chaired the House Committee on the Budget, and then Director of OMB before becoming President Clinton’s Chief Of Staff; he knows. So does Senator McCain.) At that time the US Congress declared loud and clear that the United States, based on strong input from State and CIA, “no longer in a global struggle with an opposing ideology”, was therefore no longer in the “nation-building” business, and then guaranteed that declaration by firing almost a million military people whose role was to support such unconventional objectives and shifted any germinal capability remaining to the National Guard and Reserves (and simultaneously pumped up State, USAID, and similar bureaucratic agencies). It was believed at that time that voters, seeing their local cops, their firemen, their mechanics, even their teachers and mayors, as opposed to only professional soldiers, sent off to foreign wars, would scream loudly if things started wandering. Sadly, they haven’t. I guess endless wars are now ok, as long as it doesn’t involve “me”. Of course, we are also paying our volunteer soldiers and their survivors a lot more than we paid draftees and their survivors. Maybe it’s true that we now actually do “pay them to die”, as arrogant sideline sitters always love to proclaim. Apparently, actually defending the nation is now far down the list of priorities as we use the volunteer military primarily to reengineer the globe according to domestic political whims of the moment.
And just ten years after Soviet communism ceased being an “opposing global ideology”, we were hit by a new “opposing global ideology” in Islamic militant extremism that had risen from the moment the “Cold” War ended – and watched it grow all through the 1990s even as the military was cut in half in order to buy domestic votes. Both ideologies, of course, require very extensive use of the full range of unconventional warfare – a capability that was tossed in the garbage in 1990, with Panetta’s full concurrence. Just consider that this opposing ideology is stateless, can put up no established country as an “enemy”; no one is ever going to defeat such an enemy with conventional forces, by defeating nation states.
As an indication of just how incredibly complacent Americans have become, as we forget about Iraq and allow Afghanistan to drag on without question, our soldiers are now deliberately killing themselves at a greater rate than the enemy is killing them, all while clueless bureaucrats and politicians blame the Pakistanis – who, fortunately, have NOT forgotten the “Lessons of Vietnam”, including the tragic lessons realized by Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam after the Americans pulled out. Why would the Pakistanis want to walk straight into that old suicidal trap? How can we possibly be so arrogant as to think the Pakistanis are that stupid? They are doing what they have always done, what they must do given their situation and the history of Baby Boomers beginning with Vietnam. The ONLY people we have to blame for problems we are experiencing in Afghanistan and Pakistan are those staring back at us in the mirror. Take a look at a map; those sanctuaries could just as easily be in Iran, or China. What then, Kimosabi?
We keep thinking that others must believe us, must follow us, because our intentions are so “altruistic”, when our own record very clearly belies our words. The only thing we are willing to do that others are not is sacrifice our soldiers in ill-conceived endeavors. A full twenty years after that ridiculous anachronism “NATO” should have been retired with honors, the Baby Boomers are still dumb suckers for cheap European tokenism designed to keep the American taxpayer carrying the lion’s share of European defense requirements, even though absolutely no one can explain why with anything even remotely resembling logic. We keep celebrating our “high moral standards” while preferring to kill people rather than take them prisoner and benefit from additional intelligence. (“Prisoners are so messy.” “Human intelligence is so dangerous.”) We keep telling the Russians that the European “missile shield” is not intended to counter them, while placing it exactly where it could be for no other purpose. We keep saying that we support “self-determination”, but then act as if there was a small-print caveat that says we only support “self-determination” when it leads to where we want it to lead, and not if it leads to the opposite direction. We tell the world that it’s best to give up nuclear weapons and live in peace with the international community, but as soon as Libya does just that we bomb the country into oblivion. We say we are not at war with Pakistan, but incessantly act as if we are, violating their sovereignty to kill at will. If I were Pakistan (or Russia, or Iran, or anyone else on the planet), I wouldn’t believe us, either. The CIA, from its comfortable offices 7,000 miles away, has killed more people in Pakistan (where we are not at war) than the US Army, right there in the rocky dust, has killed in Afghanistan (where we are at war) – and it’s all mostly a stupid “whack-a-mole” endeavor going nowhere, like pushing water around.
We are simply duplicitous bullies, demanding to have it our way, or else, and shifting our approaches every three or four years almost on a lark. It must be hell trying to live in a world dominated by such childishly capricious Americans with all that power scaring everyone silly every ten minutes. When my dad ventured into dangerous places 70 years ago, he was automatically greeted by trust and admiration; when I do the same today, the automatic greeting is fear and suspicion.
When you are fighting a war in a land-locked country, the most important factor becomes keeping your forces supplied sufficiently to keep them alive, healthy and potent. The absolutely critical supply line from the Arabian Sea through Pakistan and the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan was always worth more than the amount of aid we were paying Pakistan. When that supply line was closed by an embarrassed sovereign Pakistan, the US military had to quickly craft the most complex supply system in the history of warfare that now wound through twenty other countries, mostly in the north, including Russia – a crazy meandering multi-channel labyrinth – by truck, train, barge, ship and plane – 2500 miles long and almost as wide all the way from the Baltic Sea, only to funnel it all through a single decrepit mountain tunnel in northern Afghanistan that could collapse any day. (See Footnote #1.) This resulted in the sea of gasoline needed every day to keep our forces alive and fighting now costing over $50 a gallon – much of which is being purchased in Russia. (That’s over $13 a liter. You can extrapolate that cost to the hundreds of tons of other logistics also consumed by our military forces in Afghanistan every day – at US taxpayer expense.) If just one of those tankers blows up in that tunnel, the whole route is permanently closed, and our forces are isolated.
So what do our politicians do when Pakistan offers to re-open its Khyber Pass route, but at a much higher cost of transit? They say “we” won’t bend to “extortion”. Is this war being run by a bunch of hubristic little girls? It’s not extortion when it’s a simple matter of unavoidable reality! End the aid and pay the Pakistanis whatever they want for transit, or remove our forces from Afghanistan immediately! It’s not YOUR life, or YOUR money, that’s at stake! (Unless, of course, they also intend to invade Pakistan, like the military predecessors they hated invaded Cambodia, without regard to the consequences. I’ll bet you a million dollars that the Panettas and Clintons and Rices and Powerses and Albrights of Washington will NOT be in the lead of that invasion. Today, “leading” is always conducted from the very safe rear.)
As ALL those superb 1970s Army manuals clearly showed, “winning” anything worthwhile in Afghanistan with available resources, including all those “special” and incredibly expensive contractors and “allies” and bureaucrats who accomplish nothing without an undermanned US military ensuring them a permanently safe and secure environment – which, of course, is impossible – within the adopted strategy, was ALWAYS an impossible endeavor, was always just pouring mountains of someone else’s blood and treasure down the drain. It was never realistic to expect that anything worthwhile could be accomplished in Afghanistan in less than thirty years of constant effort with far more ground forces and enormously greater military and civil affairs expertise. Nor was it even strategically necessary to do so. If the Americans didn’t study those 1970s manuals, the Pakistanis surely did. So did the bad guys.
The long range effect of freeing Iraq from its dictator, and replacing it with a viable better alternative, the first and most important of the dominos in the center of the Muslim support base, was always a hundred times more strategically important than whatever transpired in Afghanistan – despite asinine domestic American politics. The only way possible to defeat such an enemy as al Qaeda is to dramatically alter its two-billion strong support base, by systematically rendering that support base ever less willing to render support. Our enemy is an ideology – Islamic militant extremism. If you think that such an enemy can be defeated simply by killing as many fighters as show up on the battlefield, then you also believe that the little boy on the beach can empty the sea into his hole in the sand. That’s just a childish delusion. It’s been disproven over and over again throughout history – including 2,000 years ago when that ideology known as Christianity first reared its dangerous head among mankind and faced a similar whack-a-mole approach from the Roman Empire. It is in IRAQ where we “took the eye off the ball” – solely as a consequence of really stupid domestic American politics. We should have stayed at least another three years, and preferably five, to better stand up what we were leaving behind, to make damned certain it wasn’t all just wasted, thrown away, that it was sufficiently strong and resolved to successfully counter the rising Islamic militant extremist ideology with a better alternative.
The original mission in Afghanistan was to go in and rout the Taliban while capturing or killing as many al Qaeda as possible, and then go home, probably after no more than six months. THAT was a realistic mission, and one that actually made sense. Who changed the mission? Was it bureaucrats attempting to find something, anything, to justify that silly “NATO” bureaucracy? (The most dangerous thing for any country to have is a military “alliance” that isn’t; check with George Washington.) “Mission creep”, too, was endemic to Vietnam. And its causes in both wars were exactly the same: US domestic political campaigning waged by twits who do NOT risk their own lives in the messes they create with asinine rhetoric – which then has to be realized in fact. It’s nothing but using soldiers as cheap domestic political pawns, risk-free.
Even the killing of innocents in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is comparable to Vietnam, giving natural rise to ever more new enemies on the battlefield, but now almost all of “collateral damage” killing is done by remote control by bureaucrats who don’t even have to consider “accountability”, including public crucifixion when they come back home to be labeled “baby killers”, or tried for war crimes. (In order to be charged with a “war crime”, you have to be a foot soldier fully exposed to immediate death on the battlefield and have less than a second to decide whether or not to fire a hand-held weapon, or die. If you are a member of a committee sitting 10,000 miles away in a comfortable office and have hours to decide to launch missiles under zero threat of any danger, you can kill with impunity. It’s another example of that Brilliant Baby Boomer “thinking”. Most of the safe “drone targeting” is, of course, is a brainless “whack-a-mole” approach that accomplishes almost nothing against an ideology, and, in fact, is essentially counter-productive because it just creates more enemy fighters to oppose our military forces.)
But now, without a Draft, no one gives a damn. The whole country has become a bunch of “feminists” – who still have nothing of their own at stake and thus nothing to care about with anything that doesn’t directly involve them – with all their countless rights and choices free of responsibility. All anyone has to do is sell them the nonsense that it’s all for their “safety and security”, for special “me”, and they’ll buy it without a moment’s consideration of the consequences to anyone or anything else – even to the point of turning the nation into a high-tech prison for brainless cowering lemmings policed by an army of hidden voyeuristic Stasi-style creeps playing with computers and remotely controlled drones and weird “men in black” with ski masks running around like storm troopers – IN MY COUNTRY!
It’s long past time to withdraw ALL US military forces from Afghanistan, and leave it to the Europeans. Since European interests in that country were always far greater than ours anyway, we should have turned it over at the end of the first six months – and left. (And then sat down to talk real partnership with Russia – ten years late – a partnership designed for THIS century.) If crazies operating in Afghanistan eventually pose even a remote threat to the US, we can just use President Clinton’s approach – and lob in a few cruise missiles (now better guided by those nifty drone toys) – from a very safe distance, of course.
But all is just fine in Never-Never Land – until someone starts using our “thinking”, our methods and our secrets and our toys – against us. I just hope there’s a special place in hell for the Boomers – spoiled rotten, shamefully ignorant, and totally useless. As exemplified most visibly in their legions of “special” “feminists”, it’s all about “me”, damned anyone else, damned the future, damned even the kids.
I keep wondering if the nation will survive long enough to get the Boomers off the stage…..
(And General Patraeus over at Langley being steadily co-opted by those bureaucrats so he won’t run for President. To me, the perfect ticket would be responsible adults Powell-Patraeus. The next best ticket would be Patraeus and a very young woman who earned her stripes on the battlefield – where girly-boys fear to tread – by actually leading from the front.)
(See “Smiling Faces And Purple Fingers – And Egypt”, posted separately.)
Footnote #1: Salang Pass. Built by the Russians and opened unfinished in 1964, the tunnel at Salang Pass (elevation 11,200 ft/3,400 m) at the top of the Hindu Kush is 1.6 miles (2.6 km) long and in very poor condition. It is the major north-south connection in Afghanistan. The official width and height of the tunnel tube are 23 feet (7 m), but users claim it is no more than 20 feet (6.1 m) wide at the base and 16 feet (4.9 m) high, but only in the center – making two-way truck traffic a very careful feat that simply cannot afford mistakes. The tunnel handles between 10,000 and 16,000 vehicles a day, and since “NATO” convoys have priority, many thousands of trucks back up for many miles along treacherously narrow switch-back mountain roads for as long as a week waiting to get through the tunnel. It all looks like something out of the 19th century.
Between 200 and 900 Russians and Afghans reportedly (depending on sources) died of asphyxiation in the tunnel in 1982 when a military convoy was trapped inside by an accident or a mujahidin-set explosion (no one is sure) when a tanker truck blew up in the tunnel and the fire engulfed the convoy. During February 2010, huge avalanches at the southern mouth of the tunnel killed at least 64 people, buried alive in cars and buses waiting to get into the tunnel. The Afghan Army and “NATO” used helicopters to rescue at least 2,500 people who were trapped inside their vehicles.
The only remotely viable alternative route is over the Shibar Pass, farther west, where security against looting and sabotage is a major shortcoming, but it adds another three days to the already long trip – IF it is not also clogged with vehicles winding their way up through treacherously narrow switch-back mountain roads, too.