Monday, September 28, 2009

At the Crossroads in Afghanistan

The reality of Afghanistan is that any foreign presence in that country will always be viewed by most of the citizens as contrary to their welfare. This is a country where the majority of the people live the same way they did hundreds of years ago.

If you look at the tens of millions of people in Afghanistan, try to understand that the percentage of them who are fundamentalist in their religious beliefs far exceed the number of troops we will ever have in their country. These Afghans (and their supporters in Pakistan) will never accept the long-term presence of American troops any more than the Iraqis did. Remember that the new government in Baghdad insisted on a firm date for the withdrawal of all our forces when they negotiated that Status of Forces agreement last year.

Since I fought in Vietnam, I have always opposed “half wars” – wars where we dive in to save or introduce “democracy," but either our leaders didn’t know how to win, or they never planned to win in the first place. The soldiers who fight America’s wars must never have to die in such “half wars." After all, we didn’t enter Afghanistan to create a model of democracy in the first place.

We invaded Afghanistan to find, kill, and/or capture Osama bin Laden and the leadership of Al Qaeda. Since the Taliban government refused to turn over bin Laden, we dismantled their government and sent them scurrying into the mountains like the animals they are.

While we owe the innocent citizens of this defeated nation a chance to rebuild their government, no magical number of soldiers will ever conquer the ancient hatred of western occupying armies. This instinctive distrust of westerners will always remain the basis of an insurgency. We need to have enough soldiers to get the Al Qaeda job done (the "victory" we need), and then we should pack up and go home. Yes, we would continue to support and advise a democratic Afghan government, but they need to do the work.

With safe havens in Pakistan where we only wage war with rocket-laden drones, the insurgency in Afghanistan could never be defeated anyway. Just like Laos and Cambodia, where the North Vietnamese built their supply centers and base camps in safety, the Afghan/Pakistani insurgents have a free rein – as long as they pay attention to what is flying overhead. The safe havens in Pakistan are like bee hives, constantly breeding, training, and equipping new guerrillas. As long as these “hives” exist, the dead insurgents will continue to be replaced many times over by new fighters.

If the commanding general in Afghanistan wants more soldiers to hold the line while we get bin Laden and his pals, then the president better give him what he wants – and fast. Our troops deserve only the best in terms of equipment, supplies, and manpower.

But if the goal is to keep fighting another “half war” where we ask our soldiers to put their lives on the line for years when there isn’t a solid plan for real victory, then it’s time to re-evaluate how the war on terror will be fought now and in the years to come.

The definition of “victory” in military terms is the complete defeat or surrender of the enemy. If we are unwilling or unable to achieve this goal in Afghanistan, then we must change our strategy and choose a better way of fighting the plague of international terrorism.

Charles M. Grist

Monday, September 21, 2009

American Ranger in Nevada

My wife, Debbie, and I flew to Reno, Nevada a few days ago and it was an interesting trip. I got to see old Virginia City and also Lake Tahoe.

Here are a few pictures from the land of the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa:

On a scenic overlook near Reno:

The absolutely beautiful vista overlooking Lake Tahoe:

Looking down into the old town of Virginia City:

Debbie and I have considered moving to another state upon my retirement from the police department. I saw some beautiful potential retirement locations. Unfortunately, this old Florida boy isn't sure he could handle the snow.

American Ranger will continue to "range" throughout the country when he gets a chance - even as the war on terror continues and our brave warriors face a brutal, relentless enemy.

I can't help feeling guilty that I'm not there with them. But it also makes me feel good to see a little more of our great country - that beloved America that we have fought for.

Flying back from San Francisco was extraordinary as well. The Rocky Mountains, the desert southwest, the heartland of America. God, we are so fortunate to live in such a land.

Our warriors will continue to fight for us overseas. The rest of us must make sure we take a stand here against those who would change America into something none of us would recognize.

I won't let it happen and I'm sure you won't either. We shall use the power of the ballot and the ability to speak our minds to reinforce our determination to keep the America our founding fathers created...

Charles M. Grist

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering September 11, 2001

Those who lived through World War II will never forget where they were when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The members of our generation will always remember exactly what they were doing when the terrorists attacked on 9/11.

I was a police detective, standing in the Seminole County courthouse, teaching a new detective how to get an arrest warrant issued. County employees announced that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Just like that, all of our lives changed forever.

Since that terrible day when our fellow citizens were murdered on our soil, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have engaged Islamic fundamentalist terrorists throughout the world. Thousands of our brave troops have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

On this somber day, please take time to say a prayer for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, for their families, for America's warriors and their families, and for all of the men and women from America and its Coalition partners who have given their lives for the cause of freedom.

Charles M. Grist

Thursday, September 3, 2009

British Army Medic Puts Other Lives Before Her Own

Every soldier who ever served in combat knows how important our medics are. Even in the worst possible situation, they are moving to help the wounded. In the following story reported by AOL News, a British medic proves once again that the medic's duty to fellow troops is their primary mission:

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Injured Medic Saves 7 Soldiers
AOL News

(Sept. 2) - A British army combat medic put the safety of her comrades above her own in saving seven fellow soldiers in the aftermath of a grenade attack in Afghanistan.

Lance Cpl. Sally Clarke, 22, was serving with her patrol in the country's Helmand province when they came across a field mine. While waiting for a team to dispose of it, they came under a surprise attack from Taliban insurgents who fired a rocket-propelled grenade into their midst, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph.

After ducking for cover, Clarke realized that she had shrapnel wounds in her back and shoulder from the explosion -- and that seven fellow soldiers were also down with injuries.

Clarke immediately began moving from soldier to soldier, treating each for their wounds despite the searing pain from her own wounds, the Telegraph said.

The worst injuries were suffered by Cpl. Paul Mather, 28, who had serious puncture wounds in his arms, legs and buttocks.

"One of the pieces of shrapnel had torn a fist-sized hole through his skin," Clarke told the Telegraph. "I applied field dressings and a tourniquet to one of his wounds, while we waited for the Medical Emergency Response Team to arrive."

Clarke continued caring for all six other soldiers as well and even aided them in reaching a helicopter evacuation point. However, when it came time for her to take seat on the chopper and to get away from the battlefield, she refused on the grounds that the rest of the patrol required a medic and she couldn't abandon them despite her pain and injuries.

"I didn't feel like my injuries were bad enough to go back to the hospital particularly as I was the only medic on the ground at the time," she told the Telegraph. "I didn't want to leave them on their own."

Clarke later received medical attention and is headed home from Afghanistan.

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After serving with members of the British military during my tour in Iraq, I can attest to their overwhelming professionalism and courage. One day we were short of a turret gunner while transporting numerous senior Coalition officers along dangerous Route Irish. A British army lieutenant colonel volunteered to man the turret for us. This only confirmed what I knew about the warriors of the United Kingdom. They were the ultimate team players.

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Remember Why We Went To Afghanistan

In the swirling winds of the War on Terror, eight years of war has worn out all Americans as well as the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. As our involvement in Iraq slowly comes to an end because of the Status of Forces agreement mandating our exit by the end of 2011, the war in Afghanistan moves to the top of the agenda.

After the attacks of 2001, we went to Afghanistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and the members of Al Qaeda who planned, directed and helped execute those attacks. We did not go there to build a new Afghan society. The Taliban's defense of Al Qaeda resulted in the need to drive them from power - that is how we came to the job of "nation building" in Afghanistan.

The mistakes we have made in entering many battlegrounds - whether Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan - come from a failure to understand the history of both Asians and Arabs. Most of the Afghan people are living in a society based on standards of hundreds of years ago. They don't understand "democracy"; they understand tribes, warlords, power, and what an empty stomach feels like.

Although I haven't served in Afghanistan, I had the opportunity to work with a group of Afghan soldiers and police officers who came to to train at Fort Bragg a few years ago. (The above photo shows me with one of them in a Walmart near Fort Bragg). Right off the bat, two of these guys fled Bragg and became the object of a frantic search by military and civilian officials. The men were finally located in Fayetteville, supposedly at a mosque.

Once the two "fugitives" were returned to Fort Bragg, all the Afghans were locked down in two barracks. They took a group of us who had gone there as trainers and used us as "guards" as we provided twenty-four hour security to prevent any more "escapes".

The Afghans who didn't try to leave in the beginning began to resent us and said they felt like they were "prisoners". Before they returned to Afghanistan, the only official trip off Fort Bragg was a bus ride to a Walmart. Each Afghan was accompanied by an American soldier. They were allowed to spend what they had as allowances. Then we bused them back to Bragg where they were once again confined to their barracks until they flew home.

The Afghans I escorted to the Walmart were like children being taken into a candy store. Most of them came from small towns and villages and had never seen such excess. They couldn't believe the televisions, cell phones, and the vast array of consumer goods. Like foreigners visiting Disney World for the first time, they took pictures of each other in Walmart, for crying out loud. It was impossible not to feel sorry for them.

We would all like to make everything right for the Afghan people, but they must rise to the occasion. It is their country. Unfortunately, their society is filled with corruption and a vast segment of that society won't ever accept the American presence any more than they accepted the Russians or other "interlopers" over the centuries.

Our warriors, our civilian experts, and those who have volunteered to help the Afghan people are brave and dedicated to their missions. They are also digging a hole in the sand right now that keeps filling up.

We cannot completely throw Afghanistan to the wolves, but the following op-ed piece by conservative columnist George Will makes a lot of sense. Ground troops in any number will never conquer the ancient, almost instinctive Islamic hatred for foreign armies.

We must remember our primary mission and focus on it. We must kill or capture those who planned and helped execute 9/11, no matter where they are. As President Bush said, other countries are with us or against us. When that mission is done, our assistance to Afghanistan can continue as it has for other nations. As long as they remain on the democratic path, we will trade with them, advise them, and be their mentors. But we cannot perpetually fight a war for them - any more than we could in Vietnam or in Iraq. If they want freedom, they must demand it for themselves, and they must be willing to fight for it.

A change in strategy is not defeat. We must acknowledge the limitations of our involvement in Afghanistan. Let's get the bad guys who killed our citizens, then offer assistance and encouragement for the Afghans as long as they head in the right direction.

Once we eliminate the leadership and core of Al Qaeda, we have achieved the victory that we went to Afghanistan for in the first place. By the time we leave that country, whoever ultimately runs it will understand that if you attack America again, we will return and hunt down every one of you.

I think they've gotten the message so far...

This is George Will's column for today:

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Say 'when' in Afghanistan - and 'when' means now

George Will
Washington Post Writers Group

"Yesterday," reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, "I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a [mine's] pressure plate and lost both legs." Then "another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning."

"I'm sorry about the drama," writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die "so that each of you may grow old." He says: "I put everything in God's hands." And: "Semper Fi!"

Allen and others of America's finest are also in Washington's hands. This city should keep faith with them by rapidly reversing the trajectory of America's involvement in Afghanistan.

U.S. strategy — protecting the population — is increasingly troop-intensive, while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.

U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.

Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country and "'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia. The New York Times reports a Helmand official saying he has only "police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for 'vacation.'"

Afghanistan's $23 billion GDP is the size of Boise's. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches that development depends on security, and that security depends on development. Three-quarters of Afghanistan's poppy production for opium comes from Helmand.

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan's recent elections were called "crucial." To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American "success." Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a "renewal of trust" of the Afghan people in the government, but The Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government — his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker — as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords.

Adm. Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan's "culture of poverty." But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many "accidental guerrillas" to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al-Qaida bases, must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.

Contact George Will at

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Charles M. Grist