Friday, April 23, 2010

Big Problems in Afghanistan

"Send us to war to win, or don't send us at all."
From the book "My Last War: A Vietnam Veteran's Tour in Iraq" by Charles M. Grist

I once read an assessment of the French campaign in Indochina, a hard-fought effort that ended with their defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 by the Viet Minh, the forerunners of the Viet Cong.

This assessment said that the French ultimately lost because they could not control the countryside. Because they limited their primary efforts to defending the cities and towns, the Viet Minh overran the small hamlets and villages, terrorizing and murdering anyone who opposed them.

The American stategy in Vietnam was to take the fight to the guerrillas, not limiting the war to the defense of the major cities, but using our airmobile capabilities to keep the enemy on the run. Our civil affairs soldiers worked hard to win "the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people.

Of course, the political will of America was defeated by the willingness of the communists to simply outlast us. We were not defeated militarily in Vietnam; we were defeated politically. The peace talks that extracted us from Vietnam let the enemy wait until we were gone. Then the communists achieved their final victory.

Now it appears that the Obama administration's strategy may very well mimick the French. By giving up on the countryside and defending only the cities, the Taliban will have a free rein, and they will use this to cement their power among the people.

Furthermore, by telling the Taliban that we will begin withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan in 2011, we have given them a timetable. All they have to do is wait for us to leave. Then, like the Vietnamese communists, these Islamic fundamentalist fanatics will do what they want.

Once again, America is involved in a "half-war" in Afghanistan. If the war cannot be won, or if we are unwilling to do what must be done to win it, then we must pull our troops out now.

I was in Vietnam after the withdrawal had begun. As we endured our hazardous infantry missions in the jungle, we would joke that we didn't want to be the last G.I. to die in Vietnam.

I wonder if some of our troops in Afghanistan are now asking themselves the same question.

The following article and video are from and the Associated Press:

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Video Shows Taliban Swarm Former US Base
April 20, 2010
Associated Press

KABUL -- Taliban fighters swarmed over a mountaintop base abandoned last week by the U.S. military following some of the toughest fighting of the Afghan war, according to footage on a major satellite television station.

The video aired Monday by Al-Jazeera television is a morale booster for Taliban fighters, though the U.S. insists the decision to withdraw from the base in the Korengal Valley was sound and the area has no strategic value.

The footage showed armed men walking through the former U.S. base, which was strewn with litter and empty bottles, and sitting atop sandbagged gun positions overlooking the steep hillsides and craggy landscape. Fighters said they recovered fuel and ammunition. But a U.S. spokesman said ammunition had been evacuated and the fuel handed over to local residents.

"We don't want Americans, we don't want Germans or any other foreigner. We don't want foreigners, we want peace. We want Taliban and Islam -- we don't want anything else," one local resident said on the tape.

Another man identified by Al-Jazeera as a local Taliban commander said the militants intended to use the base for attacks on U.S. forces.

Maj. T.G. Taylor, a spokesman for U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, said the Americans destroyed major firing positions and observation posts before they left, and if militants tried to use the base "we have two companies that can do an air assault there anytime we want."

The pullout last week of the remaining 120 U.S. Soldiers from the Korengal was part of a strategy announced last year by the top U.S. and NATO commander, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to abandon small, difficult-to-defend bases in remote, sparsely populated areas and concentrate forces around major population centers.

Many of those outposts were established years ago to monitor Taliban and al-Qaida infiltration from Pakistan but proved difficult to resupply and defend.

Last October, about 300 insurgents nearly overran a U.S. outpost in Kamdesh located north of the Korengal Valley, killing eight Americans and three Afghan soldiers. It was the bloodiest battle for U.S. forces since an attack on another remote outpost in July 2008, when nine Americans died.

"When we repositioned our forces we knew that there was a real possibility of insurgent forces going into there, but we still believe that decision was the correct one based on the resources that we have available and the objectives that we want to achieve," said a U.S. spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks.

The withdrawal from Korengal, which U.S. troops dubbed the "Valley of Death," marked the end of near-daily battles with insurgents in the 6-mile (10-kilometer) valley in Kunar province. More than 40 U.S. troops were killed there over the last five years.

They included three Navy SEALS who died in a 2005 ambush. Insurgents also shot down a helicopter carrying Special Forces sent to rescue the SEALS, killing another 16 Americans.

Also Monday, an American Soldier was killed and several wounded in an explosion at an Afghan National Army facility just outside the capital, Kabul, Shanks said. The blast originally was reported to have killed an Afghan soldier.

Afghanistan's intelligence service also announced the arrest of nine members of a militant cell and seized nearly a quarter-ton of explosives, foiling a plot to stage suicide bombings and other attacks in Kabul.

The cell could have been linked to five would-be suicide bombers arrested April 8 at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul. Officials said at the time the five were planning to hide out with a support network in the capital before launching attacks.

Intelligence service spokesman Saeed Ansari said four of the suspects were arrested Monday while traveling in a vehicle in the city's eastern district, while five others were picked up at an Islamic school in Kabul.

He said security forces also confiscated six rifles, two machine guns, two rocket-propelled grenades, 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of explosives, six suicide bomb vests and a vehicle. The dates of the arrests were not disclosed.

The suspects, one of whom was a Pakistani citizen, ranged in age from 16 to 55 and had been given specific responsibilities within the group such as arranging accommodation or transporting arms, Ansari said. Three of the group were identified as would-be suicide bombers, although Ansari said the cell possessed enough explosives and vests to equip up to six suicide attackers.

He said the group was acting under orders from a Pakistan-based Taliban faction, which rented a house in eastern Kabul, shipped weapons across the border, and provided funds for the purchase of a vehicle to be used in suicide attacks.

The last major attack within Kabul took place Feb. 26 when suicide bombers struck two small hotels in the center of the city, killing at least 16 people, including six Indians. Afghan authorities blamed the attack on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the same Pakistan-based Islamist militia that India blames for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 166 people.

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As we old Florida boys like to say, it's time to either "fish or cut bait". As a retired solder, I say do what has to be done to win (including cleaning out the Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan), or get out altogether. If you can't control the countryside, then the war cannot be won.

I have heard stories of troops in Afghanistan with insufficient water, ammunition, supplies, artillery, mortar, or air support. For the courageous American warriors who are giving 150% to complete this treacherous mission, such poor support is intolerable. I remember being told to "conserve ammunition" in Vietnam, a comment that reflected the inadequate support that we were receiving as our troops were being withdrawn.

After all, the original mission in Afghanistan was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and those who planned, organized and executed 9/11.

The mission was not to bring the Afghans from the stone age to the modern era with only a handful of troops.

Charles M. Grist

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