The Operators

Michael Hastings covers the unwinnable Afghanistan.

Recently my buddy clued me into to another light colonel who “Hackworthed” or sacrificed his career in the hopes of raising consciousness about an unwinnable fight.  LT. COL Daniel L. Davis wrote a scathing assessment of the War in Afghanistan as the conflict pushes steadily into its second decade. Sadly, I believe the brass has learned from the mistakes of how it handled the public face of wars since Vietnam. By fostering an all-volunteer force, our country has effectively fostered a Solider Caste, ensuring that the effects of war are neigh invisible to the broader public. Political sentiment and the pure ignorance that is “American Exceptionalism” keeps any criticism of the war from being voiced. To do so is political suicide. Even Obama, who has handled the war like the smelly bag of trash it is, (a thing to be removed as soon as possible) has to step lightly through a minefield of critics to get out to the dumpster.

The most common response I get from friends outside the Army when the subject of Afghanistan arises is usually a variation of “I didn’t know we were still there”. The Army, like always, is almost single minded in its focus, the Army wants to win. The military is a very goal centric organization that places mission accomplishment as its number one priority.

We are told that the Surge and Counter Insurgency won the Iraq War, beat terrorism, and that it will soon be the same in Afghanistan.

However modern history does not jibe with the reality of twenty first century warfare. While Iraq was a win(ish) of sorts, it was not the doing of American forces, the surge, or the budding counter insurgency strategy. It was the Iraq tribes in the western deserts that finally rejected brutal and ideologically driven terrorist networks that had moved into the region to fight the invaders (which only came to the region to fight us). It was because those networks had become a bigger threat than the occupation, so brutal in their repression of anyone who did not tow the extremist agenda that those networks pushed the Iraqi population to flip sides. Even know, those men and women of the “awakening”, the very people that helped set the conditions for an honorable withdrawal from the country by U.S. Forces, are now being systematically eradicated by the Iraqi Government as it consolidates power. Their names, addresses, and biometrics data were served freely to the Baghdad government as a going away present. Without the oversight of our military, the cleansing now continues at full speed. It will be decades before the ethnic and religious strife in that country subsides and allows some semblance of a non-segregated culture to emerge.

In comparison Afghanistan is and has always been, let’s face it, even worse. The war over there is being conducted in ALL OF our names with money from the entire western world (ALL OF US). It’s not just American treasure and blood filling the bottomless pit of the  backwards country, all of NATO (and beyond) have chipped in for decades. The kicker is that the Taliban are almost a non factor and there are no “real” terrorists left, the enemy is a loose amalgamation of warlords who use the rural resentment of the foreign occupation and corrupt central government to entice young people to fight in a civil war.

I encourage everyone who is not familiar with the conflict to pick up Michael Hastings’ The Operators. Many might remember Mr. Hastings as the author of the Rolling Stone article that triggered the firing of General Stanley McChrystal.

In the book, Hastings paints a comprehensive picture of the war effort and its futility. The political posturing, the disconnect between reality and the perception of that reality fed back in rosy status reports and compromised reporters, and the sentiment of every Afghanistan about the grim and deadly future that awaits them.

As 2014 approaches, there will no doubt be a political fight to keep the war going. It will factor into the presidential election. Many words will be said to foster American patriotism in a conflict that most will have forgotten about and unless people know what’s really going on, they might very well by into the bullshit and drink the Kool-aid.

Right now America is try to transition to an “advise and assist” role in the county. The political line is that we are working to enable our Afghan partners to expand their security operations in order to expand the good governance of the country through local and tribal leaders. The reality is that at least one Afghan Soldier, one who is supposed to be on our side, shoots his American trainer every three weeks. You can set your watch by it and that does not even count the effects of the enemy. What would Americans do if a Texas National Guard recruit shot his drill sergeant every three weeks, in what world would we count this as progress.

In the end America, this is your war (but I don’t expect many to own it), we Soldiers just fight it. So I implore you to get educated enough to steer away from any GOP rumblings about the War on Terror or Iran, the shit just ain’t worth it and probably never was.

“Throughout history, popular Insurgencies in anocratic governments are successfully defeated by military forces 15% of the time” – the RAND corporation.

“The entire COIN [Counter Insurgency] strategy is a fraud perpetrated on the American people” – COL Douglas Macgregor (ret.)

“I Saw Americans Fight” / “I Suck At Fighting” – American Nicknames for NATO ISAF(International Security Assistance Force) and their Afghan counterparts.

“So tell it to me again, how does operating out of this COP (Combat OutPost) and getting shelled by dudes that have never been more than twenty miles outside this valley prevent some Terrorist from going to flight school in Florida?” – American Soldier

More later on this week, I roll out again soon(ish) for a bit(ish).


  1. Old Fogey says

    Putting USA and European experience together, there are said to be three principles to stick to in military matters;

    1. Don’t start a land war in Asia

    2. Don’t march on Moscow

    3. Don’t invade Afghanistan

    These have been good for a couple of hundred years, and I see no reason to change them now.

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    In the 19th Century the British Army, a well-trained, well-equipped, professional army, with lots of experience fighting “small conflicts”, tried to conquer Afghanistan. They failed. In the 1970s the Soviet Army, a well-trained, well-equipped, professional army, tried to conquer Afghanistan. They failed. So why does NATO and/or the US Army think they can succeed where the British and Soviets failed?

  3. DysgraphicProgrammer says

    1. Don’t start a land war in Asia
    2. Don’t march on Moscow
    3. Don’t invade Afghanistan

    2 and 3 are redundant. Both are in Asia.

  4. Bjarni says

    I thought it was:

    1. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
    2. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

  5. Nomen Nescio says

    i’ve been trying to remember my world history, but i sucked at the subject… for all the centuries that Afghanistan has been nicknamed “graveyard of empires”, has anyone ever truly won a war there? even the Afghans?

    other than that, any number of Kipling verses about that misguided attempt at invading Afghanistan. that last quote from “American Soldier” reminded me painfully of Arithmetic on the Frontier.

  6. Old Fogey says

    Just checking a bit more on the history of Afghanistan. Wikepedia lists the following invasions;

    330BC – Alexander the Great
    Undated – from the West by Arab Muslims
    Undated – the Mongols under Ghengis Khan
    Then – the Mongols under Timur Lung (Tamberlane?)
    1838 – the British
    1878 – the British
    1979 – the Russians
    2001 – the USA (and allies, including the British AGAIN).

    It appears that none of these were what could be called really successful, with everybody eventually giving it up as a bad job.

    The British Government appears to win the award for repeated stupidity.

    • bspiken says

      Not really, Alexander’s, Genghis and Tamerlane is kind of the same one since it was only two generations away.

      They both worked as land grabs, successful ones, and even if Alexander’s did had to marry in order to pacify them, he also handed their ass to them several times (then again he did that consistently to everyone). He got way more trouble in guerrilla warfare when he was fighting the free indian tribes on the way back from the Indus.

      Also it bears mention that the people from most of this periods are way different from the modern afghans, both in values and war strategies.

  7. laschesis says

    I would have to agree that imo Alexander the Great was the only one who actually succeeded in Afghanistan.

    I do feel appalled at what you have to go through out there, and at the never ending vileness of those who use the lives of their servicemen and women as throwaway tokens.

    Be safe.

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