Matthew Cole, writing for Salon.com, has a discouraging dispatch from an outpost in the border region between Afghanistan and tribal Pakistan. The article gives a useful sense of the daily grind in America’s “other” war, but take care to read the passages where US troops describe exactly why we are losing and may entirely lose the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
[T]he troops in Nuristan have also suffered from sheer isolation and the topography of the Hindu Kush. At Lybert (altitude 6,500 feet), the 3-71’s Charlie Company had gone 70 days without a hot shower or a hot meal. They have sustained deaths and injuries from hiking and falling. Soldiers who have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan before said their current living conditions are much worse. “Leadership doesn’t care about us,” said one officer, who requested that his name be withheld to avoid punishment for his comments. “We’ve gone on mission after mission after mission where we’ve gone black [run out] on food and water. They tell us, ‘Pack light, your mission will only be four days tops.’ But then we end up stuck on a mountaintop for two weeks. We didn’t have anything, not even tents. If you can’t get us off a mountain, don’t put us on there.”
Several soldiers and officers I spoke with told me they were unprepared for their mission in the north of Afghanistan. No one, it seems, told them they would have to fight a Vietnam-style war at high altitudes. One officer told me the 10th Mountain’s limited resources and poor planning frustrated him. (He also asked that his name be withheld for fear of retribution.) “Leadership has failed us,” he told me. “They don’t give a shit about us. We’ve been shorted everything we needed. Our training didn’t prepare us for this terrain or this mission. We’re doing the best we can but we’re not getting support.” He said the summer of 2006 had been filled with air-assault missions in which Chinooks delivered 20 to 30 troops to a ridgeline with little food or water, and no plan to pick them up.[…] Adding to Charlie Company’s frustration, it cannot go on manned patrols in the villages below. Capt. Mike Schmidt, the commanding officer, told me the location of the base and size of his troop limited how much he could do. “We depend a lot on locals walking up from the neighboring villages to give us information,” he said. “We can’t leave the base and do patrols or visit the villages. We don’t have enough soldiers. We’d come back and there would be nothing left — the Afghans would steal everything and the insurgents could take the base.”
Convoys lack air support. Troops guarding the border where al Qaeda and the Taliban have regrouped, and from which they launch increasingly effective incursions into Afghanistan, lack the men to go on regular patrols. Troops endure two or three times the planned mission length because their commanders lack either the resources to resupply them, the helicopters to remove them or the manpower to relieve them. Plainly and unambiguously the effort to stabilize Afghanistan is suffering because we lack the resources to do the job right.
It should be plain to the slowest observer that men and materiel would be available in spades if they were not sunk in Iraq. Nobody, as far as I know, can show now that we absolutely, positively needed to go to war with Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan. Today most will tell you that we didn’t need to invade Iraq at all.
It is only so useful to psychologize why attacking Saddam Hussein so thoroughly captivated this administration before 9/11, immediately after 9/11 and every day since then. Each participant no doubt nurtured his own personal pathology, so there isn’t any single answer to why this group went so disastrously wrong. Maybe there exists a group of Democrats who would have driven America just as thoroughly over the rhetorical cliff. President Lieberman comes to mind. Nonetheless it seems reasonable to wonder where we would be today if we had a leadership with the discipline and the competence to focus on the people who attacked us long enough to finish the job.
An encounter from freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy’s visit to Iraq and Afghanistan sums up the entire problem:
Military commanders in Afghanistan told the Iraq war veteran from Bucks County that they desperately needed more troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban. …Murphy said, “they feel like the redheaded stepchild” – forgotten and ignored – as the original battleground in the war against terrorism.
Red-headed stepchild. This in reference to our war against the people who attacked us on 9/11, and who will undoubtedly attack us again. Incredible.
Dick Cheney, wrong about everything. This person has been on the wrong side of literally every policy issue since Bush took office.