In the past ten years, we have lost the lives of many of our best and brightest fighting this war. Families have been torn apart, children no longer have the opportunity to grow up with a mommy or daddy, and some returning military members remain physically and or mentally traumatized. War is hell.
Unless you served in Afghanistan, you will likely never truly get the sense of what it is like fighting that war. Our victory in Afghanistan came in late 2002. We ousted the Taliban and implemented a new regime for change mitigating and or marginalizing a nation state openly harboring Al Qaeda. That was the desired goal; it was fulfilled swiftly and with relatively minimal casualties.
We continued to make a presence in Afghanistan after 2002 via the insertion of mass conventional forces. These troops immediately had their hands tied behind their backs with rules of engagement that hindered advanced successes of warfare. The U.S. State Department also came in during this time– in a sense competing with our own DOD and intelligence communities.
With a false sense of security, we began building Afghanistan’s infrastructure with schools, hospitals, roads, Internet, and other forms of Western luxuries–something many Afghans love while others hate. In the end, we have and continue to expend billions of dollars in a very split country foolishly risking more lives.
Some persons estimate that during the Vietnam War, approximately only 15% of all troops in country ever left the wire to actually engage with the local indigenous persons. Afghanistan is very similar with estimates of only approximately 17%. We have built mega bases and even have military police citing traffic violations for speeding, parking, and even seat belt infractions. Troops get quality coffee at the infamous “Coffee Bean,” they eat ice cream at “Baskin Robins,” consume pizza from “Pizza Hut” –all whenever they want on these “garrison style encampments.”
Physically, Afghanistan is a beautiful country that has forever been torn by war. Those who have fought past wars in the country failed in two critical military components–economy of force and unity of effort. The United States has conducted surges in Afghanistan, went on grand scale offenses, and returned to its “FOB sitting” posture time and again proving that we too like the Russians and Brits before us lack true understanding of economy of force during counterinsurgency operations.
Our unity of effort has been weak if not completely broken just like our economy of force. We claim that a coalition exists in Afghanistan and physically it does. Yes, some nation states have done more than their share of fighting. Others have done very little other than sit on their FOB’s or build infrastructure in relatively secured areas of responsibility. They went into the war knowing that their nation would be paid handsomely by the United States “just for being there.” In the end, the United States must study coalitions in full to determine the true sense of unity of effort because reality is, in Afghanistan, only three or four key nations have done their part in full as a coalition while others sat in country more risk averse than the rest.
Very few are needed in Afghanistan any longer. Considering the unity of effort among our coalition was marginal at best, they remain unnecessary and the majority of nation states forces should leave Afghanistan. The majority of our conventional force should come home as well to better our economy of force efforts–more is not always better. Special operations needs their hands untied so they can conduct their “train, mentor, and advise” operations along with direct action missions. Those who support them need to remain.
Contrary to some beliefs, Afghanistan was not lost. As mentioned, we fulfilled our primary objectives in late 2002 by completely ousting Taliban rule. We did the nation many favors since that time through the development of its infrastructure. We could bring home the majority of our troops today and Afghanistan would look much better now than it did prior to 2001. Now, it’s up to the people to ensure that which we emplaced in the nation remains; if those systems fall, it’s no fault to us rather the fault of the Afghan people.
The execution was sound between 2001 through 2002. What happened since 2002 is questionable. Some who remain in country continue to scratch their heads wondering what we are really doing today in Afghanistan. When this happens, our Commander in Chief realizes that now is the time–now is the time we begin to send our men and women home.
Kerry Patton is the Co-Founder of the National Security Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organization pending 501c (3) status. He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban. He is the author of “Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies” and the children’s book “American Patriotism.”