View Full Version : It's going to be tough in Afghanistan, too

03-22-09, 09:02 AM
Published: March 22, 2009 12:27 am

It's going to be tough in Afghanistan, too

Jerry Hogan - Military View
Jerry Hogan - Columnist
Rockwall County Herald-Banner

Most of the headlines and most of the focus of the new Obama Administration, in terms of military matters, are on Afghanistan. The big political debate during the Presidential election concerning our military was how quickly we should get out of Iraq. It seems the “bone” being offered to those who opposed this strategy of quick pull out, was the commitment to “increase our forces in Afghanistan and take care of the business there that should have been done seven years ago.”

So the election is over and now it’s time to make good on those promises. Already we are hearing that a total pull out of US forces in Iraq is possible and in fact can even happen several months earlier than originally planned. We have also been told that 17,000 more Soldiers and Marines are on their way to Afghanistan. We are reading that the Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, continues to talk with our NATO allies in the hopes of getting them to commit more troops to the fight in Afghanistan. We read about our current forces in Afghanistan “holding their positions because they are too undermanned in terms of fighting the enemy and are waiting for this new influx of US forces.” We read about Marines from our area, like Sergeant Israel Sanchez, after three combat tours in Iraq, being called back to active duty from the Inactive Reserves so he could be sent to Afghanistan with the initial element of this new 17,000 person augmentation force.

Most of us here in America don’t even really understand what Afghanistan and its people are like. We don’t know that the average life span is 44 years or that 68 percent of the population has never known peace. One of six pregnant women dies for each live birth with the country having the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. The Afghan government at provincial and district level is largely dysfunctional and corrupt. The unemployment rate is 40 percent and rising with 41 percent of the population in extreme poverty. Inflation is 12 percent and rising. The giant heron/opium criminal enterprise which produces over $4 Billion annual illegal production and export of heroin, opium, and cannabis is growing, going from 198,000 acres in opium production in 2003 to 476,000 acres by 2007. Over three million people are estimated to work in this illegal operation in Afghanistan and the country is estimated to have almost a million addict drug users. The Taliban, Al Quaeda, war lords, and Afghan criminal enterprises are largely funded by this illegal production.

The geography of the country is unyielding, going from relatively flat ground in the valleys to 24,000 foot mountains that can’t be traversed other than by foot or helicopter. Historically, rather than a strong central government, the country is made up of tribal war lords that controlled their area of the country with their own Armies. Distrusting any form of central government, these war lords ran their own areas and protected their own people. While seemingly primitive, the country has never been defeated by a foreign power. Britain fought several wars there followed by Russia; both leaving with their tails between their legs.

The Taliban filled a void after the Russians left. With no central government and the Afghan Army available to the highest war lord bidder, a cleric rallied a group of students (called Taliban in their native language) and took over control of the country. Imposing strict Sharia Islamic Law, the Taliban took the country back into the dark ages, e.g., women could not be educated, could not leave their homes unless escorted by a male family member, infidels were killed, women were required to observe the strict dress codes, etc, etc. They then proceeded to blow up many of the ancient religious statues located in their country. This act caused the world to “recoil in shock” and probably this is the first time we really understood what was going on in the “modern” Afghanistan. Next the Taliban government made their big mistake and allowed the Al Quaeda forces to build and operate their training camps in Afghanistan.

When 9-11 occurred, the US government made the quick decision to go into the country and destroy these camps to deny Al Quaeda the ability to train and deploy their Islamic Jihadists into the world to conduct their acts of terror. This short campaign, mainly conducted by Special Operations personnel on the ground and highly sophisticated aerial weapons systems in the air over Afghanistan, was very successful and the camps were destroyed, the terrorists who were in the country either were killed or managed to escape to neighboring Pakistan, and US forces moved in the country to mop up and help the new government.

Over the last seven years, our strategy in Afghanistan has been somewhat confusing. Rather than a violent continuation of the initial action we took in that country, we have been more involved with a nation building, civil affairs type physical expansion within the country. Our focus has been to help create a central government and to help this government extend and expand its authority over the entire country. In so doing we wanted to bring about a modern bureaucratic and democratic society. But as Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State under Richard Nixon recently wrote in an article “A Strategy for Afghanistan”, “America cannot withdraw from Afghanistan now, but neither can it sustain the strategy that brought us to this point.”

Kissinger went on to say, “This strategy we are on cannot succeed in Afghanistan, especially as an essentially solitary effort. The country is too large, the territory too forbidding, the ethnic composition too varied, and the population too heavily armed. No foreign conqueror has ever succeeded in occupying Afghanistan and even attempts to establish centralized Afghan control have rarely succeeded and then not for long. Afghans seem to define their country in terms of a common dedication to independence but not to unitary or centralized self-government.”

As our experiences thus far in Afghanistan reinforce Dr. Kissinger’s thoughts, expect to see our strategy changing. Clearly we need to prevent the emergence of a strong Jihadists governmental force within the country. We need to protect the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and prevent the safe havens in Pakistan as Taliban and Al Quaeda terrorists migrate across the border. Strong focus will need to be placed on Pakistan. It is clearly in our interest to prevent the terrorists from taking control of all or parts of Pakistan thereby creating leverage for their acquisition of nuclear weapons now controlled by the Pakistan military. The recent announcement by the Pakistani government that they are allowing the SWAT Valley in Pakistan to convert to Sharia Law is not a good indicator of the current state of our relationship with this country.

So our servicemen and women being deployed to Afghanistan will continue to face a determined enemy. While the strategy for the country may change, the reality of fighting for one’s life will not. Men and women on their third and fourth deployments will continue to be away from their homes and their families. Regardless of whether it will be called “Bush’s War” or “Obama’s War,” the hard facts say it will always be “the Soldiers War” as he is the one who must fight and survive day after day after day. Let’s don’t forget to tell all of our warriors how much we appreciate what they are doing…regardless of the strategy!

Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel who volunteers to write these articles. If you have a friend or relative you would like to see highlighted, please contact Jerry at jerryhogan@sbcglobal.net or 214-394-4033. His web site is www.themilitaryview.com.