Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan War’

U.S. decision-makers ignored Afghan realities

November 19, 2015

Military expert M. Chris Mason thinks the U.S. effort in Afghanistan was probably doomed from the start.  But two early-on decisions by the Bush administration destroyed what little chance there was for success.

The first was the decision to browbeat King Mohammad Zahir Shah, the only leader capable of uniting Afghanistan, into abdicating his throne in favor of a U.S. puppet.

The second was the decision to disband all existing Afghan armed forces and create a new army from scratch, consisting of recruits selected precisely because of their lack of any previous military experience.

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269The results were a government that had no legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people, and an army that is incapable of fighting.

Mason, citing the great sociologist Max Weber, wrote in his current book that there are three things—two old and one new—that can make a government legitimate in the eyes of its people.  The two old ones are tradition and religion, which the Afghan people accept.  The new one is the democratic process, which, he said, they don’t understand.

Historically, he said, the only times Afghanistan was united is under the rule of kings.  Afghanistan has been in a continuing state of civil war since the king was overthrown in 1973.  Public opinion polls taken after the U.S. invasion indicated that 75 percent of the Afghan people wanted their king back.  He could have played a ceremonial role similar to the Emperor Hirohito under General MacArthur’s rule in Japan.

But American policy-makers didn’t want him.

The CIA had in mind to install a puppet, Adbul Haq, whom they could control.  Haq was betrayed by Pakistan’s intelligence service, and assassinated by the Taliban, Mason wrote.  So the CIA turned to the only other person on their payroll, the non-entity Hamid Karzai, who was respected by nobody.

The Taliban, on the other hand, exercise religious authority, which, according to Mason, is a more legitimate source of authority than election results.  The Taliban may not be popular, he wrote, but they are regarded as legitimate, which is something different.

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Chris Mason

Chris Mason

Mason said the other bad decision was to exclude from the Afghan armed forces anyone who had ever previously served in a military-type capacity, such as former mujahideen, former communist Afghan army troops and members of warlord militias.  Recruits in 2002, as part of a standard questionnaire, were asked, “Have you ever used a rifle before?”  If the answer was affirmative, they were disqualified.

Much the same thing happened in Iraq.  The armed forces were disbanded, but allowed to keep their weapons, a perfect formula for violent chaos.  Mason did not speculate as to what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had in mind.  Maybe he had some idea of starting over with a clean slate.

The result in both Iraq and Afghanistan was the recruitment of young unemployed men whose main motivation was pay.  They were mostly illiterate, but expected to master sophisticated American military technology.   The army’s problems included

lack of an air force, extreme over-reliance on weak and static police forces, nonexistent logistics, pervasive drug abuse … [and] the attrition that runs 50 percent per year in combat units in the south.

But the worse problem was lack of motivation.  The Taliban believe in what they’re fighting for.  Afghan government troops generally care only about themselves and their tribal groups.   It is not within the power of Americans to change this.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Body counts and the new normal

May 1, 2015

Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a report issued several weeks ago, estimated that more than 1 million people died in Iraq during the past 15 years as a result of U.S.-led military operations, and more than 300,000 people died in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’m not certain these numbers are accurate.  I do think they are as close to being accurate as is humanity possible.  I don’t find them unbelievable.  They’re partly based on verified reports, partly on statistical sampling methods most Americans find credible when applied to everyday subjects.

The worst thing to me is not the number, but the indifference of the American public.  We as a nation don’t care about bystanders, except when American citizens happen to be among those accidentally killed.

Somebody might argue that people were killed in larger numbers, and more indiscriminately, in World War Two.  But the war against the Axis powers had a definite purpose and came to a definite end.  There is no expectation of when the so-called long war on terror might be won, or exactly what winning would consist of.

We talk about the moral breakdown of society.  When I think about the moral breakdown of society, I don’t think about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.   I think of the President of the United States drawing up a weekly list of assassination orders, as if this were the most normal thing in the world

LINKS

Why the U.S. “war on terra” is a fraud by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Body Count by Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The full 80-page report.

No end yet to the long war in Afghanistan

December 31, 2014

As we enter a new year, the United States is still entangled in Afghanistan, and as far from accomplishing any positive objectives as it always was.

President Obama’s declaration that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is over is as hollow as President George W. Bush’s declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq.

My guess is that President Obama is in the same situation as President Richard M. Nixon in regard to Vietnam.  Nixon and Henry Kissinger realized the war was not winnable, but were unwilling to be the ones who admitted defeat.  So the war went on.

As Lt. John Kerry said back then, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

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Hat tip for the following links to Iraq Veterans Against the War and my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey.

U.S. formally ends war in Afghanistan by Lynne O’Donnell for the Associated Press.

Signed agreement locks in ten more years of Afghan war by Sarah Lazare for Common Dreams.

1,000 paratroopers to deploy to Iraq by Michelle Tan in Army Times.

 

A weekend to share Afghan love of kite-flying

March 11, 2014

 

Hat tip for this to Mike Connelly

George Tyger’s War Zone Faith

May 27, 2013

The Rev. George Tyger was my minister at First Universalist Church here in Rochester, NY, before he enlisted as a U.S. Army chaplain.  He has written War Zone Faith, a book of reflections based on his two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

WarZoneFaithWar Zone Faith is not a book that glorifies war and killing, but neither is it a book that depicts American troops as victims.  It is about courage, comradeship and loss.  Tyger depicts combat as an extreme form of the human condition, of having to do your best under circumstances not of your choosing.

Unlike him, I have come to think that U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan was a terrible mistake, but like him, I have a high regard for people who serve in the U.S. military.   There are those who enlist in the military out of economic necessity, but there are those, some overlapping with the first group, who want to do something for the good of their country.   There are military families, who generation after generation.

And if willingness to serve is used for unworthy purposes, that is not the fault of those who serve.  They do not send themselves into war zones overseas.   They are sent by the President and Congress, who cannot act without the consent of we, the people.  If our policy is a mistake, the responsibility lies with the citizenry, not the troops.

We Unitarian Universalists like to say that we respect human diversity, but the U.S. military has greater diversity than any other American institution I can think of.  American troops are of all races, all ethnicities, all religions, all social and economic classes, all kinds of family backgrounds.

Rev. George Tyger

Rev. George Tyger

In recent years United States military chaplains have come to be disproportionately from fundamentalist Protestant backgrounds.  Andrew Bachevich, in The New American Militarism, said this dates from the 1970s when many of the mainstream American denominations turned away from the U.S. military because of their opposition to intervention in Vietnam.   The religious conservatives were the main ones that still honored the military.  At the same time, Bachevich noted, the strict, fundamentalist type of Christianity was well-suited to counteract the drug abuse and all the other military discipline problems of that era.

At the same time, conservative Christianity has certain limitations.  Chaplains are supposed to represent their own faiths, but serve everyone.  But if a chaplain thinks that someone of my religious belief is going to hell, I don’t see how I can confide in that chaplain.  That is why a chaplain of the eclectic Unitarian Universalist faith, which looks for the good in all religions, might be able to serve men and women of any and all religions.

I originally was in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan.  I thought the United States was justified in invading a nation whose government harbored the terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.   And I thought the result of the invasion would be to liberate Afghanistan from the rule of cruel religious fanatics.   George Tyger still thinks that, and I don’t, but I thinks his choice is an honorable one.  George Tyger, thank you for your service.

Click on UU minister joins Army as a chaplain for a 2008 article in UU World about George Tyger’s enlistment.

Click on Meaning in the Midst of War for an excerpt from Tyger’s book.

Click on Things That Go Boom in the Night for Tyger’s reflections on returning home from Afghanistan.

GI suicides exceed deaths in combat

September 4, 2012

Dr. Gary D. Kohls, writing in Evergreene Digest, discussed the reasons for the rising rate of suicide among American troops in Afghanistan.  More troops have died by their own hand so far this year than were killed in combat.

The suicide rate in the US military, prior to 2001, approximated that of the general population.  In the years since the Bush Wars, the suicide rate has risen to double the national average, and, just like after the Vietnam War, it is certain to go higher.

When wars result in suicide numbers that exceed those killed in action (KIA) or missing in action (MIA), something is wrong and there should be a hue and cry demanding to know the reasons why.  And we also should be questioning the reasons behind the secret decisions to send mentally and physically healthy soldiers “into harm’s way,” where they become preventable emotional and spiritual casualties.

It needs to be pointed out that no data are kept on the rate of suicidal thinking among veterans – another devastating consequence of having once been a killing soldier.   In every war, the brass keep suicide statistics secret or deceptively low – a secrecy that applies to the KIA count as well.   Also not counted are those mortally wounded soldiers who died after clearing Iraqi or Afghani air space en route to military hospitals elsewhere.

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An alarming number of combat soldiers are being given brain-altering psych drugs to numb their emotional pain, chemically stimulate their low mood, quell the understandable anxiety or produce a chemically-induced semi-coma that might temporarily suppress the horrific nightmares and guarantee a night’s sleep.

Along with these prescription drugs (that are acknowledged to just suppress or otherwise alter symptoms but never cure anything), the neurologically altered brains of these psychologically traumatized soldiers are highly likely to become addicted to the substances, just like many of their civilian counterparts back home who might also have been falsely-labeled with a mental illness diagnosis.  Both categories of emotionally stressed-out patients are all-too-often told that they need to stay on their potentially disabling chemical straight jackets for the rest of their lives!  In reality, both the civilians and the soldiers alike may only be experiencing a situation of temporary “overwhelm” of known etiology that is likely to be curable without the long-term use of brain-altering drugs.

Of course, it is well-known that many psychiatric drugs dramatically increase the incidence of suicidal thinking and can commonly cause many other adverse effects that can easily be misdiagnosed as symptoms of a so-called mental illness.

The high suicide rate among American troops is widely discussed inside and outside the military.  The usual frame of reference is the need for more and better psychiatric services and for troops to accept the fact they may need counseling.  I’m in favor of all these things, of course.  But my guess is the high suicide rate will continue so long as there are repeated deployments to Afghanistan (sometimes four or more) and use of psychiatric drugs on the battlefield.

Click on Psychiatrist Analyzes Suicide & The Soldier to read the whole Kohls article.  You may or may not like his strident political rhetoric, but that is less important than what he reports is happening to American troops and veterans.

Click on Suicides are surging among US troops, Pentagon statistics show for a June report from Associated Press.

Click on Army suicide rate in July hits highest one-month tally for a report from USA Today.

Click on Army funds research on anti-suicide nasal spray for a report from Business Insider.

Hat tip to John J. Fitzgerald.