Col. David H. Hackworth, author of "Steel My Soldiers' Hearts," "Price of Honor" and "About Face," saw duty or reported as a sailor, soldier and military correspondent in nearly a dozen wars and conflicts -- from the end of World War II to the fights against international terrorism.More ↓Less ↑
Operation Enduring Freedom – launched in Afghanistan a month after 9-11 – is now officially over. But despite Pentagon spin to the contrary, our casualty count from that war-torn land won’t be winding down anytime soon.
Last month, the increasingly bold Taliban forces took and held two district towns along the Pakistan border for a week – right under our commanders’ noses – and now a day doesn’t pass without terrorists assaulting Afghanis, international aid workers or soldiers. In the past month alone, four American warriors were killed in Afghanistan, bringing our occupation terrorist-inflicted combat losses to 30 deaths.
The dollar tab is mounting, too. The bill for 8,000 U.S. military personnel running what the Pentagon euphemistically calls “Stabilization Operations” is costing the U.S. taxpayer $9 billion a year.
Many of our troops pulling duty over there say their big concern is that the situation might well develop into a long-term running sore. And they see ominous similarities to the pitiful attempts at pacification that turned the Vietnamese people off during that 20-year, guerrilla-driven war.
Then there’s the parallel of the same indiscriminate use of the big U.S. firepower hammer that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents in Southeast Asia. A recent U.S. airstrike in eastern Afghanistan that was meant for the terrorist bad guys killed 11 civilians from one family alone. As we keep learning the hard way, these sort of errant explosives are major recruiters for the insurgents.
In Afghanistan, as in Asia, our forces are finding that their vastly superior superpower advantage – firepower, mobility, electronic intelligence gathering and communications – can’t do the job against a lightly equipped, hit-and-run guerrilla force with the cunning to attack only when it believes it can win and that knows the ground like Cameron Diaz knows her body.
More bad news is that there’s ample evidence that Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden’s good buddy, is making a big comeback in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban thugs under Omar might no longer rule the land, but they’re still in the terrorism business and have the run of a fair chunk of the countryside, especially along the wild and woolly border Afghanistan shares with Pakistan.
A Special Forces soldier says, “When I first got here five months ago, the attacks were patchy, but today it’s a whole new ballgame.”
A recent Taliban attack on a U.S. platoon actually occurred during broad daylight. The terrorists boldly killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded five others before scooting across the border to their safe haven in eastern Pakistan.
And while the Taliban are displaying renewed guerrilla prowess, our forces seem to be getting nowhere fast. Six weeks ago, a large and costly short-term exercise in futility – Operation Valiant Strike – was launched to hunt down and destroy the terrorists. At the end of this op, when cost was weighed against return, we were way in the red.
Civilian aid workers have even become targets. A Red Cross representative was shot and killed several months ago after being stopped by a terrorist gunman. A Taliban commander said the terminate-with-extreme-prejudice order came from Omar himself and was aimed at destabilizing the U.S.-supported government. Since the murder, more than a dozen international aid agencies have pulled out because the risk of operating in that area is simply too high. No aid workers means no aid – except what those friendly folks from the Taliban provide.
“What’s more disturbing is that our senior commanders will not press attacks against the Taliban out of fear of U.S. casualties,” says another Special Forces warrior. “Our forces are under guidance to only attack when there’s the least amount of risk to U.S. personnel. For the most part, we sit on our bases and get sniped at and rocketed.”
“U.S. cash and food are given to the warlords to keep their allegiance,” he says, “but they use it to finance the private armies with which they run this country. And the only way the warlords will give up power is if they’re killed.”
“War” or “stabilization,” Afghanistan is our tar baby, and we’re stuck fast. Too bad the policy-makers who put our soldiers at risk didn’t brush up on their Brit-Soviet-Afghan History 101 beforehand.
Let’s hope Iraq doesn’t become Harsh History Lesson II, even though it, too, sure seems to be moving in that direction.