In Time of War

10 November 2008

The Iraq war is over.  Barring the unforeseen, the darkest days are behind, though we are still losing soldiers to low-level fighting with enemies that are true “dead-enders.”  Last month we lost seven Americans in combat in Iraq.  Peace, however, is not upon us.  Another thirty or so Iraqis died today in suicide attacks.  Nobody suffers more at the hands of Islamic terrorists than other Muslims.

A new President will soon begin to make critical decisions about Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis at home, and countless other matters.  While the Iraq war began, then boiled and finally cooled before President-elect Obama will be sworn into office on January 20th, 2009, the Afghanistan-Pakistan spectacle is just getting started.  He was always a fierce opponent of our involvement in Iraq.  And, as with so many Democrats in the Senate, he argued frequently, during the campaign, that we should have been focused on Afghanistan all along, because it is the real incubator of the international terrorist threat.  Timing being everything, our new President will get his wish.  Afghanistan now moves to center stage.  The conflicts in Afghanistan and between Afghanistan and Pakistan have the simmering potential to overshadow anything we’ve seen in Iraq.  Here are a few things I hope he understands:

Our enemies are winning.  The enemies know it.  We know it.  Who are they?  The Taliban, with its deep local roots is enemy number one.  Al Qaeda is hanging around to make trouble.  Some Paks, who don't want to see a thriving Pushtun state on their border, are our enemies.  They fund and shelter the Taliban even though we rely on them to help us defeat it.  Nothing is straightforward in this part of the world.  We have other enemies in Afghanistan who hate the Taliban.

Most of our allies are not very helpful. With the exception of the British, Canadians, Dutch and a few others such as the Aussies, we are not fighting this with an “A-team” of international allies. With a few exceptions, our allies on the ground are comprised of several dozens of countries that mostly refuse to fight.  The bulk of NATO amounts to little more than a “Taliban” Piñata.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is proving nearly worthless and provides no credible threat to Armed Opposition Groups (AOGs) in Afghanistan.  Most of the NATO member countries seem to break out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of “Taliban.”  They piled in when the war looked easy, and largely humanitarian.  But now that it’s getting harder and more dangerous, they would like to pile out.

Success or failure in Afghanistan depends on the handful of countries that step up -- and a multi-pronged, combat/political/nation-building strategy. The Brits field excellent soldiers but are short of enabling equipment, such as helicopters, armor and UAVs, that could greatly enhance their combat effectiveness.  Nevertheless, an outstanding British-led operation to deliver a 200-ton hydroelectric turbine to Kajaki dam could eventually deliver electricity to 1.8 million people.  This dam, with its potential to bring light, heat and the ability to begin industrializing, is a true and serious victory for the good guys.  So, let me stipulate that it's still a real fight. While the AOGs are making progress on some fronts, success is no more assured for them than for us. Mostly they destroy things that their countrymen want -- including peace, and prospect of increased prosperity.  They cut off lips and noses and douse women with gasoline and burn them alive.  Just recently, a group of enemies apparently tried to bait us into killing a wedding party.  If we are going to get groups to the negotiating table, we must pose a credible threat against enemies, and credible promise to the rest.  What we don’t want is the current situation, where it’s actually the AOGs that are forcing us to the table, largely due to NATO's general apathy and unwillingness to fight.

To ensure that we have influence on the outcome, we need more soldiers in Afghanistan, and fast.  They need to be U.S. forces, British, Canadian, Aussie; we cannot depend on NATO in general and they don’t know how to fight anyway.  Unless President-elect Obama knows some kind of magic spell, he will not be able to persuade most NATO countries to do the right thing.  Springtime 2009 will likely bring very heavy fighting in Afghanistan.  We will not have credible negotiating positions while we remain outgunned by a bunch of old rifles and dinged up RPGs.

While security in Iraq continues to improve, Afghanistan is drowning in a frothing quicksand.  While most of the 2008 fighting season is over, we can be assured that the Afghan national sport – guerrilla warfare – will become the 2009 Taliban Olympics by April.  They know this is a marathon.

Whatever else, Mr. President-elect, this is no time to go wobbly. It is important to note that some top British and U.S. commanders believe that we can make a “success” out of Afghanistan.  We’ve learned a few things over the past seven years.  We’ve truly got a “dream-team” of military commanders with great in-theater experience, to advise and guide the next phase. They saved Iraq. Use them well, Sir.

President-elect Obama says he is serious about Afghanistan.  (Just don’t fumble Iraq, please.)  As he must be learning in intelligence briefings, it's going to be tough stuff.  It will be like solving a human Rubik’s Cube during a firefight while the media screams every time you make a wrong move – or what is perceived as a wrong move, and there is a clock ticking and at some unknown point the cube self-destructs.

Maybe his recent training in the combat of a two-year election cycle will have toughened him up for the international challenges ahead.

Today I am in Kuwait, heading back into Iraq for an end-of-year round-up.  Then it’s back to the war in Afghanistan for one heck of a fight.  Please stay tuned.  Your soldiers are locked in a deadly struggle tonight.

Comments   

 
0 # The Thunder Run 2008-11-10 18:25
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 11/10/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

http://thunderrun.blogspot.com/2008/11/from-front-11102008.html
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0 # Debbi Norris 2008-11-11 05:51
My son is in tarmiyah with the 25th ID SBCT so God speed to you and all your reporting. It is a breath of fresh air to hear the truth from someone regardless of how saddening it is. My prayers will be with you as they are with my son and his brothers in combat.
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0 # Christina Finn 2008-11-11 14:02
Michael,
Please during you unusual day take time to Honor yourself! This is Veterans' Day here in the States. We are so very grateful for your dutiful allegiance to the Missions there, where this Nation's sons and daughters carry themselves with such dignity and grace! We are so very Proud of your exemplary balanced wise perspective to report what you SEE and Experience before you. Having worn the boots of a Military Man, whom better to tell there story. Thank You for tried and True coverage and for keeping so many Parents and other interested Americans within the "Loop!" I personally treasure your dispatches, and will today contribute towards your Mission to keep our Brave Warriors on America's Radar! Please, be cautious, your are Valued and Respected by so very many! Keep your eyes wide open; Go with your Gut, never second guess your instincts. You are a seasoned Soldier and Voracious Veteran!
All Our Support & Prayers....
"The Pillow Lady!" / Chicago Our son is in Afghanistan God Speed
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0 # Christina Finn 2008-11-11 14:03
Michael,
Please during you unusual day take time to Honor yourself! This is Veterans' Day here in the States. We are so very grateful for your dutiful allegiance to the Missions there, where this Nation's sons and daughters carry themselves with such dignity and grace! We are so very Proud of your exemplary balanced wise perspective to report what you SEE and Experience before you. Having worn the boots of a Military Man, whom better to tell there story. Thank You for tried and True coverage and for keeping so many Parents and other interested Americans within the "Loop!" I personally treasure your dispatches, and will today contribute towards your Mission to keep our Brave Warriors on America's Radar! Please, be cautious, your are Valued and Respected by so very many! Keep your eyes wide open; Go with your Gut, never second guess your instincts. You are a seasoned Soldier and Voracious Veteran!
All Our Support & Prayers....
"The Pillow Lady!" / Chicago Our son is in Afghanistan God Speed
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0 # Paul S. 2008-11-12 00:28
Michael,

Ms. Finn's powerfully eloquent words say it all. America's warriors honor us all with their service. As you have expressed, they are America's elite.

Paul S.
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0 # Michael B. Johnson 2008-11-12 01:43
Thanks to all our veterans! Especially to all those risking life and limb on distant shores, serving a nation at war.

Thanks to all those doing the monotonous, under-appreciat ed support work that is all too necessary, though not considered glorious by many.

Finally, thank you Michael Yon, for the dispatches that give us some truth and background instead of what the one-sided media usually gives us.
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0 # Evan Cowart 2008-11-12 05:42
I tend to doubt that obama will actually add anything of value to the war effort, I imagine he will be looking for the first opportunity to bail. Probably do a Vietnam style retreat, cut off all funding as the did the South Vietnamese in 78.

obama and the left have said they want to cut the military 25%, that will be a severe blow no matter the branch or branches.

I wish all that are in theater a safe return and a successful campaign. I have seen the left and their war prowess, it is nothing to brag about, think the Mog or Bosnia. Our troops did an excellent job in Mogadishu, they went in with out the support the General requested, they completed the mission with minimal support outside of their force and returned to base so bjklinton could cut and run at the earliest opportunity. I hope better for Iraq and Afganistan, but I am not holding my breath.

We have the finest military in the world and in two years I tend to think it will be trashed as bjk did in the 90's.
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0 # Sarmajor 2008-11-12 12:30
To be sure, the new president has his work cut out for him. Hopefully he is exposed to news like yours which includes good, relevent information about one of his biggest challenges. Thanks for your time in uniform and know that you truly are one of the guys that I feels has it right about our mission in Afghanistan. I just hope we don't let it drop. Happy Veteran's Day to you and those you have contact with in your travels.
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0 # laura 2008-11-12 13:55
That last line stuck with me all day and whenever it came to mine (often) i prayed for you all...and our soldiers. Thank you for personalizing that sentence. Yes, 'they' are OURS...MINE and i take great pride in what my soldiers are doing and how they are doing it. my heart also aches for the trials and hard times you all are going through and hope that the bigger picture keeps you going and keeps morale high. i hope whatever struggle my soldiers were in - whatever battle faced them - that the Lord God kept them safe, honorable and will continue to allow them to bring peace and freedom to a very troubled part of the world.

Stay safe- please, please tell our soldiers that they are loved, appreciated, prayed for and that i, as an American-born citizen am very, very, very proud of them.
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0 # A. Vernon 2008-11-12 15:15
Micheal,

Would like to first say Happy veterans day to all our veterans! I have enjoyed your website for several years now. This is some of the most honest and accurate reporting I have seen. Plus trips to Mosul have always been very informative. I was in Mosul from 2004-2005 as a security contractor as the situation worsened. We provided long range convoy security and route "recce" from Mosul to Tal Afar to Dihok to Zakho to Arbil. Our project lost 5 KIA and 44 WIA as we rolled in light skinned vehicles so I am glad to see the accurate reports from the Mosul province which really has some beautiful areas and friendly people as weather from 120 degrees down to snow and ice. Keep uyp the good work. Thank you.
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0 # Mary Jo 2008-11-13 01:29
You are all in my prayers everyday.

May God grant you all swift merciful charitable honorable obvious victory in every battle in which you engage - victory which will bring justice and peace founded on His Law
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0 # Brian H 2008-11-13 08:50
If one attempts the thankless task of fitting together the comments, promises, policies, edicts-in-waiti ng, musings and other bumphograms issued by the previous Office-of-the-P resumptive-Pres ident-Elect and the current Office of the President-Elect , both sprung fully formed from the sharply tapered brow of their Principal, a dire picture emerges. That 25% cut will go 1/3 of the way towards matching expenditures on the military by spending on the new Civilian Obot Army of 18-25 (or is it 42?) -yr-olds making their Obligatory Volunteer contribution to The Program. And being Programmed. The other 50% will be a massive hit to the economy, which seems, not to put too fine a point on it, ill-prepared for the cost of this or any other of his unfulfillable hand-waving promises.

As for A-stan and P-stan, one can anticipate horrific botched all-out efforts to obtain Magic Solutions, assuming that the nonsense issuing from the Office of the CIC is actually followed and swallowed by the military. I suspect O'Hubris may find that rather tougher to pull off than he thinks, unless he starts massive purges of the officer corps and Pentagon and can deal with a sudden massive cessation of re-enlistments.

O'Hubris has painted himself and the US into a corner, or rather surrounded himself with a minefield he won't be able to cross. I hope he doesn't take too many good people down with him; as for those nearest and most supportive, good riddance to them, too.
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0 # Jack Smith 2008-11-13 17:35
Taken with a grain of salt Mr. Yon. Appreciate all you do, even bought your book, but there is no declared war in Iraq, and so there will be no 'end'. Not really sure what the US defines as the 'end' anyway. Is it when we have finally force fed all of our ways down the throat of another country to the point they have no choice but swallow? Or will it be when the international community is finally fed up with our campaigns of foreign conquest? We have no business in Iraq. Take a look at the foreign policy set out by America's founding fathers. It becomes quite clear this was to be a non-interventio nalist nation of commerce, not war. Hunting out the terrorist networks deemed to exist in foreign countries should be restricted to special operators /cia agents / and the like. Our conventional force of occupation has outstayed its welcome. Want to know the reason so many foreigners hate us? Because we bomb the sh!t out of them! What a novel idea! And if you won't bend to our will we will bomb you some more! And there is nothing you can do about it.

"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations ƒ?? entangling alliances with none."
-Thomas Jefferson
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0 # Gillian 2008-11-13 17:53
Just wanted to thank you for your honest updates, I look forward to them. My 61 year old father leaves for Afghanistan tomorrow. He's a doctor that recently joined the Army to make a difference. It's comforting to know that there are other good men and women over there fighting for what matters.
My prayers go out to all of you.
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0 # Randall W. Hannaway 2008-11-14 01:26
Michael,

Thank you for your continued dedication to bringing those interested your perspective. It's truly important to hear more of the first hand accounts than depending on traditional media who seem to have lost their way when it comes to providing both the facts and unbiased reporting. I wish you safe travels and pleasent adventures.

Until then...

Happy trails,

Randall
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0 # JB 2008-11-14 04:06
Dear Michael

First of all thank you for your brilliant work and devotion.

I have a question about the NATO-Forces. From a purely economic point of view, I see a force of non-fighting troops in a region like Afghanistan as beneficial. Can they not do the jobs that usually divert resources from the actual fighting troops? Would this not be called specialization? The US Forces and their fighting allies specializing on what they do best just like the NATO troops specializing on the humanitarian tasks at hand.

Keep up the work, take care and all the best.
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0 # Nomadic Kirk 2008-11-19 12:48
Michael,

Thank you for another great article that gives us readers a real look into whats going on over there.
Keep up the great work
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0 # CPT D 2008-11-23 17:52
Having just returned from a stint leading a team in charge of "mentoring" the Afghan National Police (9 districts in 10 months), I can only say that you hit the nail right on the head. NATO countries send a lot of dead weight from my experience. There are just not enough trigger pullers and air support to cover the day-to-day mission on the ground of building at the district level. Make no mistake, this is not rebuilding at all, it is building from the ground up. The last combat outpost I was on was featured in the 60 minutes special that airred in October. A little flowery, but at least the main stream media who mostly do nothing but make the trigger-pullers job harder did pick up on the fact that the boys in theater need more resources.

Good Speed My Friend.
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0 # Witmann 2008-11-24 10:04
I know that many of the NATO units in Afganistan are not pulling their weight, but from everyting i read and hear from danish units in Helmand, they are fighting pretty hard, and are taking casualties as well, but hurting the Taliban more than they are getting hurt themself.

The Danish troops serving there want to make a difference, and they are woeking quite well with the british units.,


Cheers and thanks for a good Blog!
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0 # Cathy Renaud 2008-11-25 21:57
Dear Michael,
It's been awhile sense I've posted,Just wanted to say there is not a day that goes bye that you and all of our Service Members are not in my heartfelt thoughts and prayers. My Blessings to each one of you as the Holidays fast approch us...
Keep up the great reporting I always look forward to reading your posts.
Sincerely
Cathy
Mass Soldiers Angel
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