Michael's Dispatches

New Afghan war: Frontline correspondent says fight has morphed – but we still can't afford to lose

70 Comments

6 September 2009

This story was published in the New York Daily News on 6 September 2009.

Photo: Jacobson/AP

By Michael Yon

Helmand, Afghanistan - The West is losing this war. This has been obvious for more than three years. Less obvious is that in 2009, we are down to the wire. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and others will soon recommend to President Obama the latest treatment for a dying patient.

Meanwhile, allies and Americans are asking themselves why we are here. Some are saying that Al Qaeda is still here or is waiting in the wings to return to its home. Yet Afghanistan was never Al Qaeda's permanent home to begin with. Al Qaeda was just renting a little space here, just as it was renting space in places like Germany and Florida.

We must face reality: Our reasons for continuing are not the reasons we came for. We are fighting a different war now than the one that began in 2001. Today's war is about social re-engineering. Given the horrible history of Afghanistan, and the fact that we already are here, the cause is worthy and worthwhile.

The decisions facing us are perilous and immense. On the one hand, we desperately need more troops, while on the other increasing troop levels introduces a host of costs and potential traps.

Yet it seems certain the war will be lost if we do not significantly increase troops. While our enemies grow stronger, years will pass before Afghan forces can replace us. Enemies are gaining ground while we lose the goodwill of the people through disillusionment. In the mostly peaceful Ghor Province, for instance, development is scant and there are no Afghan soldiers.

I just spent more than a month with British combat forces in Helmand. Instead of concentrating on training and operating with Afghan forces, the British are involved in a daily struggle for tiny pieces of real estate.

Last December, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told me in a private discussion while flying back to the U.S. from Afghanistan, Bahrain and Iraq, that his greatest concern is that we will lose the goodwill of the Afghan people. Gates is correct and my confidence in his judgment is high. Gates knows that our stock is still okay here, but clearly it is losing value.

The strongest indicator of progress will come in the form of cooperation from the people. In Iraq, especially in about mid-2007, I witnessed a tidal shift in cooperation from the civilians and largely from that was able to report that the surge was working, long before the statistics would support what might have appeared to be a wild claim.

During 2006 in Afghanistan, I witnessed areas where the population was alienated from Kabul and Western forces. Again, long before the statistics would support what appeared to be wild claims, I published 12 reports saying we were losing here. Analysts cannot feel the pulse through statistics; in this sort of war, statistics lag behind the realities. An observer must be on the ground to sense the pulse.

Pundits who are saying we should pull out of Afghanistan today, to my knowledge, are not here.

Having just spent another month with British forces in Helmand, today I am on my own in the same province. During the last month, our great allies the British lost dozens of soldiers who were killed or wounded. Cooperation from locals is almost nonexistent in many places. Interaction between civilians and British soldiers was nearly zero. The British treat the civilians very well, but being polite and respectful is not enough.

Without significant reinforcements, the British likely will be defeated in Helmand within a couple of years. My respect for British soldiers is immense. I have been in combat with them many times in Iraq and Afghanistan, including during the last couple of weeks and would go into battle with them today. Yet it must be said that the average British soldier has practically no understanding of counterinsurgency.

The enemies here cannot defeat the United States, but they can dissolve the coalition. Some allies are ready to tap out, while others are learning that counterinsurgency is difficult. The Germans, for instance, are losing in their battle space. To avoid watching the coalition melt away, we must show progress before the end of 2010.

Today, the war is still worth fighting, yet the goal to reengineer one of the most backward, violent places on Earth, will require a century before a reasonable person can call Afghanistan "a developing nation." The war will not take that long - but the effort will.

There are no short-term solutions to fix this place. We are planting acorns. Oak trees grow slowly.

 

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Monique · 9 years ago
    I have a dear friend over in Afgan with the 2nd Rifles I want to thank you first for all the support and praise you gave to them the deserve it. It is not at the end the big ones sitting behind a desk in judgement it is those fighting a war of never ending sadness.
    I am proud to be and American and a Wife of a British Man. I stand behind our troops on both ends doing what I can do for them.
    Thank you Micheal for putting the truth out that some don't want us to see. Because as sad as it is to read at times the truth is better then lies.
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    Dan Farrand · 9 years ago
    I do think the issue of why we are fighting is important and unresolved at this time.

    If we abandon Afghanistan what is the consequence ? Do our enemies renew attacks on global US/Western interests from Afghanistan ? Does Pakistan fall ? What are the strategic consequences.

    The facts are that the current administration is going to continue, dramatically cutting defense budgets. Will the choice become between spending money on Afghanistan and hollowing out the strategic capabilities vs potential existential threats to the US.

    Michael - I would really like to hear your insights - Is Afghanistan worth saving and at what cost ? If this is a 100 year war, do we spend our diminishing resources in Afghanistan or on more strategically accessible battlefields.

    One hates to walk away from the sacrifices of so many fine men - American, British and others. But is this a Gallipoli (parden the spelling) for us - or do you think it is at the center of gravity in the larger struggle or is this simply the right thing to do for a people who have suffered for centuries.

    respectfully

    danf
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    Ed Maier · 9 years ago
    Nail -> Hammer -> BANG!

    Thanks, Michael.

    Ed Maier
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    Sean · 9 years ago
    The civilians of Afghanistan would be brain-dead to pick a side at this point. There are only a few thousand combat troops in Afghanistan, they couldn't possibly protect every Afghan. If they help the British today, what happens when the British move on tomorrow to a new locale?

    We all know the answer: heads will roll. Literally.

    It's hard to blame the Afghans. They were behind us in 2001, but it's 8 years later, and the Taliban control huge chunks of the country and are making their way back. I don't think very many nations have the will to stick it out, including the U.S. With our budget problems, it's going to be much easier to walk away from Afghanistan than it will be for a politician to cut Medicare or Social Security.
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    Colin · 9 years ago
    The acorn & oak says it all. The US population doesn't have the attention span to see this one through. Our pop culture hardly knows anything beyond American Idol and Hollywood. Problems like Afghanistan don't stand much of a chance for a positive solution unless it happens quickly and that "ain't gonna happen"....
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    Truckie117 · 9 years ago
    Michael
    Great report as a survivor of 9/11 and a friend of many in the SF community I agree we have lost our direction.
    We need to have smaller lethal forces that will just hunt the enemies we are seeking like the beginning of the war.
    The Afghan People are happy the way they are and until they wish to leave the tribal ways they will never advance.
    God Bless
    Mike
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    Jefferson · 9 years ago
    Thanks for the insight.
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    Kenny Komodo · 9 years ago
    The Afghans have a history of successfully resisting invaders whether it was the British, the Russians or now the U.S. Conversely, they do not have a history of any sort of regular, centralized form of a federal government and are accustomed to and seemingly content with their tribal system. So I'm asking, what is our end game? What is our purpose in Afghanistan? If we're after the Taliban perhaps we should concentrate on Pakistan since that seems to be where they mostly are hiding. If we're trying to establish a new government and a new way of government in Afghanistan we should pull out right now and save us and our allies many hundreds, maybe thousands of casualties. I think we're in trouble here because Obambi is too prideful to admit he's made a mistake and will continue to pursue the war in Afghanistan without any real purpose other then to glorify his name for history.
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    Art · 9 years ago
    Did you forget why we are in Afgan an how we got there. It wasn't Obama it was Bush that got us in Afgan and failed to complete the job. Obama is staying there and I don't know why other than to make the Military complex happy. To me it surves no purpose I can't see anything there to win. The Afgans are living there lives like they have for hundreds of years and they want to continue living THERE lives in the tribal ways.

    To me it looks like we want to force them to live like us and they are not US.

    We should not make this another Vietnam and that is the way it is going. I think we should have something like a World Terroist Police Force with all Nations involved and not have an American war with Afgans.
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    Robert · 9 years ago
    As long as they can operate freely from P-stan, there will be no stability. They are there, operating w/ impunity. The PAKi's do not want to see the talibs beaten, so we cannot hit them where they live. Quetta is a good example. Meanwhile, young men from Western countries die. This year is make or break, there has to be progress. The analogy to a acorn and an oak is spot on. How, after centuries of tribalism, can we create a "democracy"...i just don't know.
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    PhilM · 9 years ago
    Many thanks for the synopsis, Michael. While I support the troops and their mission in eliminating the scourge of the Taliban terrorists, using them to effect nation-building in a society that has no real impetus or reason to change is folly. Taking care of our security is the only battle we should be involved with, anything else will be detrimental to our own psyche and position in the world.
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    Richard B. · 9 years ago
    From some comments I get the impression that we should not be in Afghanistan because it will be hard to succeed. Afghanistan is to the world like an open sewer would be in your home town. Both will breed problems. Both need to be fixed as soon as possible, not left for the next generation to start fixing. However, whether it is your local government or governments of nations, the problems must be defined before they can be fixed.
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    Joe · 9 years ago
    The u.s. & Allies can still win only if the darn politicians get out of the way so they can do their job. Politicians won't let the troops do their jobs by resrticting them from shooting here and there because there might a civilian there. War is war and too many die including civilians. Troops can't fight with one hand tied behind their backs.
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    crosspatch · 9 years ago
    "In the mostly peaceful Ghor Province, for instance, development is scant"

    That is most discouraging. If, indeed, the goal is "social re-engineering" then there needs to be an infrastructure upon which it can be built. Energy infrastructure and communications infrastructure in the form of year-round hard surface roads, rail, telephone, and broadcast media to tie the country together as a nation. Then you need a common education plan in a common language which, when tied with the transportation and media, give a common cultural background for the generation currently coming up. As long as the areas outside of Kabul remain isolated, physically and culturally, then I fear we are urinating upwind.
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    Ray · 9 years ago
    Afghan men come from all over to fight, many times for money rather than ideology, because they get paid by the Taliban or AQ. Afghanistan is very poor and money has an enormous power there. The Taliban get most of their money by selling opium grown in Helmand. We are alienating Helmand poppy farmers by destroying their crops and their incomes, encouraging them to switch to more labor-intensive, lower-profit crops.

    Based on your experience, what would be the effects if we bought the opium directly from the poppy farmers, paying higher prices than the Taliban, and including a premium to offset the risks of Taliban reprisals? It would seem to me that we could greatly reduce the Taliban's income, reducing their strength, and making the Helmand poppy farmers very happy with their increased income.

    A legitimate Afghan pharmaceutical company could be set up to refine and market the opiates legally as pain medicine. This could give the farmers greater personal satisfaction, as they would be part of relieving pain in the world, rather than watching us burn their crops after we buy them.

    Decreasing the levels of opium in illegal channels would drive up prices, causing opium production to increase in other parts of the world. This would create more competition for the Taliban. If we look at the War on Drugs, this would be a wash: as long as there is demand, there will be those who supply that demand. Looking at the War in Afghanistan, this could be an important factor in turning the tide in our favor.

    We don't do this, I think, because of the War on Drugs mentality that irrationally demonizes drugs, so we have to destroy the plants rather than use them intelligently. This mindset makes it politically impossible to cut the Taliban out of the marketing loop.

    We are losing the Drug War by any measure. We are losing the Afghan War. We may have to choose between losing two wars or only one.

    What do you think?
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    Dat N. · 9 years ago
    Thank you for putting the truth back in journalism. Stay safe.
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    Dr. Kenneth Noisewat · 9 years ago
    BTW, though you probably have lived it already, I'd highly recommend _The Afghan Campaign_, by Steven Pressfield. It's a fictionalized history of Alexander's campaign in Afghanisitan, similar to how he treated the battle of Thermopylae in _Gates of Fire_. Just goes to show how little has changed, at least as far as the enemy mentality is concerned :/
  • This commment is unpublished.
    T J Rose · 9 years ago
    Michael, if not for your reporting, I don't think any of us would have any idea what the truth of the situation is in Afganistan - and Iraq.
    I also have immense respect for the US, British and other soldiers over there. However I fear the west hasn't the stomach for the long, hard struggle necessary to overcome an unyielding tribal culture that cannot coexist with a republic of liberty and laws. You are correct Michael, it would take a hundred years, if it could be done at all.
    God bless the soldiers who have sacrificed so much, and continue to do so, to bring some sense of sanity to a people who have known little else than misery.
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    Tor · 9 years ago
    I've very much enjoyed your insights, all the while our national media and government has been rather quiet about Norway's involvement in this war. While I may not agree with all your conclusions, I find your dispatches highly readable and offering insights I'm unable to glean elsewhere. Thank you.

    I guess the cynical thing to do would be to pull all western forces out of Afghanistan and instead support the Pakistani and Afghani governments with sufficient money and military aid. That way they'll contain the problem to a local and perpetual civil war that won't bother western interests much. I don't much like that "solution" however.

    What to do?

    Don't get killed by the way. Your voice is needed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lani Wingate · 9 years ago
    In 1966 a reporter visited Vietnam and ended up writing a book called Fire in the Lake. During 1966 there were 12 coup attempts in Vietnam while we were trying to fight the war. Also, during 1966 we lost 386 Jet aircraft. Assuming each jet cost $10,000,000 that would be $3.86 Billion just for the jets. The reporter, like Michael, was trying to tell what was really happening but no one listened.

    Back to the money solution: Michael you wrote a story about bombs for $$. Remember you said it was the best idea for getting the bombs out of Iraq. Then our government terminated the project. (Bad Idea)

    You and I agree these people need a way to earn a living, that's it. I believe you were hinting at helping them build roads but, the cost is staggering. Well when I read "Could money be the key?" I knew he was on the right track.

    Let’s set up pharmaceutical company to purchase the opium to sell to the world. Grate Idea!!!

    This would require roads to move the opium. It would require lots of labor to plant and harvest the opium. It would require a nation wide communications system, banks, and a security force large enough to protect the product, roads, and people needed to complete the process of getting the product from planting to distributing to the end user customer.

    This is a better idea that losing 386 jets in 12 months. For that kind of money we could have just paid off the VC and North Vietnam and been done with it.

    Hey, I would like others to add thoughts and comments to this idea. It may be half baked but it's better that anything I've heard coming out of DC.

    Thanks Michael. Please try and visit my sons unit.
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    Cathi L. · 9 years ago
    We need to get out of Afghanistan. As much as I value our troops, or better yet, because I value our troops, our reasons for staying there will not work for Afghanistan. Social re-engineering, and I take that to mean nation building, in a nation that is not interested in being re-engineered at this point, is just getting our men and women killed.

    Our military is asking for more troops and our government is denying the troops for fear of raising public ire. If they need the troops and are denied them, aren't more deaths going to raise the public ire? This seems like a pretty lousy excuse.

    There was a story that broke recently about USAID funds winding up being filtered to the Taliban by road and bridge contractors to pay for protection. How much else of our money is going to the Taliban to buy the weapons that kill our people?

    Regroup. I think we need to either sh*t or get off the pot. Enough already.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Darren · 9 years ago
    I'd like to comment much more, but the comments section has a size/space limitation.
    Nato and the international forces in Afganistan are now using an applied policy of a theory that they will arm, support and create an Afgan state, a proxy state if you will. And this will create an army of 260,000 in one report I have read.
    Unlike Iraq, that does have natural resources, and can in various ways actually support the creation of a police and military state, Afganistan does not.
    This so called 'plan' is nothing short of an even worse plan than anything pitched earlier. Most of the local people are brave but not trust worthy. You may be able to form local battalions, or maybe a division or two in the large cities like Kabul, but beyond, its like water in the desert.
    There is not the money, the motivation, or the long term ability to sustain this plan in any way. And its been hatched and stated as the way forward because the Allies cannot afford the current losses, or costs being incurred. Even if you get control of the larger areas, it does nothing at all about the Pashtun issue and the porus border.

    The primary problem here, is we are either unwilling, or unable to put in the troops needed, we are unable to get our tactics right, we are fighting a counter insurgency without doing it the right way, and we are in a broken alliance where only some are willing to fight, and the ones in the front line are under resourced, under manned, and betrayed. They lack the numbers, the equipment, the support, and the weapons. Above every other issue, the political will and the actual aims are screwed up beyond any potential to fix them, and having a broken political will and a proper aim in war leads to very bad things.

    Most cases of people talking in public are people lying and simply towing the line, with a 'hope' that following a loose plan like Iraq will provide the same results. Afganistan is not Iraq. The entire plan and its aims, resources, and how things are done needs re-engineering before we talk garbage about social re-engineering of people jammed in the 7th century where most cannot read, write. The whole thing is incredibly bad led, badly run, and the troops on the ground are paying the price. Much of the same is applicable to the aid programs, and that is a bigger disaster than the military side. Enough of the aid is going direct to the militant forces. We are killing our own men.

    We would be better off doing the enginering work care of the US Army engineering, and the REME directly.
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    Jerry · 9 years ago
    Michael, that line from SecDef Gates about "losing the good will of the Afghan people" reminds me of the old "winning hearts and minds" line from Vietnam. Afghanistan is a bleak one-color landscape inhabited by raggedy people who have survived various occupiers and cut-throat bands for hundreds of years before we got there. They could care less whether we are there or not. Our domestic situation is already bleak enough without pouring additional national treasure into Afghanistan, not to mention wasting the lives of our troops in a nation-building exercise that will take years to accomplish if it is successful at all.
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    NOTR · 9 years ago
    A free man, such as an American soldier, chooses to serve his country to defend it. It is what has long set America apart from the serfs of Europe and other countries who ordered their vassels to serve their lords or their church. We too fell into a statist trap of using a draft which demanded a man serve and sacrifice the state. For a while, we recognized that true individual freedom meant free man decide of their own volition to fight to the death for their homeland, family and national security. We went to war in Afghanistan for our national security, to defend our nation from Al Qaeda and their ilk who had attacked us and killed us with a fury that matched only that of Hezbollah. But under Bush, and now Obama we have lost our way in both places. We no longer fight Al Qaeda, but an enemy that is truly despicable, but not a threat to this nation. You call it for what it is, a social engineering experiment for altruistic reasons - hardly a reason for any American to choose to give up his life, particularly when he/she does so for a social engineering experiment, not our national security, not our safety, and not our self defense. You call this altruism worthy. I have read you for years, ever since you first started your sojourn, and rarely disagree, but in this you err. No man loves soldiers young and old as well as my comrades in arms more than I. But when a state asks its warriors to risk it all for any other reason than his country. It all becomes a lie, in political terms, another Vietnam. Our warriors are too damn precious to piss away in "social experiments." I pray that sanity returns to those who direct them on behalf our our nation, but so far there is little evidence that is at hand.
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    David · 9 years ago
    Michael, thanks for another tremedous insight into our fight in the AfPak theatre.

    Btw, just this morning I saw Secretary Gates on CNN being interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on his telecast "GPS." During the program Mr. Gates stated plainly any additional troops recommended for Afghanistan would be a very hard sell to him.

    Best Wishes.
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    Maggie45 · 9 years ago
    Michael, please, please be careful. Another NYT reporter and his driver/interpreter have been kidnapped. It happened in Kunduz. Get with those Marines fast, please.

    http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/2009/09/nyt_reporter_kidnapped_in_kund.php

    You're on top of my prayer list.
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    Pattie · 9 years ago
    I can't say that I know what should be done in Afghanistan. It appears it will be a long tough fight if we continue. I think that while hearts & minds are important, this is a populace that also needs education from the roots up. I sincerely hope you'll not be hanging out there on your own for long.
    ~P~
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    Abu Saar · 9 years ago
    Afghanistan, as was said above, is notoriously difficult to hold and doesn't want to change. There is nothing to be gained there.

    What the American military should be focusing on is the failing state of Pakistan and its nukes. Pakistan must fracture to correct itself; the fracturing will causing significant tremors.

    Abandoning the Kurds for the Afghans is inexplicable. Kurds can succeed, they have all the right stuff.
    Their success will disintegrate the colonial borders, hamstringing all the petty terrorist-enabling dictators of MENA;
    it will create a staunch American ally - a base in the fortified and impregnable mountains between Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey;
    it will redeem America's credibility in the eyes of many;
    it will ascertain that a liberal democracy and not a dictatorship is sitting on a lot of oil;
    it will create a large, rapidly growing, America-loving free market state;
    it is the morally right thing to do.

    The Pushtuns, in the meanwhile, live by Pushtun-Wali.
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    TCO · 9 years ago
    Afghanistan is a complete clusterfuck of a place to be fighting. It has no worth. Has no sea coast. And all we are doing is pacifying bandit territory (and taking sides against the majority Pashtuns). We aren't an iota closer to any sort of 9-11 hang-the-criminals. All we are doing is trying to move the ocean with a spoon. I am all for using force against enemies. This is SILLY. War is about ordnance on target...about hurting the other guy until he STOPS doing whatever you don't want him to...

    Wise up, people.

    9 years active, 11 reserve.
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    woodNfish · 9 years ago
    Afghanistan is not worth the blood of a single American soldier. I am all for pulling out. I appreciate your work, Michael, but Afghanistan has nothing to offer us. Afghanistan did not attack us, Saudi Arabians did. Every terrorist on 9/11 was a Saudi. Why haven't we attacked Saudi Arabia?

    We have no business being the police of the world. The other countries in the world resent it, and we are bankrupt and can't afford it. We should close all our overseas bases, let the countries tend to their own defense, we are more than capable of handling our own.
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    Tom Jones · 9 years ago
    Michael,
    Appreciate your insight. Keep up the good work! As another poster said, get with those members of the Green Machine ASAP. I'd hate to see another name of a good man posted MIA. I'm going to leave the theoretical determination of wether we should be in AFK to history. However, for the protection of our men and women in uniform, as well of those of our Brothers and Sisters at arms, I have to agree that development is paramount. Granted, there needs to be security before the NGOs can go in, but without the $$ being spent, it's a lost cause. Your analysis is right on target. Keep giving us the Word.
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    Carlos · 9 years ago
    Michael, as usual, another great dispatch.

    woodNfish, not every terrorist on 9/11 was Saudi. Many were, but not all. Remember Mohammed Atta? Saudi Arabia certainly has issues, chief among them their funding of radical madrassas, but they were not behind 9/11 no more than the US was behind the Oklahoma City bombing. The Saudis were attacked repeatedly by AQ and retaliated viciously. They've done a better job than most at weeding out the AQ operatives in their country. To your point: if we could just get them to stop funding these radical madrassas, I'd be more comfortable thinking of them as true allies.
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    Mad Dog · 9 years ago
    never been to any of the Stans (which seems to mean market), but i have met a number of Afghans who were there under the Tali's. First lady I met was on an assassination list because she dared to teach women past the 6th grade, even though most of her classes were directed to hygiene and basic math for going to the market, handling meager finances, etc., and the other group I met were small shopkeepers from outside of Kabul who narrowly missed being executed for being shopkeepers. The Tali's checked their hands for roughness, a la Khmer Rouge, and lucky for them they worked small plots on the side. Some of their fellow shopkeepers were shot right in front of them.
    I don't think the Afghan people have much choice, but when confronted with the brutality of the Tali's they may just opt for that which is offered by the west, but only if we can turn around this rabble called the ANP. Similar problems were faced in Iraq, but bringing the Army along the path of professionalism helped to turn the tide.
    I would not wish the Tali's on anyone!
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    6x6x4 · 9 years ago
    "... just hunt the enemies..."

    This is the kind of thing you hear from people who ... JUST. DON'T. GET IT!

    I'll give you an important clue about fighting insurgents ... the more people you kill, the more likely you are to lose the fight. The Russians failed to learn this lesson and paid for their stupidity with defeat. We made the same mistake in the Vietnam War.

    In this kind of warfare the insurgents don't have to win. All they have to do is keep fighting, with the sure knowledge that we will respond with massive firepower, kill innocents and drive the people into the arms of the Taliban.

    We have a much harder task. We have to show the bulk of Afghanistan's people that their lives would be much better without the Taliban.
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    Rider645 · 9 years ago
    The American people were sold on invading Afghanistan for one reason and one reason only and that was _NOT_ developing Afghanistan. Americans should try putting American problems first for once in their extravagantly altruistic lives. Whether Afghanistan "develops" or not should be at about the bottom of any American's concerns. 100 years? 100 years to develop that wasteland whose people will hate Americans for the misery they adjudge Americans to have brought them for the next thousand years? There is something eerily insane about such an idea. My prayers are that people advocating such breathtaking balderdash come to their senses.
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    Shailen · 9 years ago
    "Today, the war is still worth fighting, yet the goal to reengineer one of the most backward, violent places on Earth, will require a century before a reasonable person can call Afghanistan "a developing nation." The war will not take that long - but the effort will."

    I am going to latch on to the first of the sentences above.

    There is no doubt that this effort for bringing succor to the long suffering Afghan population is worth every bit from a global perspective.

    Afghanistan may have had a feudalistic society, but then so did almost every country at some point of time in its history. The truth is that the people there are weary of the war and want change.

    The going will be slower than in most other places on earth since there is no history of development to fall back on. That does not make it any less imortant

    If the NATO/American forces were to walk out now then the situation would no doubt deteriorate back the way it did after the Russian withdrawal in 1989, followed by the world turning a blind eye to Afghanistan.

    Then - whether the Al Qaeda uses it as a stopover or a new clone of terrorists follows ..... the results will be disastrous for everyone

    2009 may well have been more violent because the presidential elections raised the stakes for all those involved. The Taliban probably tried to throw all they had to make sure that the elections did not happen. But they did. Inspite of all allegations it's still a significant event

    The road is long but that does not make it any less important to travel.
    Peace in Afghanistan is central to peace in Asia and probably beyond

    The NATO/US forces need to hand tough and see through the next year or so. Increased focus on social engineering will ensure goodwill for the soldiers and hopefully a developed Afghanistan will happen faster than the "century" predicted above.

    I have no doubt that we shall all see a change for the positive in this period.
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    r146 · 9 years ago
    why have we been in south korea since the 1950's? Nobody has demanded we leave there for the last 50 years. so what if north korea took over the south why would we care? Well our country did care what happened to south korea and it's people. We just don't have a govt willing to tell us the truth about these wars and to ask us to commit beyond the next election to staying until the job is done. If we still had the draft our people would demand our govt to fully explain why we need to be there and how it relates to the mid-east problems we have been trying to resolve for 60 years.
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    r146 · 9 years ago
    why have we been in south korea since the 1950's? Nobody has demanded we leave there for the last 50 years. so what if north korea took over the south why would we care? Well our country did care what happened to south korea and it's people. We just don't have a govt willing to tell us the truth about these wars and to ask us to commit beyond the next election to staying until the job is done. If we still had the draft our people would demand our govt to fully explain why we need to be there and how it relates to the mid-east problems we have been trying to resolve for 60 years.
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    Scott Dudley · 9 years ago
    I wonder if we would be in Afghanistan if our own country was under attack, our citizens being murdered and our children enslaved? We ARE under attack on our southern border. Mexican drug lords are murdering people in our own cities. There is no "winning" strategy in AF. We don't even know what winning is. We are simply holding until someone makes up their mind. Stay and we will die in droves and waste billions. We leave and the Tali will simply go back to their tribal ways, fighting amongst themselves for power and land. It has been such for hundreds of years. Why not bring the troops back, modify posse comitatus, and secure our own borders. Our troops do know how to fight in the sand.
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    Jim Kinney · 9 years ago
    On the map it seems that Afghanistan is another puzzle piece framing Iran. As the change in the US government has taken the issue of stopping Iran from gaining nukes out of the scope of national security, the import of physically isolating Iran has also diminished. I cannot see current administration caring much about things beyond their own revolution.
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    constantine · 9 years ago
    What is it that the average American Marine knows about Counter Insurgency that his British fellow soldiers fighting in the same province dont know?

    Your there, I am not, if we are getting it wrong then say how so we can make our own minds up and put what pressure on we can at home.
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    Mike Detchemendy · 9 years ago
    The soldiers are asking, "Why are we here?"
    The Soviets asked themselves after 8 years, "Why are we here?" and left.
    Nation building is not appropriate -- there is no nation to build, only tribal areas where tribes fight other tribes.
    Michael, are you ready to lose your life over there?
    Would the grief your parents would go through with your lose worth your being over there?
    Not one American (or Brit, or German, etc.) needs to be over there any longer.
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    Rick · 9 years ago
    By what right do we "reengineer" another peoples? And that's going to a century? Get out now. Good riddance.
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    Pattie · 9 years ago
    I recognize the photo as the ceremony for Cpl Joshusa Bernard who was killed recently in Afghanistan. You're really in the thick of it if thats where you are. I'm reading "Danger Close" so I understand you have some good training behind you but that was over 20 yrs ago -- wouldn't mind tho if you loosed one of your infamous bombs on the badguys ;-). There's no doubt you've found your calling and I hope you know how your readers value your contribution.

    Over the years I've learned more from the soldiers I "adopted" and the blogs I've followed than ANYWHERE else. We recently lost a fantastic blogger who was on his second deployment in Diyala Province. Spc Jordan Shay died with his friend SSG Todd Selge in a vehicle rollover earlier this month, just a few weeks into their deployment. I discovered Jordan thru THE ARMY OF DUDE, another blogger, now at home and attending college, who had also served in Diyala. Jordan's final post was informal, informative and riveting. If was the best of his all too brief career as an army blogger. Men like Jordan, Alex of Dude, and Michael Yon write in spite of the obstacles thrown in their paths. They are the voice I listen to.

    Perhaps the surge worked in Iraq. But American soldiers are still dying there. And what about the "surge" of soldiers coming back with physical and emotional wounds compounded by multiple deployments to A'stan and Iraq. The answer seems clear to me. A draft would commit the 98% of the country who went to the mall while our soldiers, marines and sailors went to Iraq and Afghanistan. Seems to me the last war Americans as a whole supported was WWII. A more honest portrayal of war and what is happening in those two war zones might break thru the lack of concern. But then, how many Americans have even heard of "House to House", "One Bullet Away", "Big Boy Rules", or "Just Another Soldier"? All written by men who've "been there, done that". The story is out there but most of America just doesn't want to know.

    A movie (from the book) GENERATION KILL is the most honest, evenhanded portrayal I've seen/read to date. It was on HBO but unless the DVD sales take off I suspect it hasn't had a large audience. "Over There" - run on FX I think - was a series but the fact that it wasn't renewed speaks volumes. There were things about the series that real soldiers scoffed at but the episodes were taken from real incidents and I recognized many of them. Most of America just doesn't want to know.

    I wish I was as positive about the future as Shailen above. Granted, most countries have at one time another had a feudalistic society. The problem I see with the forces (allies included) supporting the work there is that their will is political, not social, not idealistic, altruistic or moral. And that affects decisions from food to bullets to jets. I fear the US is going down the wrong road here but that's not new either. I was too young to be aware of Korea but look at the mess that was the Vietnam War - or "police action" as we were told then. Unless you fully commit yourselves to war the result will be loss of life and honor in aid of ----- what?

    Keep yourself safe, we need you!
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    jim burke · 9 years ago
    The Afgan's have been grinding up invaders for centuries. The US has been bailing out on allies since 1954.
    We'll end up bones on the plains or cut and run. No other choices.
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    Sgt Dave · 9 years ago
    Michael- good work and observations! What are the ROE in the theater?
    Sgt Dave
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    Sgt Dave · 9 years ago
    Michael-great job, observations very much appreciated! What are the ROE at this time, if you can state same. We are getting many conflicting statements. Keep your head down.
    Sgt Dave
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    Jabba the Cat · 9 years ago
    "Yet it must be said that the average British soldier has practically no understanding of counterinsurgency."

    A statement made in complete ignorance of British military history which in turn seriously undermines your credibility.
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    Tom · 9 years ago
    Micheal is right jabba, were just about holding on out there. Don't blame Micheal Yon - Blame Blair,Brown and the senior UK Army leadership. Yon has always treated our Soldiers fairly. He's a decent Man trying to tell the truth.
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    AgainsTTheWall · 9 years ago
    'Nation-building' is not the reason for our elites involvement in Afghanistan. Rather its the standard policy of imperial powers throughout time - install a puppet government and plunder the country.

    And why does anyone think that 'nation-building' is a satisfactory reason to make war? The sheer arrogance of this outlook rightly deserves to bring failure.

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